of Gyeongju's Nak-san (a.k.a. Nang-san)
|The grand Hwangryong-sa [Imperial Dragon Temple, "imperial" derived from Yellow ] was once one of
the most magnificent monasteries in East Asia until it was razed by the Mongol invaders of the 13th Century.
Its evocative quiet ruins-site (below) is just south of Bunhwang-sa (towards Nang-san).
Museum model of what archaeological scholars think Hwangryong-sa looked like, notably not showing
the stone pagodas pictured on this page -- we can suppose they would have been in the front courtyard
in front of the tower. This site was supposed to be a new Main Royal Palace replacing the nearby Sabi
Banwol-seong, but was instead built as a temple under King Jinheung (r. 540–576). Legend recorded in
the Samguk-Yusa says that an auspicious yellow dragon was seen on these fields, leading Jinheung to
build a new palace here. Another legend says the giant Buddha of the Main Hall (no longer extant) was
cast in Jinheung's reign from a supply of gold that mysteriously arrived in an unmanned boat at the
coast, and was found to have been sent by Ashoka (or at least a king of Adhoya) -- who had apparently
attempted to cast a golden Buddha-triad but failed, and then put the kilograms of gold and other metals
in a boat along with a scale-models of a Buddha-triad, declaring that another "holy land" would finish the
casting. Each country that received the boat was equally unable to cast the statues, and not until the
boat had arrived in Shilla after floating 800 years could the statues be cast -- and the central figure was
a full six meters high, the tallest-ever in Korea. This tale is of the type created as "proof" that Shilla was
a "ancient Buddhist Kingdom" (it actually adopted Buddhism in 527 CE) -- a retroactive granting of
"legitimacy" as one of the great nations.
bottom storey of another stone pagoda there, with
excellent Buddhist guardian figures carved on it.
|digital paintings of the pagoda-tower and the massive Main Hall
|looking south through th Hwangryong-sa ruins-site with foothills & peaks of Mt. Nam-san behind it
|Theoretical model of Gyeongju City at its classical peak around 800 CE -- with up to a million people living in
the entire valley -- with Hwangryong-sa dominating the landscape on the right. That's Banwol-seong Palace on
your left; this seems to be a perspective from standing on Nak-san (Nangsan) and looking towards the northwest...
Master Won-gwang lived here using it as his headquarters for the initial organization of Shilla Buddhism
after his return from Sui China in 599. However, construction of the gigantic main buildings was not
completed until 644. At that time, Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647) ordered the launch of building the great
68-meter wooden pagoda-tower in the center,following the advice of Jajang-yulsa after his return from
studies in Tang China (643). An architect from the rival Baekje Kingdom (SW Korea) named Abiji was
brought in to finish this unprecedented architectural masterpiece, before Shilla's conquest of Baekje in
the 660s, showing how those southwestern artisans were thought to have superior skills. The tower's
nine stories represented the nine nations of East Asia known to Shilla at that time, and Shilla's ambitions
to conquer or dominate them, according to instructions that Jajang received from Munsu-bosal [the
Bodhisattva of Wisdom] at Wutai-shan. It is recorded that Jajang-yulsa buried one of the bundles of
sarira of Sakyamuni Buddha he was given by that deity under the main pillar of this edifice -- though no
trace of that remains today, and only five of his Jeokmyeol-bogung temples now exist.
It was the tallest structure ever built in East Asia, and remained so until the entire complex was tragically
destroyed in 1238 by Mongol invaders. It was left as foundation-stone ruins and never rebuilt -- but
Korean governmental and Buddhist authorities have been discussing undertaking the very expensive
reconstruction for two decades now -- perhaps someday they will, as symbol of reborn national pride.