Framed by traditional thatched cottages, a sari-clad, Sanskrit-chanting mob throngs the entrance to Jeju Stone Park.
“Baba Nam Kevalam, Baba Nam Kevalam, Baba Nam Kevalam, Baba Nam Kevalam.”
Dada Kovid of Sweden — his flowing blond beard and curly locks hinting he may not be from the subcontinent himself — offers an explanation.
▲ Ananda Marga practitioners lead the crowd in a chant at the entrance to Jeju Stone Park. Photo by Yoki S Jeong (Yoki Photography)
“It means love is all there is in the Sanskrit language. This mantra and very simple dance ... engage and channel all the senses and lift the mind for meditation.”
A spiritual movement and lifestyle for personal and social development, Ananda Marga were only the most conspicuous among many international guests at the Seolmundae Halmang Festival held Friday, May 15.
First held in 2004, the event is part of a month of celebrations in honor of Jeju’s creator goddess, Seolmundae Halmang at the park. (Read more about Seolmundae Halmang here - Ed.)
▲ Music and dance were enjoyed throughout the day at Jeju Stone Park. Photo by Yoki S Jeong (Yoki Photography)
▲ Photo by Yoki S Jeong (Yoki Photography)
Paek Uncheol, park director and festival organizer, looking on at the dancing and chanting crowds, was overjoyed with the bonhomie. (Click here for an interview with Paek - Ed.)
“I feel so good. It is the ninth festival officially [and] next year will be our 10th anniversary. We will make it even bigger next time,” he said, reflecting on participants from India, Nepal, Australia, Taiwan, the UK and more.
▲ Chung Dal-ho (right) expresses the importance of the Seolmundae Halmang myth. Photo by Yoki S Jeong (Yoki Photography)
The former Korean ambassador to Egypt and Panama, Chung Dal-ho, was also at the event and he believes it is crucial in uniting people both within and without Jeju.
“I think perhaps this mythical aspect of Jeju is one of the paths to the future ... [allowing us to] wash our polluted spiritual detritus,” he said.
Central among the artistic performances and religious ceremonies — all of Korea’s major religious denominations were represented — was the crowning of nine priestesses chosen from leading women of the Jeju community.
▲ 92-year-old Lee Hyojae, renowned former Ehwa Woman’s University sociologist and activist (left). Photo by Yoki S Jeong (Yoki Photography)
92-year-old Lee Hyojae, renowned former Ehwa Woman’s University sociologist and activist, was among the priestesses and she urged the present generation to “keep the spirit of Seolmundae Halmang alive as she sacrificed herself for the creation of this island.”
Olle founder Suh Myungsook singled out the “really special” presence of Lee, whose crowning as a priestess heightened Suh’s “consciousness as a woman.”
“This festival makes us consider our roots and where we are from, what Jeju should be, the spirit of Jeju, and how Jeju can ensure happiness for women,“ said Suh.
Marsha Bogolin, an American Jeju resident and former festival priestess, said the event helped remind people of their “connection with this earth and with heaven ... who they represent, who they are on this planet.”
Local artist Jeon Jeong-cheol was found wandering wistfully among the standing stones of the park and he reflected on the myth's essence as the “the root of Jeju consciousness,” aiding people in “cleansing their polluted spirits.”
▲ Traditional Korean drummers perform in front of the altar. Photo by Yoki S Jeong (Yoki Photography)
Jeju’s animist belief system clearly inspired many on the day, and Barbara McCandless from Canada even sensed sentience in the towering stones of the park.
“It is a wonderful energy. I call them sculptures and I like walking among these beings. I don’t feel necessarily the connection with myth, as much as the mystique of the beings.”
Entry to Jeju Stone Park is free throughout May, designated as the month of Seolmundae Halmang.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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