Lotus Lantern Festival lights up after two-year hiatus

A visitor to Cheonggye Stream takes a photo of traditional lanterns on display on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

To celebrate Buddha’s 2,566th birthday, which falls on May 8 this year, major Buddhist temples and the Cheonggye Stream area in central Seoul were illuminated with thousands of lotus lanterns.

Although the official Yeondeunghoe, the lantern lighting festival, will be held for three days from Friday, the festive atmosphere will continue with most lanterns remaining lit until May 10.

In December 2020, Yeondeunghoe was officially inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This year marks the first Yeondeunghoe after UNESCO listing, as the Buddhist community canceled the parade for two years due to the pandemic.

The “Traditional Lantern Exhibition” at Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul is on display Tuesday night. (Yonhap)

Yeondeunghoe, which was first recorded during the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – 935 AD), was maintained during the Joseon era even as Confucianism prevailed.

“The Traditional Lantern Exhibition” features lotus lanterns made of hanji, a traditional paper made from mulberry trees, as well as lanterns of various shapes and figures that symbolize the spirit of Buddhism. The exhibits are held at two Buddhist temples – Jogyesa in downtown Seoul and Bongeunsa in southern Seoul – and along Cheonggye Stream, which runs through central Seoul. The Cheonggye Stream lanterns will remain lit from 5:30 p.m. to midnight every day.

The main events will take place on Saturday.

People make lotus lanterns for Yeondeunghoe on Wednesday in Jogyesa.  (Yonhap)

People make lotus lanterns for Yeondeunghoe on Wednesday in Jogyesa. (Yonhap)

“Eoulim Madang,” a Buddhist cheering rally, will be held at Dongguk University Stadium from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

One of the highlights of the celebrations, the “Lantern Parade,” will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., starting in Heunginjimun near Dongdaemun Station and passing through downtown Jongno-gu before ending in Jogyesa. Those hoping to watch the parade can get off the subway at Jongno 3-ga, Jongno 5-ga, and Jonggak stations.

Saturday’s events will culminate with “Hoehyang Hanmadang,” a post-parade celebration, which will be held at Jonggak Intersection from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

The “Traditional Lantern Exhibition” at Cheonggye Stream in central Seoul is on display Tuesday night. (Yonhap)

Anyone can participate in the parade march, in person and online as avatars, by registering on the Yeondeunghoe website or Jogyesa.

Saturday’s events will be broadcast live for seven hours on two Buddhist television stations, BTN and BBS, and their respective YouTube channels.

Traditional cultural events and performances, such as lantern-making sessions and “madangnori” – outdoor theatrical performances that actively engage the audience – will take place around Jogyesa on Sundays from 12:00 to 19:00.

The final celebration, “Yeondeungnori”, will be held in front of Jogyesa from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

On May 8, all temples nationwide will hold ceremonies to celebrate Buddha’s birthday.

By Kim Hae-yeon ([email protected])