Friday, May 18, 2007

Buddha's Birthday Events

One of Korea's traditional holidays is Buddha's Birthday. Although only about 1/3 the South Korean population is Buddhist, many celebrate the event. It's a legal holiday. This year it's on Thursday May 24, so many will take Friday off, too, making it a long weekend.

So what's happening in Seoul...lots!

First colorful lotus lanterns are everywhere. They are lit along some roads in the evening, illuminating a city center walk ahead of the Buddha's birthday.

The festivities peak this weekend with a lotus lantern festival prepared by Buddhist groups. Some events include:

◆ In front of the Joggye Temple (downtown Seoul). The temple been newly renovated.

This Sunday, the streets between the Jogye Temple in Anguk-dong and the Jonggak subway station junction will turn into a festival site. From noon till 6 p.m., they will see a Buddhist culture festival. It has been held since 1999 with the aim to introduce Korean Buddhism to foreign visitors. Visitors can join various activities such as a temple food tasting, building a pagoda, learning to bow in the traditional way, lotus drawing and making clay dolls. Performances include Buddhist martial art Sunmudo, and Nanta, a contemporary non-verbal performance that eschews dialogue in favor of drum beats.

Monks from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia, Taiwan, India and Tibet will greet people at an international Buddhist fair, and visitors can see traditional dances from those nations and taste their traditional food. Hong Min-suk, a spokesman for the Joggye Order of Korean Buddhism, said, "We tried to prepare various programs without much promotion. By word of mouth, more and more foreign tourists and visitors come to enjoy the festival. I believe this festival is the most loved by foreign tourists in Seoul."

◆ Lantern parade (very popular)

After the cultural events, a lantern parade will proceed down Jongno street. It is more spectacular than ever this year. Giant floats in a procession of lanterns and chariots are shaped like a dragon, phoenix and elephant, while giant lanterns are modeled after great monks in history as well as current cartoon characters. Korean traditional percussion quartets and dance troupes will also take part. The parade starts at Dongdaemun Stadium at 7 p.m. and ends at the Joggye Temple. It lasts for two-and-a-half hours. Prior to this, a grand Buddhist sermon will be held for two hours starting at 4:30 p.m. at the stadium.

Questions on Buddhism and Korea? Just email BCW.

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