Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Temples of Gyeongju

The first temple we visited was Bulguksa, which is a very large temple a little far away from the downtown area where most of the big tourist sites are. This temple was founded in 751 AD during the reign of King Geyongdeok of the Silla kingdom. Much of the temple was destroyed during a Japanese invasion in 1593, because the temple was being used as a stronghold for Korean soldiers defending the area. Many artifacts remain though, and for this reason the temple is on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Some important features to see are the stone stairs (see above). These stairs are now closed for preservation, but one of the staircases has 33 stairs to represent the 33 stages to enlightenment.

Two other important historical artifacts of the temple are two pagodas that survived the Japanese attack, plus all the years of wear and tear. The names of the two pagodas are Seokgatap and Dabotap. Dabotap is the more ornate of the two pagodas. At the time that I went, it was under construction, but this is probably the most famous pagoda in Korea. If you live in Korea, you see this pagoda everyday, but you probably never realized it. If you're curious to see this pagoda, take out your wallet. Dabotap is featured on the back of the 10 won coin. The other pagoda, Seokgatap, pictured above, is a more typical style of Korean pagoda but is quite famous in Korea. Evidently when the temple was reconstructed in the 1970's they found some old documents and relics inside.

Here's a common sight at a temple. Place a stone onto a stone pile and make a wish.

The next temple we visited was Golgusa. This temple is about 3 km away from Bulguksa, but is much less crowded because there are no public buses that go to this area. This temple is quite interesting to see because of the Buddha carved into the rock face quite high up on a cliff. After climbing many stairs, and possibly scaling some rocks, you can climb right up to it. We found a monk praying at the top, tapping the empty gourd as you always see in Buddhist temples during meditation. I wasn't paying attention to what he was chanting at first, but Sanghyun pointed out that he was actually reciting names and addresses of donors to the temple. I guess this is like at our Catholic masses when each mass is dedicated to one or two families that pay some extra money.
Here is the Buddha, carved into the stone. As you can see, it is now protected by this small roof.

Monk praying for all the temple worshipers.

The last temple we visited was Girimsa. Though it is a big temple, there isn't too much to see here. If you're feeling you've seen too many temples in this country, it's probably not worth your time. It's a bit out of the way and no buses go up that way. But, there were a few interesting things to see. Here are the photos.

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