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Seoul Marks Buddha's Birthday With Lantern Festival

Chosun Ilbo, May 16, 2007

Seoul, South Korea -- Colorful lotus lanterns are lit along the road in the evening, illuminating a city center walk ahead of the Buddha's birthday, which falls next Thursday. The festivities peak this weekend with a lotus lantern festival prepared by Buddhist groups.

<< A mother and daughter bow under lanterns at Seoul’s Bongwon Temple on the eve of the Buddha’s birthday last year.

On the Sunday before Buddha's birthday, 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."

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.

English and Japanese translation is on offer at Pagoda Park. After the parade, a pop concert will be held near the Jonggak subway station.

On Saturday, there will be a Buddha's Birthday festival and small parade. At the Bongeun-sa Temple in Samseong-dong, a traditional lantern exhibition will be held between Friday and next Thursday. The venue is a good place to visit for young people.

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