Jongmyo, a royal Confucian shrine dedicated to the ancestors of the Choson dynasty, located in Seoul, houses ritual practices which bring together song, dance and music. The rite is now practised just once a year on the first Sunday in May and is organised by the descendants of the royal family. It is a unique example of a Confucian rite, which is no longer celebrated in China itself. It draws on classical Chinese texts concerning the cult of the ancestors and the notion of filial piety, with a prayer for the eternal peace of the spirits of the ancestors in a shrine built to be their spiritual resting place. The rite was fixed in its present form in 15th century collections which define the order of the ceremony: during the rite, the priests, dressed in ritual costume with a crown for the king and diadems for the others, make offerings of food and libations of wine in ritual vessels. The music (gongs, bells, lutes, zithers, flutes) and dance (performed by 64 dancers in 8 lines) present an alternation of the forces of Ying and Yang as set out in the Confucian texts. The Mumun dance, accompanied by the harmonious and soothing Botaepyeong music, represents the civilian exploits of the kings and the force of Yang, symbolised by the first step in the dance which is always to the left. Mumu, the military dance, accompanied by Jeongdaeeop music in a minor mode, represents the force of Ying, symbolised by the first step in the dance which is always to the right.
Nowadays, more and more people consider the ancestral rites to be formal ceremonies devoid of meaning, especially in the context of the growing importance of Christianity. The rite and the music are already protected in the National Intangible Heritage and the 1982 Law for the Protection of Cultural Property, which also protects bearers of expertise. It would now be desirable to increase the number of bearers through scholarships. The Commission responsible for reviving the rites is to undertake research into the way the rite has evolved through history, as well as the restoration of the costumes, props, musical scores and instruments, in conjunction with the Korean National Centre for the Traditional Dramatic Arts and the National College of Music, which already offer training in ritual practices.
Republic of Korea,
Series: Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
Credits: NHK Enterprises 21 Inc (publisher), ORTUS Japan (publisher), UNESCO (producer).
Published in: 2002
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