The Marriage of Kaz and Ilsu
My favorite place in Korea
On Wednesday January 24, 2007 Ilsu and I got up to a beautiful sunrise in Kyongju. Here is a panoramic photo that I shot from our condo window. (Use the scroll bar when looking at the panoramic photos)
Ilsu knew the historical places in Kyongju to experience, so our first destination was Sokkuram, the royal temple on mount Tohamsan. The drive was reminiscent of blending the twisty roads in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with the mountainous feel of the eastern Rockies near Colorado Springs Colorado. We drove up mount Tohamsan on the southern face, twisting our way up around the eastern side occasionally seeing the foggy valley through open spots in the foliage. It was a beautiful crisp winter day with few clouds in the fresh mountain sky. I could feel we were coming to a special place of eminent distinction even though I had no idea where we were going.
We finally made it up to a large parking lot on a mesa, high up on the eastern side of the mountain. As soon as I got out, I noticed a bell pavilion like no other bell pavilion I had ever seen --- It was the royal bell pavilion built for the King with wings jetting out in the cardinal directions see picture below.
This next picture is a view looking toward the southeast and pointed at the Silla dynasty bell hanging in the royal bell pavilion.
The gabled roof wings of the pavilion were especially beautiful painted in the traditional danchung colors with angular patterns moving in perpendicular directions. (see below)
After we paid a nominal fee we set out through the gate shown below, following the string of colorful lanterns on a northern path across the eastern face of the mountain.
The winding path that we were traversing was adorned with ancient ruins of the original architecture associated with this site while the string of oriental lamps continued to guide us on our way to the temple Sokkuram. The picture below is of the southeastern vista being a backdrop to the sun high in the sky and hiding behind one of these lamps on our path.
Finally we could see through open spots in the trees the two temples built in the eastern side of the mountain. The structure on the left is a fairly recent façade built around the original temple grotto and the structure on the right is a functioning temple that is used for worship today.
The picture below is shot looking northeast from the front garden of the functioning temple below the main temple grotto.
Unfortunately (for me) I was not allowed to shoot any pictures of the main Buddha, the grotto or anything else in the temple. The good news is that I was allowed to shoot pictures at the Silla Art and Science Museum in Kyongju for which all of the following deity pictures were shot at this museum. I strongly recommend going there for many reasons but the most important concerns the displays showing the intricate structure and history of Sokkuram grotto. The few pictures I shot will give you some idea of the splendor of this museum.
Sokkuram itself was built 751 to 774 during the height of Silla cultural expression furthermore; is a masterpiece of the art and technology of its time. Just recently (1913-1915) has there been some damage due to some reconstruction efforts by the Japanese in which they inadvertently closed air passages used to ventilate the structure. Much renovation was done in the 1960's to compensate for these past misjudgments. Presently the temple is sealed off and environmentally controlled to insure its safety/preservation.
There are two chambers in the temple grotto, a main domed chamber symbolizing heaven and a rectangular antechamber symbolizing earth. The chambers are connected by a rectangular corridor which symbolizes the passage-way itself between the worlds. In the main chamber sits Sukyamooni, the main Buddha, a magnificent granite statue exuding a blend of power yet peace. The Sukyamooni Tathagata faces the east sunrise to express the symbolic concept of enlightenment. From the view of the antechamber a three dimensional projection from the back wall of the grotto of a circular lotus flower gives the illusion of a halo behind Sukyamooni’s head. Encircling the main Buddha, at the top of the photo below, are ten bodhisattvas sitting in carved niches that are located between the domed top of the grotto and its floor. These bodhisattvas help navigate ones soul from earth (symbolized by the floor) to heaven (symbolized by the dome) on one’s spiritual journey toward enlightenment.
The picture below points out that a door has been made on the north east side of the main chamber replica to let you peer inside to the main Buddha. From a counterclockwise position starting at the opening at the northern face of the corridor and moving along the circle of deities, you can see the second and third deities on this door they are: Samantabhadra Bodhisattva and Sariputta.
The picture below is a view into the domed chamber looking at the Buddha.
The following picture is a cutaway section of the domed chamber showing the front of the Buddha as well as keystones used in constructing the structure of the dome. In this museum picture you can see the domed structure sits on a table that provides much more information about the structure. There are also many charts and diagrams provided on the museum walls that aid us in understanding the depth of scientific achievement the Silla possessed.
Here is a section view with the top of the dome missing in order to give you a full view looking down inside the main chamber.
The next picture shows the grotto structure from the outside with soil removed providing a structural view of the entire grotto.
The next two photos provide a section view with the top of the dome missing as well as the main Buddha in order to see the 25 minor deities in the main chamber. You may also notice that two of the niches are empty and that is due to the Chief Japanese interior decorator of 1914 thinking that those particular bodhisattvas would look better in Japan.
In the antechamber there are eight guardian deities dressed in uniforms of war as to always be prepared for battle. The deities on the north wall are as such: Garura -- God with a golden wing; Gandharva -- God with a protecting sword; Deva -- God of the great sky; and Mahoraga -- God with of the underworld. On the south wall the deities are as such: Asura -- Devil turned God; Kinnara -- God of Judgment; Yach’a -- Devil turned God; and Naga-a -- a Dragon God. Unfortunately, I was not able to find and photograph any replicas of these deities in the Silla Art and Science museum. That is not to say they are not there however, I did not see them. I did find and photograph the 15 deities that encircle the main Buddha as well as the four heavenly Kings that guard the corridor between the antechamber and the main chamber and also the two Vajrapani guards at the entrance to the corridor. The following twenty-one photos are of the deities starting at the south-side entrance (on the left) of the corridor with a Vajrapani and going clockwise around the main Buddha and out the corridor to the vajrapani on the north side of the entrance to the corridor.
The picture below is of the Ya! Vajrapani because he is yelling Ya! which is Korean for Hey! --- as in give me your Atenntion!
Virudhaka -Heavenly King of the South
Virupaksa -the Heavenly King of the West
Avalokitesvara the Bodhisattva of compasion -- Here is a photo of the real thing
Vaisravana the Heavenly -King of the North
Dhrtarastra the Heavenly -King of the East
The picture below is of the Hum Vajrapani because he is said to be humming
One thing I have to say about Korea is that it is clean and the Koreans in general pride themselves in cleanliness. I saw many enviable taxis in Korea and this man shown in the photo below spit shining his vehicle provides no exception to this rule.
If you have any questions or comments I would be happy to answer them. You can contact me by the link below.