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JINDO FESTIVAL

By

TAMARAPU SAMPATH KUMARAN


About the author:
Mr T Sampath Kumaran is a freelance writer. He regularly contributes articles on
Management, Business, Ancient Temples and Temple Architecture to many
leading Dailies and Magazines. His articles for the young is very popular in “The
Young World section” of THE HINDU.
He was associated in the production of two Documentary films on Nava Tirupathi
Temples, and Tirukkurungudi Temple in Tamilnadu. His books on Festivals and
Customs of people around the world, and places of Tourist interest, have been well
received by the younger circles.

Acknowledgement: Google for the pictures and many authors for the information,
Korea seems to have a festival for everything. There is a butterfly festival, a
lantern festival, about seven cherry blossom festivals, and the Jindo festival in
April and May. Much like visiting too many temples in a short time, you can also
get festival-ed out! The Jindo “Miracle Sea Road Festival” however, is truly
unique.
But while many of the dozens of annual Korean festivals seem to offer little more
than a perfunctory reason for erecting a massive tent city to cater to the thronged
masses, one yearly event stands head and shoulders above the rest not only for the
rare occurrence that it captures, but the centuries-old tale behind it as well.

Jindo Island is the principle island among the cluster of 230 islets in the south
western part of the Korean peninsula. The island is blessed with an abundance of
fertile land therefore much of it is used for agriculture. The sea around it is teeming
with fish and wildlife.

The island has many parks reserves like the Dadohae National
Marine Park, historical relics and sites; and you can find traditional artistic
performances everywhere.

Jindo Island is the third largest island in Korea, next to Jejudo and Geojedo Island.
It is made up of 250 smaller islands, and it is famous for the appearance of a dry
road in the middle of the sea, near the end of February and mid-June of the lunar
calendar. As it resembles a passage in the Old Testament in the Book of Exodus,
the event is called “The Miracle of Moses”. When the water recedes, a road about
30-40-meter-wide and 2.8 km long appears, which stays for about an hour before
being submerged again. Once a year, for 90 brief minutes the Yellow Sea
magically recedes, giving way to a wide, curving path linking Jindo
to neighbouring Modo Island. While it seems that the road parts a few meters, in
fact, there are many places that remain submerged, and it is just shallow water.
With the Jindo Bridge construction nearing completion, the island is soon being
connected to the mainland.

Jindo Island’s once small and local “Mysterious Sea Way” festival came to
international prominence in 1975 when Pierre Randi, then French ambassador to
South Korea, described the event in a French newspaper. The event now attracts
nearly half a million foreign and domestic visitors each year.

Many clad in bright orange or yellow thigh-


high rubber boots trek between landmasses.

While the waters usually part 2-3 times each spring between the months of March
and June, the celebration itself takes place just once per year. The four festival
days reach their apex in the late afternoon, when the tides get so low that a land
bridge between the islands emerges for approximately 60-90 minutes.
At this time, locals and visitors alike can choose either to dig for
abalone, clams, crabs, seaweed and other assorted ocean delicacies – which can be
cooked to order in any number of tent restaurants afterwards – or traipse along the
path once famously trodden in Korean folklore by a woman called Grandma
Bbong.

Jindo Island has some legends which are still popular today, especially that of “Old
Woman Bbyong of Hoedongri”. Long time ago, there were many tigers on Jindo
Island. When tigers began appearing frequently in the village, the people fled to
Modo Island. In the process, only one old woman Bbyong ended up remaining on
the island, so the lady prayed every day to Yongwang, the god of the ocean, to let
her see her family again. Around February, Yongwang appeared to her in her
dream and said, “I will send a rainbow to the sea tomorrow; ride it and cross the
ocean”. The next day-old woman Bbyong went out to the sea and prayed again, and
the seawater parted as the rainbow road appeared. Grandma Bbong dashed across
the opening but soon fell victim to exhaustion and the stress of her ordeal. Her
family ran out to meet her and she died there in their arms, her final words spoken
in praise of the Dragon King for helping to reunite her with her family one last
time. Through this road, her family and the other villagers came back to the island.
Therefore, when the sea parts, the people celebrate this phenomenon by holding
the Yeongdeung Festival to remember the Old Woman Bbyong. During the
Festival, original folk plays of Jindo Island are performed and draws many tourists
into Jindo Island.

According to another old Korean tale, at the end of the 15th century (during the
Joseon Dynasty) a man named Son Dong-ji was condemned to exile on Jeju Island,
located a few hours south of the mainland. However, a strong storm shipwrecked
Son during his journey through the Yellow Sea down Korea’s west coast, ensuring
that he never made it to his destination. He instead found himself washed ashore in
the village of Hoedong (literally “tiger place”) on modern-day Jindo, so-named for
the abundance of the ferocious striped beasts that allegedly once roamed the area.
There, Son and his descendants eked out a difficult living amongst the other
villagers over the next 200 years. During this time, many fell prey to attacks by the
big orange-and-black cats and were brutally killed. Finally, a decision was made
for everyone to flee by raft to nearby Modo, where they would be able to live in
peace.

While today’s festival is predominantly focused on “food, fun, and foraging,”


many locals still stage shamanic rituals, dances and other performances to honour
Grandma Bbong. In fact, a traditional band can be seen playing songs along the
ocean road while they make their yearly pilgrimage to Modo, where they pay their
respects to the statue of Grandma Bbong.

For many Koreans the sea-parting remains a


mystical event, and many come to pray for the well-being of their families and the
wishes of their children and loved ones to come true.

Bill Nye, a scientist gives an explanation of the natural phenomena, at National


Geographic of the Jindo sea-parting break down. Basically, it all comes down to
extreme low tides caused by something called “tidal harmonics.” There are several
major factors that cause water levels to rise and recede: the gravitational pull of the
sun and the moon are the two most well-known, but the Earth’s rotation cycle and
the momentum of both the Earth and the moon that results in varying distances
between the two rocks also play big parts. All these factors create different
gravitational forces that cause distinct and repeating patterns in the tide. On
occasion these factors will all sync up, creating extreme high or, in the case of
Jindo, extreme low tides. So, what appears to be a miraculous parting of the sea is
in fact an overall lowering of the water level to reveal an elevated ridge of
sediment that runs between the two islands. The phenomenon is the result of an
extremely low tide, known as tidal harmonics.
During the hour that the sea parts, you can take a walk all the way to Modo Island,
hunt for clams and shells on the pathway, take incredible photos and simply enjoy
being in the middle of the sea without getting your clothes wet. What's more, the
event is accompanied by a plethora of cultural performances from folklore concerts
and street performances to art exhibitions.

Other events include a torch parade along the sea road, an international academic
seminar, a Jindo Arirang contest, a K-pop concert, traditional group folk dance
called "ganggang sullae" and a traditional percussion parade.

Grandma is still praying to this very day.


While of course, the story is legend, the facts remain that the ocean truly does part
in late April every year for a few hours. Thousands of people come from all over
the world to take the same road Grandma Mulberry took, paying homage to her
miracle.

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