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South Korea’s lotus lantern lighting festival inscribed as UNESCO world heritage

Yeondeunghoe, a lantern lighting festival in South Korea, was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Yonhap)
Yeondeunghoe, a lantern lighting festival in South Korea, was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Yonhap)

Yeondeunghoe, a lantern lighting festival in South Korea, was inscribed on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural assets on Wednesday.

The final decision on the lantern festival’s listing was made during the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which runs Monday to Saturday. The meetings are being held virtually due to the global pandemic.

“Unfortunately, we could not celebrate the listing on site together with Korean representatives and the Yeondeunghoe Preservation Committee, but we are really glad to see our representative festival Yeondeunghoe being listed after a nearly three-year journey,” head of the Cultural Heritage Administration Chung Jae-suk said in a statement. 

The festival held on the Buddha’s Birthday was designated as Korea’s Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 122 in 2012. In March 2018, the CHA applied for the listing of Yeondeunghoe to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

According to CHA, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage acknowledged the inclusiveness of Yeondeunghoe, which contributes to overcoming social boundaries and ultimately expressing cultural diversity. 

Chung also highlighted that it was especially meaningful that the committee pointed out Yeondeunghoe as a good example of how a single inscription can contribute to enhancing the public awareness of the significance of intangible cultural heritage in general.

The agency added that the successful inscription of Yeondeunghoe on the Representative List was possible due to its close collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Yeondeunghoe Safeguarding Committee.

In November, the festival successfully received an “inscribe” recommendation from the UNESCO Evaluation Body.

The agency explained that the application form that the CHA submitted at the time emphasized the lantern lighting festival‘s value as a cultural festival for everyone in South Korea, although it was originally an event with a Buddhist significance.

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

With this listing, the festival is now South Korea’s 21st intangible cultural asset inscribed on the UNESCO list.

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

“We will try to make Yeongdeunghoe a cultural heritage that can be loved by the people around the world regardless of their religion,” Chung added.

CHA will hold a special exhibition to mark Yeondeunghoe’s UNESCO listing from Friday to Feb. 28 next year in conjunction with the Yeondeunghoe Safeguarding Committee. The exhibition showcasing the festival‘s value and its origin will be held at the National Intangible Heritage Center in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province.

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