Andong was once the center of Confucianism in Korea, but these days the city is most famous for the Mask Dance Festival. Taking place for ten days each autumn, the tradition of the mask dance goes back centuries to when they were used in shamanistic rituals. It was said that the spirits were restless and, one night, a daring soul entered the dreams of a sleeping member of the Ho clan and requested that he make a wooden mask to be used in a ritual dance to please the other spirits. In fulfilling the request, the chosen member was forbidden to let anyone else in the clan know what he was doing and so he slipped away to the nearby mountains to make the mask in solitude. On the hundredth day of his work, his lover came searching for him and when she found him, he immediately died. Thus the masks became used to ward off evil spirits and the dances performed were to ask for health and wealth, among other things.
One of the biggest events during the festival is Seonyujulbulnori, a fireworks display that takes place over the Nakdong River. Blazing pine needles are said to fall to the earth like fire rain making for a romantically beautiful scene memorable for any spectator. Popular mask dances include the Hahoe Byeolshin-gut Tal-nori from Andong, the Gwanno Mask Dance from Gangneung, and the Ogwangdae Mask Dance from Goseong, alongside many other performances from around the country and abroad. Presenting local traditions, the festival showcases numerous historical Korean mask dances for tourists and residents alike. Additionally, foreign dance troupes from 11 countries, including China, Russia, India, Israel, Malaysia, and Taiwan, have also joined in over the years to portray their cultures’ own unique use of masks and dance customs.
The dances often tell stories of love, loss, and social inequality through masks that are used to depict different characters. A famous tale performed once every three to five years is the Hahoe Byeolshin-gut Tal-nori, which was one of the biggest local events, worshipping a local god. The dance is made up of seven acts and was used by commoners to represent the disparity and discrimination they felt existed between the social classes. In this particular tale, a fool, a hasty scatterbrained meddler, a bride, a lion, a butcher, an old widow, a depraved Buddhist monk, an aristocrat, a scholar, and a flirtatious young woman come together to weave a tale of intrigue. While watching, don’t be surprised if you are drawn into the dance as spectators are invited to become participants and add their own variations and energy to many of the shows.
The Andong Mask Dance Festival is a must see for anyone interested in Korean history, culture, and beliefs and the city itself has so much to see, eat, and enjoy so make a weekend of it and unmask Andong this autumn.
What else to see in Andong:
Bongjeongsa Temple: The largest temple in Andong and the site of the oldest wooden building in Korea, Geuknakjeon. The temple is unique in that visitors can see architecture representative of the Goryeo Dynasty next to architecture from the Joseon Dynasty.
Byeongsanseowon Confucian Academy: This Confucian school was established in 1572. The school is located a hike away from Hahoe Village and provides a peaceful respite in the mountains.
Jangseung Park: This park, located on Chilgapsan Mountain, houses the largest collection of preserved jangseung – ancient wooden and stone totem poles that were traditionally placed outside of villages to ward off evil spirits.
Local food specialties to try:
Heotjesabap: a kind of bibimbap that substitutes soy sauce for gochujang.
Andong jjimdak: chicken, noodles, and vegetables marinated in soy sauce
Andong soju: a traditional soju with a higher alcohol content than regular soju
When: September 25, 2015 – October 4, 2015
Where: Hahoe Village, Maskdance Park & Downtown Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do
Mask Dance Theater: KRW 7,000
Hahoe Folk Village: KRW 3,000 (ticket includes a round-trip bus ride from the festival to the village)
Bus: Take an intercity bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal to Andong Bus Terminal. Buses run every 30 minutes. From there, get bus 0, 0-1 or 1 and get off at the Kyobo Life Insurance bus stop. Or catch a taxi to Maskdance Park (costs more than KRW 10,000). The journey from Seoul takes a total of about 4 hours.
Train: Take a train from Cheongnyangni Station to Andong Station. Runs 8 times a day at 6:40am, 8:25am, 10:40am, 1:05pm, 3:10pm, 5:10pm, 7:07pm, and 9:13pm. The journey takes 3 hours and 40 minutes.