The annual Lotus Lantern Festival, called “Yeondeunghoe” in Korean and held to mark Buddha’s birthday, has been officially designated Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage on Dec. 16 made the decision in its 15th session held online.
Other Korean cultural heritage with the honor include Jongmyo jeryeak, or the royal music played at ancestral rituals during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), pansori (one-person lyrical opera), ganggangsullae (traditional circle dance), the folk song “Arirang” and ssireum (folk wrestling).
The committee called the festival an inclusivity surpassing eras that has transformed and that it shows cultural diversity that transcends national, racial and obstacle boundaries.
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It added that the event temporarily removes social boundaries and plays an important role in sharing joy and overcoming crisis.
Launched during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.-A.D. 935), the festival is held on April 8 under the lunar calendar to mark the birth of Buddhism’s founder. The event has a long history and is mentioned in “The Chronicles of the Three States,” a historical record published in 1145 on the three ancient kingdoms of the Korean Peninsula: Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla.
The festival comprises a lantern ceremony (yeondeung beophoe), march (haengryoel) and memorial service (hoehyang).
Starting off as a religious event but now a leading spring happening open to all, the festival features lanterns made from bamboo and Hanji (traditional paper) used to decorate Buddhist temples and streets and the holding of a parade.