Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Ancestral Rites at Jongmyo Shrine CCBYSA ShalRath

Munmyo Jerye (文廟祭禮), Grand Ceremony in Honor of Confucius

Munmyo is a Confucian shrine in which various spiritual tablets of past Confucian scholars rest. In this shrine, thirty-nine spiritual tablets are enshrined that belong to Confucius, four disciples, sixteen Chinese Confucian scholars, and eighteen Korean Confucian scholars. Currently, the Munmyo shrine is in Sungkyunkwan, which was an institution of higher education during the Joseon dynasty and is now Sungkyunkwan University located in Seoul. Every February and August, according to the lunar calendar, commemorative rites are prepared and called Munmyo Jerye or Seokjeonje. Currently, Seokjeonje is listed as No. 85 on the Important Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Korea, designated in 1986.

Procedures of the Munmyo Jerye ceremony are as follows:

It begins with the greeting of spirits, yeongsin; next is the offering of ceremonial food, jeonpye; then offering of the first cup of wine, choheon; offering of the second cup of wine, aheon; offering of the third cup of wine, jongheon; partaking of sacrificial food and drink, emboksujo; the removal of the ceremonial vessels from the altar, cheolbyeondu; and it is completed with sending off spirits, songsin.

Every procedure is offered with great respect to the spirits. In addition to great respect being offered to the spirits, Munmyo Jerye is also an exhibition of honor for the significant Confucian scholars that carried out the essence of Confucianism. Therefore, to prepare for this ceremony, officials cleanse their body and mind a few days in advance for the ritual. On the day of the ritual, officials welcome the spirits of great scholars with full respect and present to them sacrificial offerings. They also prepare for them an attractive arrangement of food and wine and then partake in tasting the wine as a blessing from the spirits. The ritual is concluded with the burning of tribute paper by an official.

Munmyo Jerye (文廟祭禮) is carried out in a solemn mood while traditional music plays throughout the ceremony. During the Joseon dynasty, people who were ruled by Confucianism contributed to this combination of the ritual’s refined manner and solemn music with their modest character which has subsequently led us to this magnificent piece of art. In other words, Munmyo Jerye is celebrated with dance, song, instrumental music, and it is carried out in a Confucian manner to exhibit his vision of the universe. The deungga orchestra plays in dangsang and the heonga orchestra plays in the courtyard in collaboration with the palilmu line dancing which reflects the three powers of thought observed by Confucius, representing the sky, the earth and man. Deungga represents the sky; therefore, it is played at the highest place. Heonga represents the earth; therefore, it is played at the lowest place. Palilmu, which requires sixty-four dancers, represents man so it is performed in the middle of the Deungga orchestra and Heonga orchestra.

The music of sacrificial rituals at the Munmyo shrine is played with instruments made from eight elements: metal, stone, thread, bamboo, gourd, soil, leather, and wood. The eight elements used in this ceremony are called paleum (八音), literally meaning eight sounds. These musical instruments construct the deunga and heonga orchestras, and the dancers who perform palilmu are accompanied by this music.

Dance and music make the traditional Korean custom Munmyo Jerye magnificent to observe. Munmyo Jerye, which materializes through deunga, heonga and palilmu, reflects the sounds of the universe which are greater than that of the human world.