Monday, May 5, 2008

Lotus Lantern Festival

Monday May 5th was Children's Day which gave us a 3 day weekend and a chance to head in to Seoul to check out the annual Lotus Lantern Festival.  The festival commemorates Buddha's Birthday which falls on Monday May 12th this year (giving us another long weekend).  

One of the highlights of the event is the Lantern Parade, where Dragon Lanterns, Pagoda Lanterns, White Elephant Lanterns, Pheonix Lanterns and Lotus Lanterns are all on display. There are dozens of large floats and over 100,000 individual lanterns, the parade offers a breathtaking experience, turning the streets of Seoul into a sea of Lanterns.

Here's some additional information on the various lanterns and their meanings:

Since ancient times, the lighting of lanterns while making wishes or personally making wish-lanterns was a popular event practiced on Buddha’s birthday. Each lantern has it own symbolic meaning, and personal world views or religious views are reflected in the lanterns. 

Big-sized lanterns symbolize justice, and the pattern of dragons and yin and yang are drawn on the lantern to symbolize rich harvests and truth respectively. Fruits rich with seeds like the watermelon symbolize fertility and abundance. The watermelon also symbolizes longevity because of its long stem. 

Other symbols of longevity include garlic, melons, and wild grapes. Animals are frequently used for the designs and shapes of the lanterns, and the crane symbolizes health and longevity as an animal that lives the longest. A dragon symbolizes rich harvests, for it is the god of water, which is essential for farming. The carp symbolizes honor, wealth and longevity.  The unique practice of Yeondeung, lighting of the lantern, is a Buddha offering originating from the Shilla Dynasty (AD 866).  Since 1966 other Buddhist cultures from around the world have joined in this awe inspiring tradition.

Here is a pic of the crowd, there were 100x more people during the actual parade (will be in the next post).

Along with some of the larger lanterns on display, there was also a centre stage with performing acts doing traditional dances that we were breathtaking to watch.

Krista with one of the performers.

Later we managed to find a few empty chairs that we could stand on to take some better photos.

Can you find Krista?

Here is a video of one of the dance performances (for those viewing in email click here).

This next video is a composition of shorter clips (for those viewing in email click here).

Lastly, here is a video of the entire crowd getting their groove on (for those viewing in email click here).

Further down the street was the Jogyesa Temple, on the inside stood 3 tall golden Buddha statues.  On the outside you could see hundreds and hundreds of lanterns being photographed by just as many intrigued visitors. The lanterns are in the pattern of a lotus blossom.

Picture of a baby Buddha on a white lantern.

In addition to the parade, there was also a street festival (pictures will be in another post) that took place May 4th from 12pm-7pm.  For those of you in Seoul that were not able to make it this year, hopefully you have a chance to see it in 2009!  

Jogyesa Temple: Subway Line #1- Jonggak Station, Line #3- Anguk Station
Jongno street: Subway Line #1- Jonggak Station