The Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul was quite the celebration. For more than one week leading up to Buddha’s Birthday, which is a national holiday in Korea, the city hosted numerous Buddhist events and decorated its sidewalks with bright, colorful lanterns. The traditional lanterns are made with hanji, a tough, Korean paper made out of the inner bark or fiber of mulberry trees.
First, we witnessed the massive gathering in Gwanghwamun Square for the Conference for World Peace and the Reunification of Korea. It was organized by the Great Equal Assembly of Ganhwa Seon — part of the Jogye Order, the country’s largest Buddhist sect, which practices Seon (aka Zen) buddhism. If you look closely in one of the photos, you can see the large group of monks sitting right in front of the stage.
That evening on our way to see the Lantern Parade, we walked past the Jogyesa Temple, which is the chief temple of the Jogye Order (and therefore, one of the most important Buddhist temples in Korea). If you want to take some great pictures of the lanterns, this is the place to go. They have so many! And they’re beautiful to see both at night and during the day. A procession of people carrying lanterns came by while we were there, too.
Unfortunately, we missed the Lantern Parade, but they lined up the floats along one of the main avenues afterwards, so we were still able to see them. There were many cool, animated lanterns as you can see:
We also went to see the lanterns along the Cheonggyecheon Stream. There weren’t as many lanterns as I expected — definitely not as many as there were at the lantern festival we went to last year — but it was still enjoyable. The lanterns really add another dimension of beauty to any space, and with so many lanterns strung up and creating a kind of ceiling along the stream, it did sort of look like the lantern scene in “Tangled,” as one of my uncles pointed out. The crowds came to admire the lanterns, but also to sit, relax and enjoy the evening air.
On May 25, Buddha’s Birthday, we stopped by the Jogyesa Temple to see what was going on. On one side, a line of visitors patiently waited to pour water over a statue of Buddha (a traditional “bathing” ritual symbolizing personal purification).
We squeezed our way further ahead toward the large tree in front of the temple. There was a stage, big screen, some kind of event. I expected some traditional performance, and yet, right as we found a spot and settled in, some K-pop group took the stage. What?! I had no idea which one it was — there are so many K-pop bands, come on — but I think it was Pure. Here are some pics and a couple of videos of them performing “Wedding Day” and some other song I couldn’t figure out:
Not bad! A free K-pop concert. Check that off my list of things to do in Korea. Hehe. Funny, though, as soon as they left the stage, it was back to traditional singing.
As our time winds down in Seoul, it was a pleasant surprise to get to experience the Lotus Lantern Festival. I’ll always be amazed at how, when Koreans come together (whether to celebrate traditions or to protest something), they do it in mighty numbers and go all out. They also simply appear to love organizing festivals and events, all the time. Just today we drove past rows and rows of tents, another festival taking place at Gwanghwamun Square.
Next up: Hiking Seoul Fortress Wall