Saturday, May 16, 2015

Buddha's Birthday Lantern Parade 2015

Buddha's Birthday is based on the lunar calendar and, unlike last year when it fell earlier was on the solar calendar (April 27), this year the lantern parade is later in the season, which means that there are more hours of daylight so the daylight out-illumines the glow of the lantern bulbs. My photography skills are rather limited to point and shoot, most preferably in natural lighting, so taking "good" night shots would have been challenging. Thank goodness for daylight ... my shots turned out vivid enough.

There are many event that lead up to the lantern festival parade down Jongno street, like making lanterns at various temples. The day of the parade and the following day are filled with a series of on-going events:


Exhibition of Traditional Lanterns (Jogyesa temple) - browse through traditional hanji lanterns of various sizes, colors and shapes
Eoullim Madang (Donggak University Stadium) - prior to marching in the parade, participants watch dance movements and listen to beat-pronounced songs performed by various artists on a stage, followed by the ceremony of bathing the baby Buddha and a Dharma service
Lantern Parade (along Jongno street from Dongdaemun Gate to Gwanghwamun Plaza)
Hoehyang Hanmadang (post-parade celebration) - watch cultural performances under a rain of flowers and "see the lively group dance of Ganggang Sullae, a celebration of unity for transcending nationality, gender, ethnicity and religion", or so the brochure reads


Traditional cultural events (Jogyesa temple) - a street festival that includes the making of paper lanterns and sampling cultural foods, buying souvenirs and trying on traditional clothing
Cultural performances (Jogyesa temple) - see traditional folk performances including songs, dances and rope walking, along with Buddhist performances and various traditional performances from other Asian countries
Yeondeung nori (final celebration - Jogyesa temple) - another lantern parade held to "express the aspiration for peace and happiness all over the world"

Pictures from the Lantern Parade 2015 in downtown Seoul

One of my friends knowledgeable in Buddhism pointed out that last year's parade and this year again had a large section of the parade simply for carrying a single Korean syllable in lantern format. When put all together, the syllables became words and the words transformed into the Heart Sutra, which, though it is the shortest sutra, it still took up a whole lot of lanterns and people carrying them to relay the whole sutra. Here is a part of the sutra. Close-ups of last year's Heart Sutra in lanterns can be seen in the 2014 Seoul Lantern Parade.
Buddha's birthday is the 8th day of the 4th lunar month. Temples nationwide light lanterns to symbolically transmit the wisdom and compassion of Buddha. Buddhists also perform ceremonies in celebration of Buddha's birth.

Yeon Deung Hoe (Lighting Lantern Festival, Lotus Lantern Festival)

The Yeon Deung Hoe Festival originated in the Silla era more than 1,300 years ago. It has since been passed down through the Goryeo era, Gwandeungnori of the Joseon era, and it is still an annual tradition today. By lighting lanterns at Yeon Deung Hoe Festival, participants "brighten their own hearts as well as the world". This traditional festival is designated Korea's Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 122.

People congregate for hours along Jongno street to get good vantage points for seeing and taking pictures of the passing parade. Of interesting note this year, the huge air-conditioning vents that are slightly raised positioned beside downtown sidewalks had taped X's over them and usually two policemen patrolling on either side of each large vent was to keep people from not standing or walking on them. This is due to a vent collapsing just a month of so ago and killing 16 people and seriously injuring others at a music concert in Seongnam.

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