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Korean Religious Dances

Genuine representations of the religious dances of Korea are seen at Buddhist ceremonies, at Chongmyo, the Royal Ancestral Shrine of the Choson Dynasty, and at Munmyo, the Confucian shrine in Songgyungwan(the National Confucian University). Buddhist ceremonies are accompanied by solemn music and dance. The music is called Pomp'ae and the dances chakpop.

Chakpop, literally "Creating the Dharma," consists of three parts: Nabich'um (Butterfly Dance), Parach'um (Cymbal Dance), and Popkoch'um (Buddhist Law Drum Dance). These dances offer prayers for the spirits of the deceased and act as a means to guide believers into the Land of Bliss.

The music ensemble include chants, a drum, a gong, and a conical wooden oboe. The dances introduced below are offered in the Buddhist ceremonies and Confucian and ancestral rites.

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Nabich'um (Butterfly Dance)

The dancers are costumed to resemble butterflies. The choreography makes use of about 15 kinds of movements. In front of an altar is hung a huge Buddhist scroll painting. A pair of monks perform the dance with slow and serene movements to the accompaniment of a large gong, or hotsori and a chant which lasts four or five minutes.

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Parach'um (Cymbal Dance)

Buddhist monks dance with a small cymbal called para. The Cymbal Dance is composes of six parts: ch'honsu para, myong para, sadarani para, kwanyokke para, mak para, and naerimge para.


Popkoch'um (Buddhist Law Drum Dance)

A monk beats a drum with a drumstick in each hand. Along with the temple bell and a wooden fish, the Buddhist drum is one of the indispensable Buddhist ceremonial instruments.

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Ilmu (Line Dance)

This dance is performed in the Confucian rite in Munmyo, a Confucian shrine, and in the ancestral rite located at Chongmyo, the Royal Ancestral Shrine of the Choson Dynasty. The Ilmu dance varies according to the social rank of the person being honored. For instance, the rite offered to the king, the P'al-ilmu, is composed of eight rows of eight dancers, or 64 dancers, the rite for the queen, the Yuk-ilmu, of six rows of six, or 36 dancers, and those for reverend Confucian scholars and high-ranking court functionaries, the Sa-ilmu, of four rows of four, or 16 dancers.

Confucian ceremonial music has its origin in China's Zhou Dynasty. It was introduced into Korea in the 11th year (1116) of King Yejong of the Koryo Dynasty(918-1392). The dance has been offered in the rites honoring Chinese Confucian sages, including Kongzi (Confucius), Mengzi (Mencius), Cengzi, and Yanzi, and Korean Confucian sages including Sol ch'ong and Ch'oe Ch'i-won.

The Ilmu dance, performed in the royal ancestral rite held in Chongmyo, is based on the Confucian concepts of courtesy. It is divided into two categories, Munmu (Civil Dance), honoring literary and scholarly achievement, and Mumu (Military Dance) honoring military feats. The Civil Dance is performed with dancers holding a flute in one hand and a dragon-headed stick in the other. The dancers in the front rows of the Military Dance hold swords, while those in the middle rows hold spears; and those in the rear rows hold bows and arrows.

The Ilmu dance, offered in the Chongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine, has preserved its original form intact. It is strictly regulated according to the procedure recorded in detail in Shiyong Mubo (Notations of Korean Dance). The music played in the ancestral rite strictly follows the principle "introduction, development, turn, and conclusion." The Chongmyo Royal Ancestral Shrine was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in December 1995.

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Information provided by the Korean Embassy


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