Bulguksa: Largest Buddhist Vihar in Korea

By Arun Ranjit, The Rising Nepal, June 19, 2005

Kathmandu, Nepal -- Nepal and Korea, both situated in Asia, are homes to a diversity of cultures where they live and mingle in harmony. The exchange of cultural activities between Nepal and Korea has been materializing due to the promotional efforts being put up by both the sides.

<< Bulguk-Sa Monastery

As the Korean people?s interest in well-off arts and culture of Nepal has increased noticeably, the exchange of arts and cultural shows has proven to be truly meaningful in further strengthening the cultural and friendly relations among the people of both the countries.

Korea has developed several unique characteristics of its people due to its topographical peculiarities. The oceanic and continental inclinations combine to form the basis of the people?s identity, which underlies the foundation of the country?s culture and arts. Being a peninsula also involves a cultural environment with peripheral and centric features. Peripheral aspects relate to the continental cultures which flow into the peninsula, while its centric factors result from the peripheral cultures evolving and being restructured to form a new center.

Under this topographical influence, the Korean people came to develop a peace-loving yet dynamic character that has created a contemplative yet vibrant, optimistic yet sentimental culture. UNESCO has recognized the value of Korean culture.

As Nepal is a beautiful country endowed with unparallel natural beauty and an opulent cultural heritage Korea is also very rich to that regard. There are many things that Nepal could learn from Korea in various areas and vice-versa.

Learning through these international experiences, Nepal should have to work for preservation and promotion of the arts and cultures, views and values, distinctive and diverse than the culture of other Asian and Western countries.

Every country?s cultural borrowings are possible. Thus, cross-cultural activities should not be limited to history or tradition but need to be broadened to identity, respect, learn and incubate new trends of culture emerging from changes

This scribe was in Korea recently at the invitation of Korean government as one of the participants of ?Partnership Programme for Tomorrow? organized for Southwest Asia and Oceania countries in Seoul, the capital city of Republic of Korea.

As a part of visit, the delegations were informed about the World Cultural Heritage Sites of the Korea. Among those visited, Bulguksa temple and Seokguram were the remarkable as being Nepal where the Lord Buddha was born.

It is fact that Buddhism started from Nepal spread to India. Then afterwards, to Tibet, Japan and reached Korea. Many rulers were impressed from the philosophical aspect of Buddhism and began to accept it as their religious philosophy. Thus, they built many monasteries in their respected areas.

One of them is, located about 16 kilometers southeast of downtown Gyongju, Bulguksa is one of the largest and most beautiful Buddhists monastery in Korea. Built on a series of stone terraces, Bulguksa monastery appears to emerge organically from the rocky terrain of the wooded foothills of Mt. T?ohamsan.

Bulgkusa Vihar was built by the first Shilla ruler, who embraced Buddhism, for his queen to pray for the prosperity and peace of the kingdom. The monastery was renovated during the Goryo Dynasty and the early Joseon dynasty. During the Japanese invasions between 1592 and 1598 the wooden buildings were burnt to the ground. After 1604 reconstruction of Bulguksa started, followed by about 40 renovations until 1805. As with many monasteries, it fell apart during the 19th century due to the Korea?s repression of Buddhism. It attracted Japanese scholars? attention, and the Government.

Bulguksa is a Buddhist monastery in the North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. The Vihar was originally built in 528 but later abandoned. It was rebuilt in 751 under the Gim Daeseong to pacify the spirits of his parents. The rebuilding was only completed in 774 when it received its current name Bulguksa.

The vihar is considered as a masterpiece of the golden age of Buddhists art in the Shilla Kingdom. Bulguksa is sometimes referred to as the part of Buddha land. It is home to many national treasures. There are two pagodas on the monastery site, which is unusual. The terrestrial and the two celestial abodes are manifested in Bulguksa: the terrestrial with a Shakyamuni Buddha Lotus Sutra, the celestial with Amitabha Buddha Avatamska Sutra.

In 1995 Bulguksa was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list together with the Seokguram Grotto.

The Seokguram Grotto is hermitage of the Bulguksa monastery lies west of Mt. T?ohamsan. In 1995 Seokguram was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list together with Bulguksa. It is said to have been built by Gim Daeseong in 751, but it remained virtually unknown. Its last record was of the early 18th century, and it was discovered in a decrepit state in the early 20th century. The Japanese Government conducted restoration. After WWII, it was virtually neglected for nearly two decades with out taking countermeasures until 1960s.

It is a granite sanctuary with a Buddha statue seated in the main chamber. The main hall of Seokguram houses a Bojon statue Bodhi Sattwa and his disciples. 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. Many people come to or near Seokguram to enjoy the sunrises, which is considered particularly attractive.

Since 1995, the World Heritage Committee recognized Bulguksa and Soekguram for being a masterpiece of human creative genius and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble illustrative of a significant stage in human history.

The World Cultural Heritage List is part of an international programmme under which unique and irreplaceable cultural assets located in countries that are signatories to the World Heritage agreement are recognized for their universal value and registered in an effort to ensure their preservation and maintenance in the interest of all humanity.