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Lighting Up Buddha's Birthday

By Han Eun-jung, The Korea Times Staff Reporter, April 5, 2005

Lotus Lantern Festival Is Highlight to Variety of Events Around Seoul

Seoul, South Korea -- Paper lanterns, lotus flowers, traditional performances and music galore - the streets of central Seoul are all set for the Lotus Lantern Festival, an annual fete held to celebrate Buddha's Birthday.

A lantern exhibit beginning today at Bongun-sa Temple will officially signal the start to festivities scheduled to continue over the weekend.

The Lotus Lantern Festival is the largest and most celebrated event dedicated to Buddha's birthday, which falls on May 15 this year.

Commonly referred to as ``Chopail,'' the day is observed as a national holiday on which followers of Buddhism across the nation head to temples for special services.

Showcasing 100,000 lanterns of all colors, shapes and sizes, organizers expect that the event will pull a crowd triple the number of exhibits.

Such a variety of lanterns are to be seen, all in brilliant and luminous hues. Some take inspiration from Buddha himself, while others are derived from mystical figures synonymous to the belief, including Sachonwang, the Four Divine Guardians, dragons and great white elephants. Others resemble butterflies, ladybugs, golden bats and salamanders.

Breathtaking pieces that incorporate elegant Korean mulberry paper, or ``hanji,?? and sublime Buddhist-style painting ``danchong?? will be on display at the temple situated in Samsong-dong, southern Seoul until May 15.

Next in the lineup of Lotus Lantern Festival events will have followers traveling north of the Han River to Chogye-sa Temple, the headquarters of ``Chogye,?? the country?s largest Buddhist order, with a glowing procession of lanterns making their way through the streets into the heart of Seoul.

The favorite pastime of Yondung Nori, refers to the name of the lantern parade that marches in front Chogye-sa Temple. Yondung Nori starts at 7 p.m.

However the wonder of Yondung Nori doesn't even compare to what visitors to the festival will get to see the following day as even more is in store.

Visitors will see crowds and booths taking the place of the usually car-packed street stretching from Chonggak Station (subway line No.1) and Anguk Station (subway line No.3) for what is called the annual Buddhist Street Festival, which is to take place on Sunday from noon to 8 p.m.

Approximately 100 booths and specialty stages will be lined in neat rows along the street, with crafts, games, art exhibits, musical performances and dance demonstrations.

This is the perfect chance to experience the fun and joy of Korean traditional pastimes like ``chegi (shuttlecock)?? kicking, arrow pitching, seesawing and yut, as several booths will be set up devoted to teach and demonstrate the games.

One of the most popular events in the Buddhist Street Festival is one that calls for visitors to actually take part in some creative activity.

By trying their hand at lantern making, both local and foreign visitors will be able to understand what goes into the creation of a lantern.

People can choose to make either the round or eight-sided lantern so they can later have something with a personal touch to carry along in the lantern parade later in the evening.

Those interested in learning a little something about danchong, this is the perfect opportunity as a separate booth teaching the basics of the age-old art of Buddhist painting will be open.

Also featured on the streets will be contributions by the people of Indonesia, Nepal, China, Sri Lanka, lndia, Mongolia and other countries. There, visitors will have the opportunity to see how Buddhism is practiced in other countries of the world.

By the time one has gotten around all the events, it should be about time to head to Tongdaemun Stadium (Tongdaemun Stadium Station, subway line number two and four) to take part in the main event of the day.

Participants are invited to walk alongside the chariots and giant floats in the massive procession of lanterns that departs Tongdaemun Stadium at 7 p.m. after a grand Buddhist sermon and celebration unfolds in the midst of fluttering banners and lotuses. The final destination of the parade is Chogye-sa Temple.

Estimated to last two and a half hours, over 50,000 people are expected to become a part of the parade with over 100,000 lanterns.

The 10 p.m. closing ceremony held at Chogye-sa Temple will bring the entire Lotus Lantern Festival to an end.

For more information log on to the festival?s official Web site at www.llf.or.kr or call the festival?s organizer, the Celebration Committee for Buddha?s Birthday at (02) 2011-1747.

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