Chinese lanterns have come a long way from their traditional spherical shape, made from paper or silk and decorated with golden symbols or calligraphy and tassels. We Pakistanis would glimpse them usually only at Chinese restaurants. Still the principle is the same as they are all lit from inside bringing out a glow. But they don’t stop at red and golden anymore, they can be of any colour.
It is said that Chinese lanterns were invented during the second imperial dynasty of China, the Han Dynasty (25-220AD). They had a religious significance as not only did they provide light but they were also part of Buddhist worship. The lanterns were made from bamboo, wood or cane with a wire used for making the frame. The paper or silk covering kept the light from being snuffed out in the wind and provided a soft shaded light for reading, working or lighting entrance ways. Their traditional red colour symbolised joy, luck and prosperity while decoration in golden paint was added for beauty.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) the traditional lanterns became known as a symbol of Chinese culture in the rest of the world. After the introduction of electricity there was no longer a practical need for Chinese lanterns, so they were seen as decorative items only. Now they are made for decorating festivals such as the Chinese New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival and, of course, the Lantern Festival held on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month. The latter is viewed as an end to the Chinese New Year celebrations and people release the lanterns into the air.
The Pakistan China Lantern Festival at Karachi’s Benazir Bhutto Park is a bright addition to the city and its entertainment-starved people
The Lantern Festival these days is visiting Karachi. A pretty field of green, blue, red, purple and white flowers light up the path leading inside Benazir Bhutto Park, where the Pakistan China Lantern Festival is being held. There are huge Chinese lanterns in the shape of animals, jellyfish and other sea life, magical creatures, various characters and trains. Since the festival opened to the public on Independence Day (August 14), there are also landmarks such as the Minar-i-Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam’s Mausoleum, Faisal Mosque, lighting up the park.
Kashif Iqbal, whose brainchild was to bring the festival to Pakistan told Eos that he already was in the business of theme and amusement parks with a business partner when he visited a Lantern festival during a trip abroad. “We run the Dino Adventure Land, along with indoor water rides — that too on the second floor of a mall, so we thought that we could manage a Lantern Festival for the entertainment-starved people of our city,” he says.
Experts in the art of Chinese lanterns were called in from China and asked to show their most popular designs and structures for the Pakistanis to select from. They were hired to make the structures at another venue in the city. “It took them three months to complete the structures with iron frames, covered with silk. The lights inside are all Light Emitting Diode [LED]. The miniature landmarks of Pakistan were created with plastic PVC pipes and tiny LEDs,” he says.
“The festival only opens for the public in the evening, specifically after sundown, because what use will a Lantern Festival be in broad daylight?” Iqbal points out.
The festival will remain open for the public till the middle of November.
The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 9th, 2018