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Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple (UNESCO/NHK)


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Established in the 8th century on the slopes of Mount Toham, the Seokguram Grotto contains a monumental statue of the Buddha looking at the sea in the bhumisparsha mudra position. With the surrounding portrayals of gods, Bodhisattvas and disciples, all realistically and delicately sculpted in high and low relief, it is considered a masterpiece of Buddhist art in the Far East.

Source: UNESCO TV / © NHK Nippon Hoso Kyokai
URL: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/736/


UNESCO World Heritage Series: Part 8 - Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple

August 2017 - In part 3 of our World Heritage Series, Asia Society Korea visited the Gyeongju Historic Areas, an area often labelled as “the world’s largest museum without walls.” This month, we return to the Gyeongju region to preview Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple, another world heritage site comprising two religious monuments rich in Far Eastern Buddhist art.


Despite its cultural importance to Korea, Bulguksa was never intended to be a major temple when it was constructed by King Beopheung in 528. However, the original wooden structure was transformed and expanded in 751 by Prime Minister Kim Daeseong who, legend has it, personally designed the temple and dedicated it to the memory of his ancestors. The temple was completed in 774 by the Silla royal court and given the name Bulguksa ("Temple of the Buddha Land"). The temple was renovated during the Goryeo Dynasty and the early Joseon Dynasty before it was burned to the ground during the Imjin War. Between 1604 and 1973, Bulguksa underwent various renovations and expansions involving extensive archeological investigations, most notably during the heritage practices of President Park Chung-Hee’s era. The temple, along with Seokguram Grotto, was added to the World Heritage List in 1995, making it Korea’s oldest UNESCO site.


Although Seokguram Grotto is located four kilometers from Bulguksa temple, it is still part of the same complex and was also constructed between 742 and 774 under the order of Kim Daeseong. The grotto overlooks the East Sea and, as the only fully intact structure from the Silla era, the cave contains some of the most important Buddhist sculptures in the world. Due to the location and the abandonment of the cave for many centuries, a restoration program was started during the Japanese occupation and completed in the 1960’s using modern technology to help control the problem of humidity and mold that placed the structure under threat. Once inside the grotto, one can see Buddha surrounded by Bodhisattvas, the Ten Disciples, Eight Divine Guardians, two Devas, and two Vajrapanis making the white granite statues a masterpiece of East Asian Buddhist Art.


Both Bulguksa and Seokguram represent the highly developed architectural skills of the Silla dynasty and form a religious architectural complex of exceptional significance in North-East Asia.


Seokguram Grotto (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Seokguram is located on Tohamsan Mountain and is the representative stone temple of Korea. Seokguram Seokgul is the official name of Seokguram. It is an artificial stone temple made of granite and was designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. The construction was started in 751 by Kim Dae-Seong. Construction was finished in 774.

The grotto is known to have been built along with Bulguksa Temple. According to the history books, Kim Dae-Seong built Bulguksa Temple for his parents in his current life, and Seokguram Grotto for his parents from his former life.

Bonjon Statue, Bodhi-sattva, and his disciples are located inside the round-shaped main hall. The Bonjon figure is seated on the stage engraved with a lotus flower design. The rounded ceiling looks like a half-moon and has a lotus flower decorated cover on it. Enjoying sunrise from this spot is quite beautiful and because of this, manypeople climb the mountain at daybreak.


Seokguram Grotto

Seokguram, located on Tohamsan Mountain, is the representative stone temple of Korea. The official name of Seokguram, National Treasure No. 24, is Seokguram Seokgul. Designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, it is an artificial stone temple made of granite. The construction was started by Kim Dae-Seong (700-774) in 751 during the reign of King Gyeong-Deok (742-765) of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – AD 935) and it was finished twenty-four years later in 774, during the reign of King Hye-Gong (765-780).

Seokguram is known to have been built with Bulguksa Temple. According to the history book Samgukyusa of the Goryeo Dynasty (the country that unified the Korean peninsula at the end of the Silla Kingdom, 918-1392), Kim Dae-Seong had Bulguksa Temple built for his parents in his current life, and Seokguram Grotto for the parents of his former life.

Inside the round-shaped main hall are the Bonjon Statue, Bodhi-sattva and his disciples. The Bonjon figure wearing a generous smile is seated on the stage engraved with a lotus flower design. The rounded ceiling looks like a half-moon or a bow and has a lotus flower decorated cover on it. As the sunrise from this spot is quite beautiful, many people climb the mountain at daybreak.


Seokguram Grotto [UNESCO World Heritage] 석굴암(토함산) [유네스코 세계문화유산]

Seokguram, located on Tohamsan Mountain, is the representative stone temple of Korea. The official name of Seokguram, National Treasure No. 24, is Seokguram Seokgul. Designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, it is an artificial stone temple made of granite. The construction was started by Kim Dae-Seong (700-774) in 751 during the reign of King Gyeong-Deok (742-765) of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC - AD 935) and it was finished twenty-four years later in 774, during the reign of King Hye-Gong (765-780).

Seokguram is known to have been built with Bulguksa Temple. According to the history book Samgukyusa of the Goryeo Dynasty (the country that unified the Korean peninsula at the end of the Silla Kingdom, 918-1392), Kim Dae-Seong had Bulguksa Temple built for his parents in his current life, and Seokguram Grotto for the parents of his former life.

Inside the round-shaped main hall are the Bonjon Statue, Bodhi-sattva and his disciples. The Bonjon figure wearing a generous smile is seated on the stage engraved with a lotus flower design. The rounded ceiling looks like a half-moon or a bow and has a lotus flower decorated cover on it. As the sunrise from this spot is quite beautiful, many people climb the mountain at daybreak.


Bulguksa (불국사)

Bulguksa, on Mt. Toham in Gyeongju, is the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and its name literally means “World of Buddha Temple.” It is said to be one of the greatest examples of Silla-era architecture (668–935 CE) and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Moreover, the South Korean government has named it as the country’s historic and scenic site No. 1. It is certainly one of the largest temples we have visited in Korea, with extensive grounds that took us a couple of hours to visit.

Every sizeable Korean temple has a gate through which you enter, typically housing the guardians of the four directions, also called the Four Heavenly Kings. Occasionally, they are painted or otherwise represented in two dimensions. Often, they are full-sized statues. In any form, they typically look very fierce, and each guardian holds an item associated with the direction it represents (north, south, east, or west). They are meant to protect against evil and are not intended to frighten friendly visitors!

Immediately upon entering the main temple site, it’s clear that this place has been around for a while. Two staircases leading up to the main Buddha Hall remain from the original temple, having been built in the mid-8th century. Each has 33 stairs, representing the 33 stages to enlightenment. Today, the courtyard around the staircases is bustling, with visitors snapping photos of the staircases and purchasing prayer beads and other souvenirs from vendors in the area.

Colorful lotus lanterns decorated numerous areas of the temple during our visit, allowing visitors the opportunity to write a wish or a prayer that is then hung from a lantern. Buddhists also can give money to the temple to request that the monks say special prayers on their behalf. Often, offerings of coins, rice, fruit, wine, and even bottles of water are left at the temple shrines by those who have come to pray.

One section of the temple grounds was devoted to doltap, stone stacks that are commonly seen around Korea, and very often are present at temples and along mountain paths. In a Buddhist context, the stones are said to represent prayers or wishes of believers. In Korean folk ritual, however, this practice may pre-date Buddhism and began with the belief that the stacks would ward off evil spirits.

Bulguksa had plenty of visitors while we were there and is one of the largest temples we’ve visited in Korea. However, it was still very peaceful, with tourists mostly keeping quiet for those who had come to pray.

Many of the larger temples have a café serving coffees as well as traditional teas and snacks. As the traditional teas (usually made of fruits or berries) typically are made on-site, this can be a good place to try them. Feeling refreshed, we were ready for our short hike up to Seokguram Grotto.


The individual cultural sites

The two cultural sites are located about 16 km southeast of the center of Gyeongju , which in the 1st millennium AD was capital of the ancient Kingdom of Silla and later of the United Silla under the name Seorabol .

Bulguksa temple complex

The Bulguksa Temple ( location ) is located at the western foot of Mount Tohamsan. Completed in 774, it comprises a series of wooden buildings built on raised stone terraces. The wooden buildings were rebuilt from 1604 after a fire during the Imjin War (1592–1598). 35.789972 129.332091

A two-part staircase leads to the “Gate of the Purple Fog” (Jahamun), behind which the large temple courtyard is located. In the middle stands the “Hall of Great Enlightenment” (Daeungjeon), at the back the “Hall without Words” (Museol-Jeon). There are two stone pagodas between the Jahamun Gate and the Daeungjeon Hall.

The two stairs, the two pagodas, two gilded Buddha statues and a reliquary are among the national treasures of South Korea .

Seokguram Grotto Temple

The Seokguram Grotto ( location ) is located at an altitude of about 745 m above sea level near the summit of Mount Tohamsan, southeast of this about 2 km from the Bulguksa Temple. The artificial grotto was built around an originally free-standing Buddha statue. Construction of precisely hewn granite blocks began in 751 and completed in 774. 35.794864 129.34916

The grotto consists of three chambers. The round main chamber with dome has a diameter between 6.58 m and 6.84 m. Here is the 3.45 m high statue of the Buddha seated on a lotus throne.

The Seokguram Grotto is also one of the national treasures of South Korea.


Contents

India began a tradition of carving the image of Buddha in stone, holy images, and stupas into the cliff walls and natural caves. This practice was transferred to China and then Korea. The geology of the Korean Peninsula, which contains an abundance of hard granite, is not conducive to carving stone images into cliff walls. Seokguram is an artificial grotto made from granite and is unique in design. The small size of the grotto indicates that it was probably used exclusively by the Silla royalty.

The grotto is symbolic of a spiritual journey into Nirvana. Pilgrims were to start at Bulguksa or at the foot Mt. Tohamsan, a holy mountain to the Silla. There was a fountain at the entrance of the shrine where pilgrims could refresh themselves. Inside the grotto, the antechamber and corridor represented the earth while the rotunda represented heaven.

The basic layout of the grotto includes an arched entrance which leads into a rectangular antechamber and then a narrow corridor, which is lined with bas-reliefs, and then finally leads into the main rotunda. The centerpiece of the granite sanctuary is a Buddha statue seated in the main chamber. The identity of the Buddha is still debated. The Buddha is seated on a lotus throne with legs crossed. The Buddha has a serene expression of meditation. The Buddha is surrounded by fifteen panels of bodhisattvas, arhats and ancient Indian gods in the rotunda and is accompanied by ten statues in niches along the rotunda wall. The main hall of Seokguram houses a Bojon statue Bodhisattva and his disciples. Forty different figures representing Buddhist principles and teachings are in the grotto. The grotto was built around these statues in order to protect them from weathering. The ceiling of the Seokguram grotto is decorated with half moons, the top is decorated with a lotus flower. Silla architects used symmetry and apparently employed the concept of the golden rectangle.

The grotto is shaped by hundreds of different granite stones. There was no mortar used and the structure was held together by stone rivets. The construction of the grotto also utilized natural ventilation. The dome of the rotunda is 6.84 meters to 6.58 meters in diameter.

Sculpture within the grotto

The main Buddha is a highly regarded piece of Buddhist art. It is 3.5 meters in height and sits on a 1.34 meter tall lotus pedestal. The Buddha is realistic in form and probably represents the Seokgamoni Buddha, the historic Buddha at the moment of enlightenment. The position of the Buddha's hands symbolizes witnessing the enlightenment. The Buddha has an usnisa, a symbol of the wisdom of the Buddha. The drapery on the Buddha, such as the fan-shaped folds at the crossed-legs of the Buddha, exemplifies Korean interpretations of Indian prototypes. Unlike other Buddhas that have a halo attached to the back of the head, the Buddha at Seokguram creates the illusion of a halo by placing a granite roundel carved with lotus petals at the back wall of the rotunda. The pedestal is made of three parts the top and bottom are carved with lotus petals while the central shaft consists of eight pillars.

Accompanying the main Buddha, in relief, are three bodhisattvas, ten disciples, and two Hindu gods along the wall of the rotunda. Ten statues of bodhisattvas, saints, and the faithful are located in niches above the bas-reliefs. The ten disciples were disciples of Seokgamoni and are lined five on each side of the Avalokitesvara. Their features suggest a Greek influence. The two bodhisattvas are of Manjusri and Samantabhadra. The two Hindu gods are Brahma and Indra.

The Four Heavenly Kings guard the corridor. There are also images of Vajrapanis, which are guardian figures and they are on the walls of the entrance to the corridor, in the antechamber. Eight Guardian Deities adorn the antechamber.

Another notable figure is the Eleven-faced Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is on the back wall of the rotunda and stands 2.18 meters in height. This figure is the only one of the bas-reliefs facing forward, the others face the side. The Avalokitesvara wears a crown, is dressed in robes and jewelry and holds a vase containing a lotus blossom.

Two statues from the niches and a marble pagoda that was believed to have stood in front of the Avalokitesvara are missing from the grotto and are believed to have been looted by the Japanese.


Seokguram Hermitage – 석굴암 (Gyeongju)

Seokgamoni-bul Statue Inside the Grotto at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju.

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Hermitage History

Seokguram Hermitage on Mt. Tohamsan in Gyeongju houses the most famous statue in all of Korea. In English, Seokguram Hermitage means “Stone Cave Hermitage.” Not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1995 alongside Bulguksa Temple , it’s also National Treasure #24 .

The artificial cave at Seokguram Hermitage was first constructed by Kim Daeseong in 751 A.D. However, it wasn’t completed until after his death in 774 A.D. It’s believed, at least according to the Samguk Yusa (“Legends of the Three Kingdoms,” in English), that Bulguksa Temple at the base of Mt. Tohamsan was built for his parents in his current life and that Seokguram Hermitage was built for his parents from his former life. Seokguram Hermitage was originally called Seokbulsa Temple, or “Stone Buddha Temple,” in English.

Throughout the years, Seokguram Hermitage has undergone several major and minor renovations such as in 1703 and 1758. But due to the suppressive nature of the Confucian Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Seokguram Hermitage fell into disrepair. Except for locals, who probably still visited the grotto, the grotto wasn’t rediscovered until 1909 when a travelling postman found it. According to the tale, the postman was caught in a thunderstorm. He sought shelter in a local cave to get out of the storm. When he lit a candle, he rather surprisingly found the statue of at Seokguram Hermitage inside.

Eventually, word got back to the Japanese authorities in Seoul. The Governor General expressed the desire to dismantle and ship the grotto back to Japan. Plans were made to ship the entire grotto back to Japan, but local authorities kept thwarting these efforts until the idea was dropped. Instead, it was decided that the grotto should be repaired. The repair job was botched by Japanese archaeologists and the grotto was horribly disfigured through these efforts such as having the Silla era hidden stone scaffolding being replaced by concrete and steel. Also, the soil above the grotto, which helped regulate the temperature inside the grotto, was replaced by tar and asphalt. It wasn’t until 1961, under the order of President Park Chung Hee, and under the watchful eye of UNESCO, that the job was completed in 1964. Now, to help conserve the grotto, there is a window to prevent visitors from entering the inner chamber of the grotto.

Hermitage Layout

You first approach Seokguram Hermitage past the Iljumun Gate and a winding dirt trail around the side of Mt. Tohamsan. Next to the Iljumun Gate is a wonderfully ornate bell pavilion. As you first approach the hermitage grounds, you’ll notice the monks’ dorms and visitors centre to your far right. It’s only up the hillside, with a set of uneven stairs to your left, that you’ll be able to visit the famous Seokguram Grotto. Along the way, you’ll notice some stone remnants of the failed Japanese reconstruction efforts from 1913-15. Finally having summited the stairs, you’ll notice a wooden shrine hall. Inside is housed the grotto and Korea’s greatest Buddhist artistic achievement.

Entering into the wooden chamber, you’ll first notice the glass protective barrier. However, the glass in no way diminishes the overall aesthetic beauty of what lies behind it. Instantly, you’ll notice the serene centerpiece of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) looking out towards the East Sea. This 3.5 metre tall statue sits on a 1.34 tall lotus pedestal and the Buddha is making the “Touching the Earth” mudra with his hands.

At the very front of the rectangular stone antechamber, you’ll first notice a pair of protective Vajra Warriors. These stone reliefs are muscular in composition and have clenched fists. Next to these two stone images, and inside the narrow entry chamber, are the Sacheonwang (Four Heavenly Kings). These four reliefs are meant to ward off evil spirits from entering the inner chamber.

Inside the main octagonal chamber, and behind the central statue of Seokgamoni-bul, is the partial hidden relief of the eleven-headed Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This relief stands 2.18 metres in height and holds a vase containing a lotus blossom. Rounding out the vaulted inner chamber, and also situated to the rear of Seokgamoni-bul, are two rows of stone figures. The bottom row are the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), while the upper row are images of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

And just below the ledge that houses the grotto is the hermitage’s Geukrak-jeon Hall. Sitting on the main altar is a statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue is joined by a Guardian Mural and metal reliefs of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Admission to the hermitage is 5,000 won for adults, 3,500 won for teenagers, and 2,500 won for children ages 7 to 12. And the last admission to the hermitage is one hour before closing which is typically around 5 p.m.

How To Get There

Just like Bulguksa Temple, you’ll first need to take a bus from the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal. From there, catch Bus #10 or #11 that goes directly to the Bulguksa Temple parking lot. From the temple parking lot, you’ll need to catch Bus #12, which will bring you directly to the Seokguram Hermitage parking lot. The bus ride up to Seokguram Hermitage takes about ten minutes and they leave every thirty minutes.

Overall Rating: 10/10

Much like Bulguksa Temple, for which Seokguram Hermitage will forever be linked, Seokguram Hermitage rates a perfect ten out of ten. The grotto alone is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before at a Korean Buddhist temple or hermitage. The statue inside the grotto truly is a masterpiece. In fact, all the statues and reliefs inside the grotto are masterpieces. You could spend hours simply standing and staring into the grotto. So take your time, don’t be rushed, and enjoy this amazing hermitage’s grotto.

The Iljumun Gate at Seokguram Hermitage The hermitage’s bell pavilion. The trail that leads up to the hermitage. A look up towards the grotto. The East Sea off in the distance. The view from the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The outer part of the entry that leads into the grotto. Inside the grotto with a look towards Seokgamoni-bul. Seokguram Hermitage during Buddha’s Birthday celebrations.

Discover Korea's World Heritage

It has been a year since the UNESCO World Heritage Committee included the Baekje Historic Areas of the Republic of Korea in its list of world heritage sites in July 2015. In the past, Baekje had in fact attracted little attention in academic research of ancient Korean history. With the UNESCO registration, however, Baekje has found a new status in Korean history as scholars have shed new light on the ancient Korean kingdom, which has also gained unprecedented attention from the general public as well. In particular, the Ungjin period and the Sabi period linked to the Baekje Historic Areas show that the kingdom accepted advanced civilization in a creative manner and spread culture to East Asia, while its resplendent culture blossomed.

1,400 years ago, Baekje faded into history as the capital of Sabi collapsed. But when the Baekje Historic Areas were listed as South Korea’s 12th World Heritage Site, the forgotten kingdom was at the center of worldwide attention once again. Celebrating this, KBS World Radio will show what the great kingdom was like by focusing on major historic sites and relics from the brilliant Sabi period, especially King Seong’s period that was at the center of prosperity. In doing so, we aim to present a balanced view of ancient Korean history that includes Baekje and achieve a broader understanding of it.


Watch the video: Seokguram Grotto and Bulguksa Temple UNESCONHK (December 2021).