[Hallyupedia] Buddha's Birthday (부처님오신날)

윤지현 / 차민경 인턴 / 2021-05-18 12:57:55
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by Yun Ji Hyun / Cha Min Kyung

Bu-cheonim o-sin-nal
[ENG] Buddha's Birthday

Buddha's Birthday is a festival held to commemorate the birth of Gautama Buddha, who is believed to be the founder of Buddhism. The festival falls on April 8th on the lunar calendar, and is considered a public holiday in Korea. Since Buddha's Birthday is counted on the lunar calendar, the date in the solar calendar changes every year, however it usually falls in around early to mid-May.

▲ This photo taken on May 18th 2021, the day before Buddha's Birthday, shows people visiting the temple to prepare for the celebration.  

Gautama Buddha is believed to have been born on April 8th 624 BC as the son of Śuddhodana, the King of Kapilavstu and Queen Maya. In India, the suzerain state of Buddhism, celebrates Buddha's Birthday on April 8th of the lunar calendar as well, and most Eastern Asian countries with Buddhist culture rooted in its history celebrate this day. However, the date of celebration varies slightly from country to country.

▲ The Lotus Lantern Festival on Buddha's Birthday
Buddha's Birthday is regarded as the largest annual event within the Korean Buddhist community as various celebrations are centered around the Lotus Lantern Festival.

The traditions practiced in Buddhism have been handed down for a long time in Korea and Buddha's Birthday is enjoyed as a folk holiday by all Korean people, whether they are Buddhists or not.

As Buddha's Birthday approaches, people are able to see lotus shaped lanterns hanged everywhere on the street. In particular, famous temples have various lanterns lined so closely together that even the sky is hard to see in between.


▲ This photo taken on April 21st 2021 shows a person hanging colorful lanterns in preparation for Buddha's Birthday. The lanterns are hanging above the Jogyesa Temple located in Jongno, Seoul. 

In order to celebrate Buddha's Birthday, lighting and hanging lanterns is called 'gwan-deung-no-ri'. This custom is recorded to have been prevalent during the Goryeo Dynasty, beginning with the Silla Period. People can choose different shapes and colors of lanterns or make their own to put their written wishes inside.

The Yeon Deung Hoe or the Lotus Lantern Festival is a must-have event for Buddha's Birthday.

Recently, the large-scale lantern festival has been held under the name of "Cheong-gye-cheon Lotus Lantern Festival," and located in Jongno Street, Cheonggyecheon Stream and Jogyesa Temple in Seoul.


The highlight of the festival is the long lantern parade on the streets of downtown Seoul. Before the procession begins, roads in Jong-no are completely blocked, and thousands of chairs are placed around for viewers. This day is also considered the most visited day of the year by foreigners in Jong-no.

▲ This photo shows people enjoying the Yeon Deung Hoe also known as the Lotus Lantern Festival.  

As such, the Yeon Deung Hoe has now evolved beyond religious meaning into a cultural event that all citizens participate in and enjoy. Last year, Korea's Lotus Lantern Festival was also listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site.

This year, the event was held on a small scale compared to the average year due to the prolonged outbreak of the corona virus. It is also to be broadcast live online so that many people could still participate.

▲ Various folk events in harmony seasonal customs
On Buddha's Birthday, other folk events such as Tap-do-ri, Gwan-bul, and Bang-saeng can be found everywhere.

Tap-do-ri is a Buddhist ceremony and folk custom held at temples to make a wish not only on Buddha's birthday, but also on new year's day or before taking a college entrance exam.


▲ This photo taken in Gwangju on April 23rd shows monks and Buddhists walking around the pagoda in the 5.18 Democracy Square. 

When a monk goes around the pagoda with prayer breads and sings about Buddha's virtues, Buddhists follow the monk with their lanterns lit. In large temples, hundreds of people participate in the event, creating a spectacular view.


▲ This photo taken on April 29th 2015, shows people carrying out the Tap-do-ri around Gwanghwamun Plaza in honor of Buddha's Birthday. 


Gwan-bul, refers to the ritual of pouring water and bathing the statue of the baby Buddha. It is passed on as an event to celebrate the birth of the Buddha and pray for enlightenment in Buddhism.


▲ This picture taken in May 22nd 2018, shows a woman performing Gwan-bul, which refers to pouring water over and bathing the statue of baby Buddha.

Bang-saeng involves the work of putting fish, birds, and animals caught by others back into mountains or pond in order to save lives. Buddhism prohibits the killing of living creatures, so bang-saeng is encouraged within Buddhism.


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