After checking out the Lantern Festival Parade on Saturday night, on Sunday May 8th, 2016 we ventured back over to Insadong to check out Jogyesa (a Temple near the large palace in Seoul called Gyeongbokgung). I must have been completely turned around, because all this time I thought that Insadong and Namdaemun were far East of Dongdaemun. Turns out they’re West, and had we actually followed the parade we would have found ourselves at Jogyesa. “To enter the temple Jogyesa have to go through first Iljum or the one pillar gate. The Iljumun is an entry that represents is the division that separates the mortal world the world of Buddha.”
In Insadong it’s pretty popular to rent and wear a Hanbok, the traditional Korean dresses and suits as seen in the images above. Korean couples love to get dressed up and wander around the old, traditional towns, as well as the Palaces and the Temples. All this was amplified by the hoopla of Buddha’s Birthday Weekend which has been celebrated as a festival since the Unified Silla era over 1,300 years ago. Yep – he gets the whole weekend, the festival, the parade, and all the beautiful lantern displays at nearly every temple the month leading up to his birthday and for for many, the weeks beyond (at Jogyesa they’ll be around until May 22nd). I guess it’s like leaving your Christmas lights up on your front porch all year long, just a lot less honky-tonk and a lot more beautiful!
Lanterns displayed en masse around the smiling, laughing, baby Buddha were a sight to behold. The temple was established in 1395 (Joseon Dynasty), and being that the neighbourhood surrounding various historical sites is actually the financial district and City Hall, it’s an amazing juxtaposition of old and new that I’ve come to love in Korea, particularly in Seoul.
Visit Korea describes Jogyesa here:
“Jogyesa Temple is the center of Zen Buddhism in Korea, and is famous for being located in the city. From the busy streets of Jongno, follow the road towards Anguk Subway Station, and you will see Jogyesa Temple. The first thing you will notice at the temple are the lovely trees. These locust trees and baeksong trees in front of the Daeungjeon, the main temple building, are about 500 years old. One locust tree is about 26-meter high, and in the summer, provides a large amount of shade to enhance the mood of the temple. The baeksong tree is designated as a Natural Monument.”
…maybe it’s just me, but 500 year-old trees who have survived various wars and still hold their ground sure beat the rocks, upon rocks, upon rocks of the pre-historic era of the National Museum.
We hadn’t initially intended to go to another Lantern Festival, it just kind of happened. The idea was to go to the Hanok villages, but we couldn’t resist checking out Jogyesa since it was such a short distance from the subway. I wondered why there were so many colourful and exciting lanterns, and a large section of white ones. I don’t remember ever having seen so many rows of pure, white lanterns at any other temple. After doing some research while editing photos, I found out that White Lanterns are made for people who have died. On a small tag beneath the lantern, a name is written along with a wish the writer hopes to carry in their heart.
On Buddha’s Birthday, there is also the tradition of bathing the Buddha. This ritual highlights a universal message that “it’s easy to wash away physical dirt but it’s much more difficult to cleanse one’s ‘inner dirt’ of greed, anger and ignorance.” Pour water over small Buddha statue 3 times. While pouring the water, say:
- -1st wash: “May I eliminate all evil thoughts.”
- -2nd wash: “May I cultivate good deeds.”
- -3rd wash: “May I help save all living beings.”
As the sun began to set, the big lanterns and floats from Saturday night’s parade lined up to head out into Insadong for a final show, and what I would later find out was the journey down Cheonggyecheon Stream I had been so excited to see (Google told me that that was a different lantern festival in Seoul in November). Jogyesa redeemed my expectations of the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul. If you only have one day to check out lanterns, make sure to go on the Sunday and follow the parade from the Temple to the Stream. For me, I guess I could always revisit the Temple over the next few days and make a wish to see it all next year.