Buddha’s Birthday Preparations

Heading Yonggungsa [Busan]

Being a temple dweller of sorts, Buddha’s Birthday is a special time. Dependent on your location in Asia will depend on when this event is observed although usually it will fall on the date of the first full moon in the fourth month of the lunar calendar, which here in South Korea is typically sometime during the month of May.

The most obvious ritual for non-Buddhist’s to be aware of is the appearance of colourful lanterns that adorn every single temple regardless of size, location or importance.

Tongdosa [Yangsan]

For a photographer, this is a fantastic opportunity to capture interesting images as temple complexes are always awash with colour as well as heaving with people jostling for the best position to take their memorable photographs.

Last year this event took place early in the month of May and lucky enough to be in Korea during celebrations of Prince Siddhartha’s (the historical Buddha) birthday we made our first visit one of my now favourite temples Haedong Yonggungsa. Known as the ‘Korean Dragon Palace Temple’ Haedong Yonggungsa sits on the shoreline of the Sea of Japan (East Sea) making it a great place to take photographs and during last years birthday celebrations the temple saw a constant flow of tourists, locals and devotees alike.

Unfortunately, this year I will not be in Korea for Buddha’s Birthday celebrations but wanted to commemorate it in some way, therefore I headed to a few of the larger temple complexes to see what happens during the preparation for this important event.

When I visit a temple I am always prepared to be met by some form of beauty, this beauty comes in many forms and can be visual, physical or spiritual however I was not prepared for the onslaught of activity that met me during my recent visits and although I was intrigued by the hustle and bustle going on around me, I felt a little out of sorts surrounded by the uncommon mess and commotion I saw before me. Yes I understand that it takes time and effort to make these places look spectacular, but I am not accustom to temples being a hive of activity, after all most of time I relish the peace and quiet afforded by these spiritual places.

It was kind of cool seeing the bare scaffolding begin prepared for the lights and lanterns and although it made the beauty look more like a beast I gained a better understanding for the work involved in transforming a temple from a place of worship into a place of light and colour.

Even though most of the larger temples were busying themselves with their work, some temples were already prepared for the celebrations confirming that grander is not always better.

If I decide to do this again next year, I will probably wait until a little closer to the celebration date as maybe six weeks out was a little to early for my investigation to be as successful as I had hoped. I am also considering the opportunity of making a visit around dusk or at night, as I would really love to see these lanterns come alive in the dark.  More of my images can be found here.

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