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Dano festival an important legacy of Korean culture
Dano, or the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, is one of the three major traditional holidays in South Korea along with Lunar New Year's Day and Chuseok, the Autumn Full Moon.
The oldest Korean holiday marks the beginning of the summer season and it is a day for praying for favorable weather for farming and fishing and a good fall harvest. People traditionally spent the day merrymaking as respite after the arduous labor of spring planting and preparing for the summer farming season.
People engaged in traditional rituals such as offering their ancestors food ahead of a hopefully prosperous harvest. Various events were held throughout the country with "ssirum" or Korean-style wrestling being one of the typical activities associated with Dano.
The highlight of the day is seeing the strongest wrestler awarded a bull after putting on a public show, possibly the highest prize given in the agrarian society.
Meanwhile, women would compete by seeing who could swing the highest while standing up - the winner usually receiving a gold ring. Under the strict Confucian society of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Dano was a day of release for the community's women, who were routinely kept behind closed doors but on this day given official permission to go out to the village gardens.
Joseon kings presented folding fans to their subjects on Dano as gifts to ward off the scorching summer heat.
Women would add a brilliant shine to their jet-black hair by washing it in hot water with boiled iris leaves, a practice especially popular with the younger generations. Later, groups would gather to enjoy "surichi ddeok," a traditional rice cake made with various herbs.
Through time the day was developed and incorporated into the unique festivals of each region after it originated from China about 2,500 years ago.
Although nowadays the original meaning of the day is often forgotten, Dano festivals are held in many places across the nation, with the most famous one being held in Gangneung, Gangwon Province.
The official schedule of the Gangneung Danoje, now designated by central authorities as Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 13, is from June 9 to 13. However the festival actually began on May 12 with the production of a "sacred wine" that is used during the festive period.
Programs include "Dano-gut," a shamanic ritual, ssirum and swinging, performances of traditional plays by popular generic groups like "Songpa Sandaenori," Bongsan Mask Dance, Bukcheong Lion Dance and "Namsadang Nori," and rope walking. Foreign performers, including a troupe from Indonesia, will also entertain visitors.
More detailed information can be found by calling 033-648-3014 or logging on to www.danojefestival.or.kr.
Another major Dano festival is scheduled to be held in Beopseongpo, Yeonggwang-gun, South Jeolla Province from June 9-11. It will begin with a Korean music competition, ritual offerings to mountain spirits and the dragon king, and a lantern parade to pray for the well-being of villagers and a rich harvest and good catch for local fisherman.
Beopseongpo, which is famous for its "Yeonggwang gulbi" or dried yellow corvina, is also holding the eponymous fish festival during the Dano period. For further information call 061-356-4331 or go to http://www.danoje.co.kr.
Elsewhere in Jeonju there will be a ritual for King Gyeon Hweon of Hu (Latter) Baekje. Traditional events will include the aforementioned hair washing and distribution of Dano fans. For more details call 063-227-3057.
In Seoul, the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts (02-580-3300) in southern Seoul will hold a musical performance of "Gukjung Daehoe" on June 11 and reenact the Dano tradition at the Byeolmajiteo outdoor stage at 7:30 p.m.
Admission is free and the first 1,000 guests will be presented with a complementary Dano fan.