- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

Every day at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Anacostia, from May to September, is reminiscent of a painting of waterlilies by the French impressionist Claude Monet. It’s as quiet and peaceful as it is pretty. Every day, that is, except one.

This year it’s July 21.

On Saturday, one of Washington’s greatest natural wonders and best-kept secrets will be the gathering place for Korean dancers, chanting Buddhist monks, children with cameras, environmentalists, gardeners and a few thousand others celebrating the annual Waterlily Festival and the Lotus Asian Cultural Festival at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

“The Waterlily Festival began as our Founder’s Day 25 years ago,” says Douglas Rowley, gardener supervisor at Kenilworth. “In 2004 we teamed up with Modern Buddhism for the Lotus Festival.”

That gives the festival even more of distinctively colorful cast. Modern Buddhism of America, an organization based in New York that promotes Buddhist teachings and world peace — and publishes a monthly Korean-language magazine for Koreans in the United States — will sponsor tastings of lotus and green teas, a display of scrolls, a program by dancers from the Cambodian Buddhist Society in Silver Spring, and instruction on the making of lotus lanterns.

“We want to inform the public how useful and versatile the lotus is,” says Hyoung Keum Kim, editor of Modern Buddhism magazine.

Mr. Kim has helped organize lotus festivals in North Carolina and California as well, but he particularly enjoys the festival in Washington.

“America is a melting pot and we’re proud to contribute. Working with the National Park Service and Modern Buddhism is good for America,” he says.

The National Park Service, which has operated the gardens since 1938, will host workshops on water gardening and nature videos, a photography contest, a puppet show, tours of the greenhouses, a photography contest and more.

Although there are technically two festivals on Saturday, it will feel like one big party starring the park’s most famous flowers: waterlilies and lotuses.

A home for the spirit

While visually striking, for Buddhists the lotus, a type of hardy lily, is significant for spiritual reasons.

“When Buddha was born, he took seven steps, and each step became a lotus flower. The lotus is a symbol of enlightenment,” explains Harold Ward, a monk from the Wat Lao Buddhist Temple in Catlett, Va., who will be chanting at the festival.

“The lotus starts in mud and then becomes free.”

Indeed, one way to tell a lotus from a waterlily — apart from the notch in the waterlily’s leaves — is that, while the waterlily’s leaves float on the water, the lotus’ leaves start out floating on the water but eventually rise to about four feet above water.

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