The Gangneung Danoje Festival takes place in the town of Gangneung and its surroundings, situated east of the Taebaek Mountain Range on the Korean peninsula. The festival praises the mountain deity and male and female tutelary deities through a shamanistic ritual on Daegwallyeong Ridge, and encompasses traditional music and Odokddegi folk songs, the Gwanno mask drama, oral narrative poetry as well as various popular pastimes. The Nanjang market, Korea’s largest outdoor marketplace, is today another element of the festival, where local products and handicrafts are sold and contests, games and circus performances take place.
The annual, four-week long festival commences with the brewing of the sacred liquor on the fifth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar and with the Dano shamanistic rituals, in which a central role is played by the sacred tree, the sinmok, and the hwagae, a ritual object made of feathers, bells and bamboo wood.
First mentioned in a third century Chinese manuscript, the festival, in its present form, includes elements, which were later described in the Record of Imyeong, published during the time of Joseon King Gyeongjong (1720-1724).
One of its specific features is the co-existence of Confucian sacrificial rites, shamanistic rituals and Buddhist rituals. Through the rituals devoted to the deities, the region is believed to remain unaffected by potential natural disasters, allowing all its residents to live in peace and prosperity. Every year, a large number of visitors attend the various ritual performances and actively participate in events such as making the Danoje festival fans, brewing the sacred liquor, drawing masks for the Gwanno Mask Drama, making and eating surichiwi rice crackers and washing one’s hair in Iris water. In the traditional context of the festival, one of the functions was to transcend social differences by allowing people of all social classes to participate. Today, this is considered crucial for the transmission of traditional cultural expressions and for strengthening the community’s consciousness.
Gangneung Danoje Festival enjoys immense popularity today. Nevertheless, the pressures exerted by cultural standardization and increased media coverage over the years have resulted in the loss of certain traditional elements of the festival. The number of female and male bearers of the tradition, who had officially been recognized by the Korean government in the 1970s, is gradually decreasing. The rapid growth and infrastructure development of the city of Gangneung may have negative effects on the festival space