Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Spectacular Lotus Lantern Festival

I have seen a lot of spectacular events around the world. NYC Marathon, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Tour de France and even the Rice Festival in little town of Arles. However, I've never witnessed an event so festive and at the same time, as lovely and tranquil as the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul, South Korea.
The Lotus Lantern Festival celebrates the Birth of Buddha similar to the way Christians celebrate Christmas in observance of the birth of Jesus Christ. However, unlike Christmas, Buddha's Birthday is celebrated throughout a month (usually in April) in most part of Asia as a non-commercial event, which means, it's a holiday that can be enjoyed just for the sake of celebrating without the lunacy of gift giving. 

The month-long festival is packed with events, and all the Buddhist temples are decorated with magnificent display of colorful lanterns. However, the highlight definitely are the events that takes place on the last weekend before the Buddha's Birthday which falls on 8th April by Lunar Calendar.

Ever since I read about the Lotus Lantern Festival on an inflight magazine, I knew it was something I must see, and it was nothing less than spectacular!

The highlight of the festival was the evening Lantern Parade. As if the endless stream of floats carrying beautifully constructed and brightly illuminated lanterns weren't enough, on the contrast to the rowdy festivals in the U.S. and Europe, I was surprised how peaceful the parade was. There were even chairs for the spectators to rest and enjoy all along the parade route!

There were lantern carriers and floats with everything from traditional lotus flower lanterns and paper lanterns to lanterns in the shape of Hangul, the Korean alphabet, spelling out words. There are huge floats in the shapes of dragons, elephants and birds as well as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. There are groups from temples, groups from schools and of course the most popular groups are the monks themselves.

It truly was one the most mesmerizing and memorable event I’ve seen with vibrant palate of colors of the lanterns and participants of the parade. I really loved the celebratory atmosphere, and it was great to see the comradery of the people and all the families with small children who were enjoying themselves into the wee hours of the night.

Lotus Lantern Festival is an event I would fly across the world to see again!

Breakdown of the events.
▣ City Hall Lighting Ceremony
Seoul City Hall Plaza will be decorated with a large light symbolizing the birth of Buddha on April 18 before the official lotus lamp lighting ceremony. With the lighting of the large lamp, the lotus lamp lighting ceremony will begin with various programs including praying around the pagoda stone.

The lights will come on every evening during sunset, until 1:00 am from April 18 to May 5. Anyone wishing to see the beautiful lotus lights can visit City Hall Plaza.

▣ Exhibition of Traditional Lanterns
People from all religions around the world will enjoy seeing the display of lanterns made with hannji. Approximately 40 designs of uniquely colored lanterns will be on display. Wishes are made according to the shape of the lantern.

This beautiful exhibition is free of charge and is open from April 29 to May 5 for 2 hours. The exhibition is held at Bongeunsa Temple, visitors can take subway line No.2 to Samseong Station. Go out exit No. 6 and walk for about 10 minutes to the temple.
▣ Festivals Eve Celebration
The Eve Celebration will parade from Jogyesa Temple to Insa-dong, offering spectators a splendid sight. The larger than life lanterns along with amazing costumes make this event unforgettable.

The Eve Celebration will be held on April 29, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm, starting at the street in front of Jogyesa Temple.
▣ Buddhist Street Festival
Performances of Korean traditional percussion instruments and the Foreigners’ Traditional Dance Show offer much to see. Visitors can also take part in making lotus lanterns, experience of traditional straw utensils, and a variety of other Buddhist-related activities.

Additional activities include eating temple fare and sampling traditional tea. The Buddhist Street Festival is open on April 30, from noon to 8 pm and is held at the street in front of Jogyesa Temple.

▣ Opening Ceremony for the parade
The opening ceremony is full of rhythm and song. Roughly 30,000 Buddhists representing temples from around the country gather to celebrate the birth of Buddha.

The opening ceremony is held on April 30 from 4:30 to 6:30pm for 2 hours at Dongdaemun Sports Complex. To get there, take Subway lines No. 2, 4, or 5

▣ Lantern Parade
Approximately 100,000 lanterns will light the streets at the Lantern Parade. Unique lanterns in the shape of animals, flowers, mythical creatures, and more will travel the streets of Seoul, creating an atmosphere that is magical. Lanterns will range from small hand- held lanterns to larger than life lanterns.

The Lantern Parade is held on April 30 from 07:00pm to 09:30pm. The parade starts at Dongdaemun History & Culture Park and heads down the streets of Jongno, until reaching Jogyesa Temple.
▣ Being Together Celebration
The final celebration of the festival is the Dongdae Celebration of unity and hope in which flowers rain down from the heavens in front of Jogyesa Temple. The city becomes one at this event as visitors sing and dance in celebration. The final celebration will take place in front of Jogyesa Temple on April 30 from 9:30pm to 10:30pm. This final celebration for the festival will be packed with people, so caution is advised.


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