Bask in light at Lotus Lantern Festival
By Do Je-hae
The age-old “Yeondeunghoe” or Lotus Lantern Festival is a highlight among the many festivities that take place this month.
Although modern Korea is not a mainly Buddhist country, the festival is considered one of the representative cultural festivals of the nation. Making and hanging lotus lanterns is one of the oldest Buddhist traditions, which continues today.
“Yeondeunghoe” is a folk festival that goes back to the Silla Kingdom (B.C. 57-935 A.D.). It was celebrated as the Lotus Lantern Assembly in Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) and continued as the Lantern Celebration (Gwandeung-nori) during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910).
“Organized to celebrate Buddha’s arrival in this world, the highlight of the month-long Lotus Lantern Festival will take place from May 18 to 20,” said Shin Young-jin, an official with the Celebration Committee for Buddha’s Birthday. The committee is affiliated with the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the largest Buddhist sect of Korea.
“There are hands-on experiential programs and performances to sing and dance along with, as well as parades and exhibitions. Most programs are family-oriented, so we hope participants will bring their children and join the festival’s spiritual ambience and energetic togetherness that is unique to the festival.”
The lanterns are symbols of light, wisdom and compassion that dispel the dark and suffering of the world. Buddhists believe that light brings enlightenment to those who are in pain and are lost.
On the night of May 19, more than 100,000 lotus lanterns will form a majestic parade to light up the streets of central Seoul. They will be in various shapes such as dragons, elephants, phoenixes, drums, turtles and lotuses.
Budda’s Birthday falls on May 28 this year.
It is a national holiday and Buddhists celebrate by attending the Buddha’s Birthday Dharma Service at various temples nationwide.
Over the years, the Lotus Lantern Festival has become international, with more foreigners taking part. Last year more than 1,000 foreigners participated in the street parade and side events.
On May 20, participants will have the chance to make their own lanterns at Jogye Temple. This has traditionally been one of the favorite events of the festival.
One hundred exhibition booths will line the street in front of Jogye Temple. Visit the various booths to make lotus lanterns, create Buddhist art, try temple food and play traditional Korean folk games.
For more information, call 725-6643 or visit www.llf.or.kr/eng.
Events at a glance
— Exhibition of traditional lanterns
The exhibition will display the meticulously crafted lanterns made of “hanji,” traditional handmade Korean paper made from mulberry bark.
May 18 -28 (Fri. -Mon.)
Bongeunsa Temple (Subway line 2, Samseong Station)
Thousands of lotus lanterns will brighten the heart of Seoul. Behold a brilliant ocean of light from the countless handheld lanterns.
May 19 (Sat.) 7- 9:30 p.m.
Begins at Dongdaemun and proceeds to Jogye Temple, along Jongno Street (Subway line 1, 3, 5 Jongno 3-ga Station /line 1 Jonggak Station or Jongno 5-ga Station)
— Traditional cultural events
Experience firsthand traditional Buddhist culture and festivities. One hundred exhibition booths will line the street in front of Jogye Temple.
Visit the various booths to make lotus lanterns, create Buddhist art, try temple food and play traditional Korean folk games. There are also booths introducing the Buddhist cultures of Tibet, Mongolia and Southeast Asia.
May 20 (Sun) Noon-6 p.m.
Street in front of Jogye Temple (Subway line 1 Jonggak Station / line 3 Anguk Station)
— “Yeondeungnori” (final celebration)
The grand finale of the festival features a mini lantern parade around Insa-dong, accompanied by the singing and dancing of the Lotus Lantern Performance groups.
May 20 (Sun) 7- 9 p.m.
Insa-dong - Street in front of Jogye Temple (Subway line 1 Jonggak Station / line 3 Anguk Station)