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South Korea’s lotus lantern lighting festival at final stage before UNESCO world heritage inscription

Yeondeunghoe, a lantern lighting festival in South Korea, on Tuesday received an “inscribe” recommendation from the evaluation body under the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, according to the Cultural Heritage Administration. (Yonhap)
Yeondeunghoe, a lantern lighting festival in South Korea, on Tuesday received an “inscribe” recommendation from the evaluation body under the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, according to the Cultural Heritage Administration. (Yonhap)

Yeondeunghoe, a lantern lighting festival in South Korea, reached the final stage before being inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets at 2 a.m., Tuesday, according to the Cultural Heritage Administration.

In March 2018, the CHA applied for the listing of Yeondeunghoe to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In its application, the agency explained that the lantern lighting festival‘s value lays in being a cultural festival for everyone in South Korea, although it was originally an event with a Buddhist significance.

The agency on Tuesday noted that the festival has passed the UNESCO Evaluation Body‘s review process, which chiefly evaluates the application’s technical completeness and the value of the heritage, and successfully received an “inscribe” recommendation.

The evaluation body announced the results of 42 applications on the same day, and 25 of them received an “inscribe“ recommendation, while 16 items recieved ”refer.” North Korea’s application for hanbok, or traditional Korean costume, was the only item that received “not to inscribe.”

The CHA added that the decision for the lantern festival’s listing will be finalized during the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which will take place from Dec. 14 to 19 in Paris. If the festival is designated in December, it would become South Korea’s 21st intangible cultural asset inscribed on the UNESCO list.

The lotus lantern festival, which is held to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, was designated as Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 122 in 2012.

The origin of the festival dates back to the Unified Silla era over 1,300 years ago. At the time, the festival was held on Daeboreum, a day celebrating the first full moon of the lunar calendar. During the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392), Yeondeunghoe turned into a festival marking Buddha’s birthday.

The most recent cultural heritage item inscribed as such was ssireum, or traditional Korean wrestling that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period, in 2018. Ssireum is also the two Koreas’ first jointly inscribed UNESCO world heritage item.

Meanwhile, this year’s Yeondeunghoe, which was postponed once from April to May, was canceled due to a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases here. 

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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