Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dano Festival

Gangneung is a town situated on the north eastern coast of Korea and is famous for the Dano Festival, a shaman festival which dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty(918-1392).

The festival is the biggest held in the area throughout the entire year and begins on the fifth day, of the fourth month of the lunar calender.

On the first day of the festival it is believed that spirits come down from the mountains, to the Dano Festival area by the Namdaecheon River. People walk through the town alongside the spirits, carrying lanterns to lead them to the ritual site. Once they arrive, the lanterns are set adrift along the Namdaecheon River, as prayers are offered. The spirits stay at the altar here for five days and on the final day, they make their journey back towards the mountain.

The first ritual of the day is called Jojeonjo, which is held on the Dano altar every morning at 9 o'clock and is dedicated to praying for a bountiful harvest and tranquility.

Following this is the Dano Gut, a ritual which is carried out by several female shamans and musicians. During the Dano Gut the head shaman performs a song in time with the accompanying beat of the drum, whilst other musicians strike cymbals to help create an entrancing sound, quite unlike any other I've ever heard before.

Whilst all of this is happening, people pray at the Dano altar and light pieces of paper ,that burn away as they rise up into the air above.

Throughout the day rituals are performed not only for a plentiful harvest, but to exorcise spirits as well, in the hope of warding off misfortune and disease.

Shaman Ceremony

The festival is also home to one of Korea's largest markets and the Korean word 'nanjang' is used to describe it, which literally means 'place of chaos' or 'place of confusion'.

Anything and everything was on sale here, from kitchen utensils and DVDs to handicrafts and traditional foods like silkworm larvae(bundaegi), which I'll hopefully get to try at some point during my stay here.

Probably the most interesting thing in the market was a man on a stall selling bottles with ginsing and huge centipedes in them for medicinal purposes, which I have to say looked quite the opposite of tempting.

Throughout the whole day there were a number of performances of traditional farming music, which I enjoyed greatly and the movement of the dancers and the vivid costumes, coupled with the music, provided some enthralling entertainment for the watching crowd.

The final event of the day was the Hapyeong Dapgynori, which is a game played between two teams, in the hope that they have a good harvest and large catches of fish.

Once it became dark each team of people dressed in their traditional shamanist attire, lit their torches and then started to walk around in a circle chanting. Then both teams walked onto a wooden bridge to confront each other and pretended to fight in a mock torch battle. It was all very exciting with everyone waving their flaming torches at each other and shouting loudly.

After this they came down and the atmosphere was unbelievable as everybody was walking round and chanting at the top of their voices. People watching were even allowed to join in and it was definitely the highlight of the whole day for me.

For all the photos click here.