Celebrating Buddha's birthday in South Korea
Buddha’s birthday falls on May 21st this year. Mark it on the calendar. For those already in Korea or on their way over there’s no shortage of festivities to partake in. As the country is largely Buddhist, the majority of the peninsula will be lit up during the Lantern Festival which runs from May 14th to May 23rd. A favorite among international visitors it features plenty of photo opportunities and tons of hands-on experience programs where both visitors and Seoulites can make lotus-shaped lanterns or paint Buddhist pictures.
The highlight of the festivities is the Traditional Lantern Exhibition at Bongeunsa in Gangnam-gu (Samseong Station subway Line 2), where more than 40 sophisticated lanterns made from hanji (traditional dyed Korean rice paper) are on display throughout the historic grounds. Representing long life, health and good harvest, the glowing art works breathe new life into the historic temple.
The Buddha’s Birthday Dharma & Lantern Lighting on the 23rd will then wrap up at temples throughout the nation, including Jogyesa (Anguk Station subway Line 3).
One of many glowing lanterns on display at Bongeunsa’s Traditional Lantern Exhibition.
Rows of glowing lanterns sway in the incense-laden breeze over Bongeunsa’s main court.
A couple partake in a memorial service at Bongeunsa.
If you're looking for something a little more 'out of the way' -- scratch that, seriously adventurous -- head down to Bongamsa in the remote town of Mungyeong, arguably one of the most beautiful parts of Korea. A hike in itself but what awaits is jaw-dropping natural beauty.
Sitting two hours outside of Seoul at the base of towering Mt Huiyangsan, the temple takes meditation pretty seriously. So much so that they close their doors to the public 364 days a year, granting visitors only a quick peek on Buddha’s birthday. Devoted strictly to Seon Buddhism (otherwise known as Zen Buddhism), and designated by Korea’s Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism as a sacred meditation center, Bongamsa is an adventure you won’t soon forget.
Getting there: Best bet is via the town of Mungyeong. From Seoul’s Dong Seoul Bus Terminal (Gangbyeon Station subway Line 2) grab the bus bound for Jeomchon (NOT Mungyeong). Buses depart from Jeomchon’s city bus terminal at 7.40am, 9.40am, 1.40pm, 5.40pm and 7.10pm. The bus drops you off along the main road. The temple operates shuttle buses from here.
Accommodation: Comfortably visited in a day but if need be there are inns around the city bus terminal.
What to eat: Visitors are fed bibimbap and rice cakes.