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Festival Celebrates Buddha's Birthday

By Han Sang-hee, The Korea Times, April 24, 2008

Seoul, South Korea -- May is known as ``family month,'' with various events and festivals being held everywhere. Along with the excitement, how about joining the ``Lotus Lantern Festival?'' Celebrate the coming of Buddha, which is held annually on the eight day of the fourth lunar month and falls on May 12th this year.

<< The Bongeunsa Temple will display various lanterns to celebrate the coming of Buddha, which falls on May 12 this year.
/ Courtesy of Celebration Committee for Buddha's Birthday Festival

The Korea Times met Ven. Hye Kyeong, the general director of the Celebration Committee for Buddha's Birthday Festival at Jogyesa Temple and talked about his plans for one of Asia's largest Buddhist festivals.

``We are busy putting the finishing touches to the festival, but I believe it will be our best one ever,'' he said.

Lanterns have already been lit ahead of the official festival that will be held May2-4. They will continue to be lit through May 12. The streets around City Hall will be decorated with millions of lanterns which will light up the area to celebrate the coming of Buddha.

``Visit Bongeunsa Temple, where you can admire beautiful lanterns,'' he said. At the lantern exhibition visitors will be able to enjoy the unique lanterns made of hanji, or Korean traditional paper. The exhibition will be held May 2-12 at Bongeunsa Temple, located at Samseong Station on subway line 2.

For a more energetic experience, join the festival's eve celebration, which will be at Insa-dong 7-9 p.m. May 3. A long line of volunteers will be parading lanterns, performing dances and traditional music. Anybody who wants to participate can simply join in and the volunteers will give you your own lantern to parade with.

On May 4, the last day of the festival, pay a visit to Jogyesa Temple at noon and enjoy activities at the Buddhist Street Festival, from crafting your own lotus lantern, savoring some temple food to trying out traditional games.

``There will be more than 120 booths prepared by the committee and volunteers all over the country. Some will offer quick and simple lectures about Buddhism,'' Ven. Hye Kyeong said.

At twilight, move on to Jongno and to see the parade of brightly lit lanterns along the street.

More than 100,000 individual lanterns will be paraded to create an ocean of bright orange and yellow lights. There will also be bigger lanterns that resemble dragons, pagodas, elephants and phoenixes. At 9:30 p.m., the committee and volunteers will celebrate the last day of the festival with performances.

``On May 12, all temples around the nation will light up their lanterns at sunset and peacefully pray for the well-being and happiness of the nation,'' Ven. Hye Kyeong added.

The lotus lantern custom in Korea goes all the way back to the Silla Kingdom (B.C. 57-A.D. 935), and even further back in history in other countries like India. The lotus blossoms represents the purity of Buddha. Unlike other flowers, the lotus normally bloom in dirty swamps and lakes. No matter how dirty the water and surroundings may be, the blossom remains clean. This special feature the flower allowed Buddhists to believe that Buddha himself was like that of a lotus blossom: ever so clean despite the dirty surroundings.

``Another reason is that although the blossom remains clean it doesn't force its surroundings to get cleaner. Buddha also teaches that everything has a purpose ? even dirt. If there is no dirt, there is no need for lotus blossoms as well,'' Ven. Hye Kyeong explained.

``Come to the festival, and you will be able to feel Buddha's spirit with monks and volunteers,'' he added.

For more, visit www.llf.or.kr.

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