Lunar New Year drawings warding off evil spirits adorn Gwanghwamun

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Lunar New Year drawings warding off evil spirits adorn Gwanghwamun

A set of “munbaedo,” or traditional drawings to ward off evil spirits, is hung on Gwanghwamun, the main gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace in central Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap

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By Park Han-sol

During the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom, a curious-looking set of drawings would be posted on the main gate of the royal palace every Lunar New Year’s Day.

Global Tech News Daily

They were “munbaedo” ― images of both real-life and fantasy animals, like tigers, dragons, magpies and “haetae” (a lion-like horned creature), as well as golden-armored generals ― placed at the entrance to ward off any evil spirits and bring good luck.

In the beginning, such customs were practiced mainly among royalty and elite families, who would commission the “Dohwaseo,” or royal bureau of painting, to complete the official drawings. However, during the late Joseon era, it eventually became a prevalent practice among the common class as well.

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This traditional custom was reborn on Wednesday at the present-day Gwanghwamun, the main gate to Gyeongbokgung Palace in central Seoul, in celebration of the upcoming Lunar New Year’s holiday. With the COVID-19 pandemic entering its third year, these munbaedo also seem to play a special role to ward off the “evil spirits” of the virus.

A celebratory procession and performance, co-organized by the Cultural Heritage Administration’s Royal Palaces and Tombs Center, and the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, were followed by the posting of two banners of generals wearing golden armor on the palace’s gate.

Although the custom calls for the paper drawings to be attached to the wooden surface, the organizations opted for banners out of concerns over possible damage. Visitors can view the two drawings any time until Feb. 2.

The particular two munbaedo hung at Gwanghwamun were inspired by a photo discovered in 2015 by the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, when it was in the process of restoring the Old Korean Legation Museum in Washington, D.C. The faded black-and-white photo, stored in the U.S. Library of Congress, shows the two drawings of the golden-armored generals posted on the Gwanghwamun during the late 19th century.

The Royal Palaces and Tombs Center subsequently found the only intact version of the actual munbaedo which is similar to that featured in the photo, in storage in Hwagyeongdang House in Andong Hahoe Folk Village, North Gyeongsang Province. Based on this artifact, which is said to have been bestowed by King Jeongjo himself, the center was able to recreate the munbaedo that we see today.

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