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Bulguksa

Photo © eimoberg. View all images in our Bulguksa Photo Gallery.
Photo © Martin Röll.
Photo © Martin Röll.
Photo © Pachinee Buathong.
Photo © bifyu.
Photo © Martin Röll.
Photo © eimoberg.
Photo © Mike E.
Photo © Matthew Field.
Photo © Martin Röll.

Bulguksa (불국사, "Temple of the Buddha Land") is a Buddhist temple in the North Gyeongsang province of South Korea. Although much-restored, it is an important example of Silla architecture and is home to no less than seven Korean national treasures.

History

Given its important status today, it is interesting that Bulguksa was never intended to be a major temple. It was originally founded in 535 by King Pob-hung, for the use of his queen to pray for the welfare of the kingdom. The small wooden temple was given the name Hwaeombeomnyusa.

The present temple was begun in 751 by Prime Minister Kim Daeseong, whose life story is shrouded in legend. It is said that he was born clutching a seal inscribed with his name in his previous incarnation, Kim Daeseong.

The original Kim Daeseong was the legendary architect of the first temple on this site, who overcame extreme poverty and ugliness — he was called "Big Wall" for his flat forehead — through Buddhist devotion. He led such a good life that he was reincarnated as the prime minister of the same name, who grew up devoted to Buddhism and gave it official support.

Legend has it Prime Minister Daeseong personally designed the temple and dedicated it to the memory of his ancestors. Whether or not this is the case, the temple was completed in 774 by the Silla royal court and given the name Bulguksa ("Temple of the Buddha Land").

Bulguksa was burned to the ground during the 1592 Hideyoshi Toyotomi invasion. It was partially reconstructed during the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945) and fully restored under President Park Chung-hee (1961-1979).

Bulguksa Temple was added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1995, together with the nearby Seokguram Grotto.

What to See

The temple is located on the Although most of the present buildings at Bulguksa are reconstructions, the foundations and historic pagodas are original.

The temple complex is entered via a double-sectioned staircase and bridge. The staircase has a 45-degree slope and 33 steps total, corresponding to the 33 steps to enlightenment. It was probably built in 750 during the reign of King Gyeongdeok. The large arch underneath the staircase testifies to the use of arches in Silla-style bridges and the remains of a pond and once flowed underneath the bridge.

The lower portion, Cheongungyo (청운교, Blue Cloud Bridge) is 6.3 meters long and has 17 steps. The upper portion, Baegungyo (백운교, White Cloud Bridge) is 5.4 meters and has 16 steps. The stairway leads to Jahamun (자하문, Purple Mist Gate), which leads to the main hall.

The large temple complex has two main courtyards, one grouped around the Shakyamuni Buddha and the other around the Hall of Paradise.

Daeungjeon (대웅전), the Hall of Great Enlightenment, is the main hall. The hall enshrines the Sakyamuni Buddha and was built in 681. In front of the main hall are the two pagodas of the temple complex.

Both pagodas are national treasures - Seokgatap is #20 and Dabotop is #21. They were both designed by the legendary master craftsman Asadal in the 8th century and they make a remarkable pair. The complexity of the Dabotap is balanced by the simplicity of the Seokgatap and they are said to be manifestations of the Buddha's simultaneous contemplation and detachment from the world.

The three-story, 27-foot-high Seokgatap (Sakyamuni Pagoda) is a traditional Korean-style stone pagoda with simple lines and minimal decoration. It is superior in quality but similar in style to most other pagodas in the Gyeongju area. It is ringed by eight lotus-shaped stones, perhaps symbolizing the eight lotus flowers that fell from heaven as prophesied in the Lotus Sutra. During reconstruction work treasures were discovered inside: a sutra, a sari box, silver sutra plates, and a woodblock copy of the Dharani sutra printed sometime after 704 AD.


Dabotap (Many Treasure Pagoda) is 10.4 meters (34 feet) tall and dedicated to the Many Treasures Buddha, who made a prophecy about a miraculous funerary tower in the Lotus Sutra. Its image is reproduced on the South Korean 10 won coin. In contrast to Seokgatap, it is highly ornate and symbolizes the complexity of the universe. Its carved stones are held together without mortar and some are carved like stalks of bamboo, a motif also used by Korean craftsmen at Horyuji in Nara, Japan.The chamber within probably once contained an image of the Buddha.

Behind the main hall is the meditation hall Museoljeon (무설전, Hall of No Words), named for the belief that Buddha's teachings cannot be taught by mere words alone. It is one of the oldest buildings in the complex and was probably built in 670.

The Gwaneumjeon (관음전, Avalokitesvara's Shrine) houses an image of the Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Perfect Compassion, and stands at the highest point of the complex.

The Birojeon (비로전, Vairocana Buddha Hall), which sits below the Gwaneumjeon, houses a gilded statue of Vairocana, which is national treasure 26.

The Geuknakjeon (Hall of Supreme Bliss, 극락전), standing near the main compound, houses the gilt-bronze buddha that is the national treasure 27.

Quick Facts on Bulguksa

Site Information
Names:불국사; Bulguk-sa; Bulguksa; Temple of the Buddha Land
State:North Gyeongsang
Country:South Korea
Categories:Temples
Faiths:Buddhism; Korean; Jogye
Styles:Silla
Status:active
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:South Korea
Coordinates:35.790000° N, 129.332000° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of Bulguksa

Below is a location map and aerial view of Bulguksa. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Bulguksa Temple - Asian Historical Architecture
  2. Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple - UNESCO World Heritage List
  3. Bulguksa - Wikipedia

More Information

Article Info

Title:Bulguksa
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:10/16/2009
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/south-korea/bulguksa
Link code:<a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/south-korea/bulguksa">Bulguksa</a>