Every spring, the streets of Seoul are lined with colourful paper lanterns, lighting the streets after dark in commemoration of Buddha’s Birthday. This year, due to disastrous circumstances, the festivities have been understandably muted.
Although many cherished events of Yeondeunghoe (Lotus Lantern Festival) have been cancelled, lanterns were strung up as usual, bringing back that warm glow to the streets at night. Prominent among the colourful lanterns are plain white ones, serving as a memorial to the tragedy of the Sewol sinking.
Over at Jogyesa, Korea’s main temple of the Jogye Order of Zen Buddhism, white lanterns were hung over the temple grounds.
On April 26, the Lotus Lantern Parade took place as scheduled, beginning with the Eoulim Madang (Buddhist Cheer Rally) at the campus of Dongguk University. However, the parade took on a unique atmosphere this year.
At first, I was worried that nobody would attend. Just 15 minutes prior to the road of Jongno closing, barely any of the seats were filled.
Fortunately, once the parade started, enough people arrived and filled the seats. Shortly after 7, the parade reached my vantage point.
This year’s parade proceeded without a key component: in previous years, the procession was punctuated by percussion-heavy music, thumping like a heartbeat off downtown Seoul’s high-rise buildings. Without the drums, we could hear the subtler sounds of the parade: the hum of the monks and the gentler ringing of the wooden moktak.
Without the musical accompaniment to slow them down, this year’s parade hurried through the streets to Jogyesa, ending much earlier than previous years.
Over at Jogyesa, the same colourful lanterns illuminate the temple grounds welcomingly. But signs such as the one in the foreground mark the tragedy that has affected the Korean people, as well as foreign residents of Korea and global citizens all around the world.
Toward the far end of the temple grounds, the memorial lanterns illuminate the night through pure white light.
People come from all over the world to enjoy the glow of the lanterns for Buddha’s Birthday, a holiday that is not celebrated as extensively in any other country.
This is a unique sight at Jogyesa I hope not to see next year.
Personal messages and names decorate the individual lanterns.
From directly below, the lanterns look like living cells in a human body.
Just a little south of Jogyesa, Cheonggyecheon is also adorned with elaborate lanterns depicting Buddhist figures.
This year’s Yeondeunghoe runs until May 11. Visitors are welcome to see the lanterns at Jogyesa, Cheonggyecheon, and Bongeunsa in southern Seoul. On Tuesday, the day of Buddha’s Birthday, a Dharma ceremony will be held at temples across the nation, where lanterns will be lit. I’m relieved that the festival proceeded, because what better time is there to take solace in religion?