SEOUL—The annual Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday falls on May 21 this year. A series of festivities have been scheduled throughout Korea from May 14 to May 23, but the highlight is always the Lotus Lantern Parade, held this year on May 16 in Seoul, South Korea. [ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER GALLERY]
Monks from more than 280 temples in Korea, Buddhists from all over the country, and monks and Buddhists from Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Tibet all came to join the grand parade which attracted more than 300,000 spectators, including over 10,000 foreign tourists.
The parade started at 7 p.m. with a traditional Korean band and standard-bearers leading the march, followed by massive, illuminated lanterns of various forms and shapes, including the Four Great Heavenly Kings, a Buddha statue, lion, tiger, lotus flower, elephant, phoenix, and many other lantern creations.
Many of the 50,000 parade participants held all sorts of different lanterns in their hands, and many spectators also joined the lineup as lantern holders, turning the streets of Seoul into a sea of lanterns.
Buddhism was introduced to Korea in 371 A.D. during the period of the Three Kingdoms. King Sosurim, the 17th ruler of one of the three kingdoms, Goguryeo, proclaimed new laws and embraced Buddhism as the national religion during his reign.
According to the official website for Korean tourism, the lighting of a lotus-shaped lantern in Buddhism traditionally symbolizes a display of religious devotion to performing good deeds and lighting up the dark parts of the world that are filled with agony. For the past 1,000 years, this practice has developed and been preserved in many forms of public performances such as the Lotus Lantern Service (a national-level Buddhist memorial service) and the Lotus Lantern Parade.
In recent years, the Lotus Lantern Parade has become the biggest celebratory event in South Korea. Korean dignitaries from both the ruling party and the opposition party often attend the parade to send their greetings and blessings.