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Photo Feature: Enter the Dragon

A Korean dragon at the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul
Photographer: Jeremiah Christanand Rao

Seoul is fascinating at the best of times, and takes on a wholly different character during the Lotus Lantern Festival, held every year around the Buddha’s birthday


South Korea sure knows how to throw a birthday party. Every year, the bite-sized futuristic nation celebrates the Buddha’s birthday with the very dazzling (literally), very traditional Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul. And they’ve been doing it for a while. Yeung Dong Hoe, or ‘lighting the lantern’, dates back to the 10th century Silla Kingdom, and is a ritual that honours the Buddha from the times of the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties. In Buddhism, lanterns are a symbol of wisdom, lighting up the dark corners of the world, and the lotus, its most common motif, stands for purity. Today, the bash kicks off with the lighting of hundreds of thousands of lotus lanterns, ending in a massive parade of performers and floats and lanterns of all shapes and sizes and a party that everyone attends, even though only a quarter of Koreans are Buddhists. Jogye monks, the country’s largest Buddist sect, traditionally open the revelries, with the parade starting at Dongdaemun and ending at the Jogyesa Temple. The festival this year was particularly special, marking the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, and also featured lanterns to remember the victims of the Nepal earthquake by.

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