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Reincarnation of the Seoul: South Korea’s Rebirth from Flames

Article by Daniel Collins

On the evening of February 10th, 2008, disgruntled 69-year old landowner Chae Jong-gi, upset over having been underpaid for land sold to developers, sprayed paint thinner onto one of his nation’s greatest and most recognisable landmarks, and then set it alight, making his escape as the Namdaemun Gate was immersed in flame. Despite the efforts of around 360 fire fighters, the fire raged out of control, destroying the gate’s ancient wooden structure.The Namdaemun, or Sungnyemun gate (literally ‘Gate of Exalted Ceremonies’), was first constructed in 1398, and served as the main southern entrance to the great walled city of Seoul for a period of 600 years, right from when Seoul first became the capital of South Korea. Its destruction sent shockwaves through the nation, with many Seoul citizens gathering to watch in horror and dismay as their country’s number one national treasure was reduced to ashes and soot.South Korea is, however, not a nation easily disheartened. For a country that is predominantly Buddhist, reincarnation — if you’ll pardon the pun — is very much a part of life. And in the true spirit of Buddhism, the phoenix of Seoul has risen from the ashes of the devastation of January 2008 to celebrate the Vesak, an occasion that marks the birth of Buddha, and celebrates the history and culture that has helped shape South Korea into a country both harmonious and prosperous. Determined by the Lunar Calendar, Bucheonim osin nal (‘the day Buddha arrived’) takes place at a different time every year, and in 2008 fell on the 12th of May (it will take place on the 2nd of May in 2009). While obviously mainly celebrated by the quarter of Seoul’s population that are of the Buddhist faith, Buddha’s Birthday is a festival experienced and enjoyed by the whole city. Throughout May, colourful lotus lanterns are hung in the grounds of many of the 10,000 Buddhist temples that are scattered around Korea, and the lanterns of the Seoul temples are even known to spill out onto the streets of the city, climbing the walls of many of the restaurants and hotels in Seoul, which is an added bonus for tourists who have come to be catch glimpses and photographs of Seoul’s most inspiring and enlightening festival.Other activities that take place during this period of Buddhist celebration include Buddhist bead-making, parades honouring the deity and rituals held within the Buddhist temples themselves, such as chanting ceremonies and the all-important Bathing of Buddha — the washing of a statue of the young Buddha, which represents the cleansing of greed, hatred and other evils from the mind, body, and from society itself.

About the Author

Daniel Collins writes on a number of topics on behalf of a digital marketing agency and a variety of clients. As such, this article is to be considered a professional piece with business interests in mind.

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