Tuesday, October 20, 2009


After visiting the Memorial Park I went back into the city centre, where I got on a bus to Unjunsa, which is located 40 km to the south of Gwangju and is famous for the large number of Buddha statues there. Situated in a beautiful valley, miles away from anywhere, the area is shrouded in mystery and mythology, regarding how the statues came into being.

Legend has it that there were originally 1000 Buddhas and 1000 pagodas, all of them built in one night by stonemasons sent down from heaven. Now only 70 statues and 18 pagodas remain, more than any other place in South Korea. Reasons for their disappearance remains unknown, but this just helps to add to the intrigue.

After getting off the bus I walked about half a kilometre along a road before finally reaching the entrance of the temple grounds. Walking along the floor of the valley I firstly came across a nine-storey pagoda and just to the side of this were six Buddha statues leaning upright against the valley side. Different to those found in other places in South Korea, both the pagoda and the statues were simplistic in their design, yet still very beautiful to look at.

As I walked along the path, I passed more pagodas and Buddhist statues scattered about the valley floor, until I finally arrived at the temple complex itself. There were a number of buildings here including houses for the monks, a huge bell and small building with hundreds of statues of the Buddha inside, which were illuminated by the candles placed amongst them. The smell of incense wafted around the temple complex and as I peered into the temple, I could see a huge bronze Buddha and a woman praying in front of it.

Wandering around, I came across other relics of the past. Statues of the Buddha in a variety of positions, some sitting, some standing, whilst others were in the reclining position. At the top of one of the hills flanking the valley I came across two Buddhas carved into a huge rock lying on the ground, both laying on their backs.

Many of them, like the ones I saw when I first entered were not elaborate in their design, yet this simplicity gave them a certain uniqueness, quite different to other images of the Buddha that I've seen on my travels so far.

According to another legend, it is believed that the statues were created by the Buddhist priest, Doseon-guksa(827-898). He believed that the Korean peninsula was unbalanced because there were too many mountains on the eastern side of the peninsula and too few on the western side. Likening it to a boat that would capsize if not balanced properly, the Buddhas and pagodas were built in order to bring about stability to the country and therefore avert a natural disaster.

You can see all the photos here.