The Lotus Lantern Festival is held annually in Insadong, Seoul. The purpose of the festival is to not only honour Buddha and his birthday which falls on the 10thof May, but also to symbolize lighting up the parts of the world, and ourselves, that are suffering or in darkness. It is essentially for the enlightenment of us all. Thus, on Sunday, I headed off to join in the festivities of making Lotus Lanterns, not only to partake in a fun day of arts, but also to share in the beautiful notion of enlightenment for all.
The festival area was a closed off street exhibiting stands and stalls to delight all curiosities from making mini lotuses, enjoying temple food to colouring laughing Buddha’s for children. The brilliance of this event was that Buddhists from all over the world came to celebrate and I noted Mongolian, Cambodian, Taiwanese, Tibetan, Himalayan and Nepalese Buddhists with their stands joining in the festival serving to enrich the diversity of this day but also to show their love and devotion for Buddha.
The lotus making itself was at the far end of the street, and had tables and chairs stretched out in order to accommodate the 200 lantern makers. I joined my friends at our designated seats. Before us was set out individual baskets with coloured paper for the petals, glue, as well as the skeleton of the lanterns, constructed out of wire and paper. All we had to do was twist the pieces of paper in colours of our choice, and glue them onto the lantern. Of course this is easier said than done, and after some 2 hours of paper twisting and gluing, we sat satisfied albeit glued and stained with colour with the finished product. Each lantern was different from colourand pattern to frequency of petals.
The end of the Lantern making was celebrated with a prize giving and photo taking session. Some of my friends won prizes for our lanterns, possibly as we had made an effort to befriend our lantern making guide. The prizes included incense, candles, books and finally traditional Korean clothes – Hanbok.
After the lantern making, we set off, proud with our patience and accomplishment of our arts to explore the rest of the festival. The main Temple in Insadong, Jogyesa was a hub of activity. A silver pagoda stood at the foot of the Temple with a maze of coloured lanterns fluttering in the background.
Beyond the lanterns stood the grand Temple itself, with its high arching eaves so exquisitely crafted and coloured, it is almost too much for the senses to attune. People were lining up to enter the Temple where chanting and traditional instruments could be heard. It was as if people were magnetically drawn in, like bees to honey. The outside walls were decorated with murals of the Buddha in all shapes and forms, sitting, standing, meditating – these glorious depictions of this peaceful and enlightened being bringing the Temple walls to life. I managed to spot Korean woman dressed in Hanbok about to enter the temple, they were ushering children in – truly a sight to behold, I felt as if I had been transported back in time.
We made our way around the back and to the side of the Temple, and to my left, massive doors stood partially ajar. Inside I caught a glimpse of the massive golden Buddha towering over the seated devotees, eyes closed yet still with such a powerful gaze and presence I felt as if he had penetrated directly into my soul.
Unable to shake off the immensity of the effect of this, I decided that I had had a suitable amount of crowds and festivities, and headed happily back to the nearest subway line, content and contemplating the wondrous day behind me. That vision of Buddha between the open doors will never leave me.