Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dabotap Pagoda(Bulguksa)

Gyeongju - Part II

The next stage of my trip took me to South Korea's most famous temple, Bulguksa, which means 'Buddha Land Temple'. Home to the Jogye order of Buddhist monks, it was originally built in 528 and then later abandoned. Rebuilt in 751 by the chief minister Kim Tae-song to pacify the spirits of his parents, it was completed in 774, when it received its present name.

Throughout its history parts of it have been destroyed, most notably during the Japanese invasions of 1592 and 1598, when the wooden buildings here were burnt to the ground. Rebuilt in 1605, the temple fell into a state of disrepair under the repression of Buddhism during the 19th century and subsequent Japanese occupation. It was most recently renovated between 1967 and 1973.

Walking towards the temple I first passed two lotus ponds on either side of a bridge. Just beyond this is a gate with huge statues of the Heavenly Kings inside, guarding the entrance of the temple, similar to the ones I saw in Busan during my visit there in August.


At the front of the temple complex is a huge stairway known as Sokgyemun, its 33 steps signifying the 33 steps to enlightenment, which symbolically lead to the 'Land of the Buddha'.

The lower part of the staircase is called Cheongungyo(Blue Cloud Bridge) and the upper part is called Baegungyo(White Cloud Bridge). As they are national treasures it's not possible to go up them, so I went up a path to one of the two side entrances.

The main courtyard was full of people, many of them busily milling about looking for that all important photo opportunity. Located here is the main hall and although not the biggest of the buildings in the complex, it is by far the most important. Known as Daeungjeon, inside a bronze image of the Historic Buddha, Sakyamuni, is enshrined and alongside this statue are others including his attendants and disciples.

In front of the main hall are two of South Korea's most famous pagodas, Dabotap and Seokgatap. At 8.2 metres tall, the traditional Korean pagoda Seokgatap is the more simplistic in design of the two and is ringed by eight lotus shaped flowers. Supposedly it is meant to represent spiritual ascent according to the rules put forth by Sakyamuni, the historical founder of Buddhism.

The most visually interesting of the two pagodas is Dabotap(Many Treasures Pagoda), an image of which can be seen on the Korean 10 won coin. Intricately carved and ornate in its design, the 10.4 metre tall pagoda symbolizes the complexity of the universe.

View From The Top of Mount Tohamsan

Located near the summit of Mt. Tohamsan, overlooking Bulguksa is the Seokguram Grotto. Located at the end of a winding mountain road some 4km from Bulguksa, it is home to a huge statue of the Buddha that is considered to be one of South Korea's most important national treasures.

The cave housing the Buddha is man made and constructed from slabs of carved granite and is remarkably similar in design to cave temples found in both China and India.

Walking into the cave, the 3.5 metre tall Buddha carved out of granite, sits cross legged in the lotus position on a pedestal, right foot over the left knee and its right hand draped over its right leg. Known as the Earth-touching mudra, the position of its hands symbolize the Buddha's enlightenment.

The ceiling is decorated with half moons and surrounding the Buddha are images of Bodhisattvas, the Four Heavenly Kings, Dharma-protectors and disciples.

Sublime in its design, it is unfortunately kept behind a glass screen in order to preserve it, the result of previous damage to the cave.

Also built during the 8th century by Kim Tae-song at the same time as the rebuilding of Bulguksa, for many centuries it was left abandoned until being rediscovered in 1909, apparently by a postman, who according to the story was seeking shelter from the rain.

During the Japanese occupation, restoration work was carried out three times by the Japanese which resulted in damage to the caves ventilation, causing increased humidity and condensation. After the Second World War it faced neglect once again until the 1960s, when under the Presidency of Park Chung-hee it was restored.

After walking around and taking few photos of some of the spectacular views on offer, I made my way back into Gyeongju for a good night's sleep, in preparation for my assault on Mount Namsan the following day.

You can see all the photos here.

Here's a short film I made of the day.