How South Korea Honors Buddhism
One of the many reasons that attracted me to South Korea is the prevalence of Buddhism. In a country of about 50 million inhabitants, 18% of the population identifies as practicing Buddhists. Although Buddhism is not the current most popular religion, the influence of this faith is still an important part of S. Korean culture. Recently, I had the honor of experiencing Daegu’s Dalgubeol Lantern Festival, which celebrates Buddha’s Birthday.
I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting a few temples with stunning architecture and rich history, such as Donghwasa Temple (동화사(대구) and UNESCO World Heritage Bulguska Temple (불국사). I visited these temples during April and they were decorated with beautiful and colorful lotus lanterns. I thought the temples always look this way but as I learned later, the lanterns signify about a month-long celebration of Buddhism and Buddha’s birth. The date in which Buddha’s birthday is observed varies by country but in South Korea, it falls on May 14th this year. To honor this date, South Korea lights up its skies with lantern festival all across different cities. This celebration has been taking place since the time of the Silla Dynasty, which ruled South Korea over a thousand years ago.
A few weeks ago, I witnessed Daegu’s very own lantern festival and it was a magical experience. The event was held in Duryu Park and I didn’t really know what to expect as I’d learned of the festival only a few days before. I’m terrible with estimating anything but I’d say about 20K people were in attendance. I was so surprised! The festival kicked-off with a stunning lighting ceremony. In a matter of minutes the dark sky was lit up with floating lanterns that quickly ascended into the stratosphere/sky. The sky was literally lit for a few minutes. I felt like I was in a movie! A parade followed the lantern lighting and flying in which traditional performances and floats featuring dragons, lotus flowers and other items symbolizing Buddhism marched down the streets.
I leave you with a collection of photos, some of which I took and others were borrowed from Tocuh Daegu blog.