The Jongmyo Grand Ancestral Rite

now this is an event like no other:

The Jongmyo Grand Ancestral Rite is to commemorate all the Kings of the Josun/Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) in the form of a Confucious rite.

“Jongmyo is the main ancestral shrine of the Joseon Dynasty, and is one of the major symbols of the Dynasty together, where kings prayed for national security and peace before the altars for the gods governing national territory and major farm products.

During the era of the Joseon Dynasty, the Royal Ancestral Rite was observed five times a year, but was often suspended during the Japanese occuation period. At present, the Grand Ancestral Rite is held once a year, on the first Sunday of May.  Jongmyo was designated by UNESCO as world cultural assets in 1995. In 2001, Jongmyo Jerye and Jeryeak were designated by UNESCO as world invisible cultural heritage.” (source)

When I go to my grandparents’ place for an ancestral rite of our family, it is twice a year plus the actual days of the year they passed away.  It is usually for up to two generation above the eldest in the family(i.e. my grandmother) if your family belongs to the main branch of the extended family(i.e. descendant of eldest sons).  I personally attend rites for around 5 of my ancestors.


For the Yi(Lee) family, the direct descendants of 26 kings, it is probably on a different scale, and it wouldn’t be for just a few generations of ancestors, but all of the 26 kings because you wouldn’t want to neglect any of them unless you expect some ill-fate of your nation(which, ironically, isn’t Josun anymore).

The ancestral rite for the kings involves lots of music and dance (all very slow), with the whole nation invited to observe their day-long ceremony.  This event is special in the sense that it is not one of many recreation showcases of what used-to-be-long-time-ago, but an actual ritual event based on the beliefs of Confucious by a very important family (for that one day, at least).  This will also be a rare chance to hear Jongmyo Jerye-ak, the music accompanying the ritual with it last modification composed in 1463.  All the ceremonial Korean instruments will be brought out to be seen and heard by the public (and then chucked away for another year until the next ceremony, I presume).

This year’s Jongmyo Grand Ancestral Rite took place on the 6th of May, starting at 11:30 AM and lasting until 18:30.  The Rite will take place in the first weekend of November as well.  For more information see their website.

More about Jongmyo shrine can be read here, and directions to Jongmyo can be seen here(Korean) or here(Google Map).  Basically you get off at Jongno 3-ga station(subway line no. 1,3 or 5. Exit no. 11), or Jongno 5-ga station(line no. 1. Exit no. 1) and walk past a zillion old men playing baduk in Jongmyo Square Park to get to the grand entrance of Jongmyo with a passage way leading to the shrine towards the inside of the area.

You can read about my Jongmyo experience in Korean here.

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