Samgwangsa on Buddha’s Birthday
Every year it comes. On the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, Korea celebrates Buddha’s Birthday. Among all of the holidays and festivals in South Korea, Buddha’s Birthday may be my favorite!
In Korean, they call it 석가탄신일 – seokga tansinil – or 부처님 오신 날 – bucheonim osin nal. In a literal sense, that means something like “the day when Buddha came.” A few weeks before the holiday itself, Buddhist temples all over the country begin preparing. They hang lanterns all over the temple and the grounds nearby. Sometimes the displays are modest, like at the small hermitages up in the remote mountains. Other times, the displays are large, lavish, and immensely colorful. There is one temple, however, which is simply breathtaking in it’s lantern display: 삼광사 – Samgwangsa.
Samgwangsa is a Buddhist temple located in northern Busan, Korea’s second largest city. The temple sits on the side of one of the dozens of small mountains that break up Busan’s urban landscape. Samgwangsa itself is a gorgeous temple year round. The architecture of the main hall, the pagoda, and the smaller buildings are absolutely beautiful surrounded by Spring flowers, Autumn leaves, or covered in a light Winter snow. But the lantern display at Samgwangsa for Buddha’s birthday surpasses everything else. It is absolutely stunning!
Literally thousands of lanterns of all sizes and myriad colors adorn the temple halls, pathways, and the mountainside throughout the holiday. Red, orange, yellow, white, blue.. there are even animated lanterns representing large white elephants and fire-breathing dragons!
If you look closely, a vast number of the lanterns adorning Samgwangsa during this time have small cards hanging beneath them. These cards bear names and numbers along with a prayer. Buddhists can make a donation to the temple and, in return, they receive ownership of one of the many lanterns. Beneath it, they hang the card with their name and a prayer for their family.
We last visited Samgwangsa during Buddha’s Birthday on the 33rd anniversary of the temple’s construction. Of course, we made a video while we were there. Check it out here! It is, by far, the best lantern display in South Korea.