We’re almost to the end of April which means we’re just a month away from my favorite Korean Holiday: Buddha’s Birthday, or Seokgatanssinil (석가탄신일). This year Buddha’s Birthday falls on Friday, May 21st and all of the temples around town are getting ready to hang their lanterns. As a Buddhist school, Dongguk University is preparing for its annual lantern-lighting ceremony this Thursday evening, April 29th. It’s open to the public, so if you’re local or passing through town this Thursday, you should definitely come down and check it out. I went last year and it was pretty cool.
The ceremony begins at 6:30 pm in the Dongguk University Gymnasium (문무관). There’ll be a bunch of performances of traditional Korean music and dance, including Samulnori(사물놀이), Buddhist drumming (법고), and Korean classic orchestra (국악오케스트라). After an hour or so, there’ll be an official lantern lighting ceremony where the president flips the switch for the lanterns all over campus.
As students, monks and professors shuffle out of the gym, they pick up candlelit lanterns or balloons and head off on a parade around campus. It’s an oddly solemn yet festive affair with students chatting away over the sound of chanting. It lasts about half an hour and eventually winds down around the elephant statue. The whole thing closes with a grand finale of fireworks over the Won Hyo Gwon building. All in all, it’s quite a beautiful evening and makes for some great photo ops if you’re into photography. Definitely don’t forget your camera.
If you’re interested in coming out for the festivities, show up at the Dongguk University Gym (문무관) at 6:30pm this Thursday, April 29th. From the Dongguk’s main gate, go straight in, pass the soccer field on your left, and take your first right. The Gymnasium is the 2nd building on your left (yellow marker on the map below). It’s easiest to catch a cab to the gate and walk from there. But if you’re going on foot, you can cross the Dongdae Bridge (동대교) from Seonggeon-dong (성건동). Follow the road around past Dongguk Hospital on your left and the main gate is directly ahead.
UPDATE (4-27-10): It turns out that the S. Korean government has declared this Thursday to be a National Day of Mourning for the 46 sailors who went down when the warship “Cheonan” was sunk (possibly by a torpedo blast) on March 26th. The lantern lighting ceremony will still go on, but it will be more subdued. In other words, there probably won’t be any fireworks this year, as that wouldn’t really look too good on a National Day of Mourning.
View Dongguk University, Gyeongju Campus in a larger map