|Bunhwang-sa Temple and
of Gyeongju's Nak-san (a.k.a. Nang-san)
|Main Hall remaining of Bunhwang-sa, named the Bogwang-jeon [Jewel-Luminescence Hall]
no other historic wooden structure remains here
|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).
Bunhwang-sa ["Fragrant Emperor Temple"] and Hwangryong-saji [Yellow-Dragon Temple-Site] of are in
open fields at the NW foot of Nang-san, north of the front slopes of Nam-san, just east of the Banwol Palace
Hill. Bunhwang-sa is just on the south side of the highway going from downtown out to Bomun Lake. It was
founded in 634 CE by the order of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647) and was originally much larger than today.
Both great master-monks Jajang-yulsa and Wonhyo-daesa are known to have lived here. It was tragically
destroyed in the 1200s by Mongol invaders, rebuilt in the late 1700s in the reign of King Yeongjo.
|Bunhwang-sa's famous Mojeon-seoktap [Faux-brick stone pagoda], National Treasure #30 and one of
Gyeongju's primary tourist stops. It looks to be built of bricks but those are actually hand-carved slabs of black andesite
(igneous, volcanic, rare-in-Korea) stone -- just think how much labor that involved! This was done in imitation of the then-
new brick pagodas of China's Tang Dynasty, as missionary-monks from Tang described them to Queen Seondeok.
Scholars think that there were eight stone dog-ish Lion statues, two flanking each doorway, but by the time this pagoda was
refurbished in the 1970s only the one above remained of the the originals; they created 3 replicas and placed them on the 4 corners.
|"Diamond-hard" Guardians [geumgang-yeoksa] at the doorways
|interior of the Bogwang-jeon
|the famous portrait of Wonhyo-daesa
(possibly the oldest extant painting of Korea's
most famous and popularly-revered monk)
|1776 statue of Yaksa-Yeorae
(a.k.a. Medicinal Buddha, Bhaisajya-guru, Sakyamuni Buddha in his
Healer-of Sickness mode) -- this is Korea's best-known statue of him
|inside the eastern doorway, a standing Buddha statue can barely be seen (below-right)
|close-up of the eastern Buddha
|a broken Bodhisattva-with-nimbus statue in the garden
|the antique Sanshin painting of Bunhwang-sa, in the leftt-rear corner of the
Bogwang-jeon -- best shots that I could get, as it is covered in reflective glass.
|It is a notable classic, one of the only 7 found in Korea so far where the Mountain-King is depicted
reading a book (Buddhist, Shamanic or Confucian scripture...? the records of Dan-gun...?) -- a motif that is
only found in this Gyeongju~Andong aristocratic-confucian scholarship-venerating region. Another
rare feature of this excellent icon is that he has black hair instead of the usual white, even in his
elongated eyebrows, so then appearing younger than typical (or more-immortal, like Dan-gun).
|stone artworks (modern reproductions of famous Gyeongju treasures) seen
along the highway leading east from this temple towards Bomun Lake
|It was probably originally nine stories tall -- maybe the largest all-stone structure in East Asia in the 7th Century!
The interior was once used to store and study Buddhist scriptures -- but the upper-stories caved-in, filling it with
rubble (some of which was used to create a simple roof in the early 20th Cen). This is the oldest Buddhist
Pagoda of the Shilla Kingdom whose construction-date has been confirmed.
This octagonal well-head is known as the Hoguk-yong-byeoneo-jeong [호국용변어정, Protecting-Nation
Dragons-morphed-to-Fish Well] or sometimes called Samnyong-byeoneo-jeong [3 Dragons etc].
It is found on the southern side of the Bunhwang-sa compound, was part of the original construction, is 70 cm tall, and is
now designated as Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Property #9. The octagonal shape with originally-circular base represents
the "Eight Noble Truths" of Buddhism in context of Heaven.
According to a myth recorded in the 12th-Cen Samguk-yusa, there were three dragons protecting Gyeongju living in the Dong-
cheong-ji [Eastern Blue Pond] (under the Daoist Ohaeng geomantic system the symbolic animal of the East is a Blue Dragon;
the site of this pond is no longer known, but might be where Bomun Lake is today). Two ill-intentioned missionary-monks from
the Tang Dynasty visited Shilla in 795, and they miraculously transformed those guardian-dragons into small fish and captured
them in a bamboo cage, smuggling them away to China. The next day three noble-appearing women, identifying themselves
as wives of the dragons, came to King Wonseong and asked him to have their husbands retrieved. The king immediately
sent a few of the best of his monks and soldiers on an expedition to bring back the dragons. When they successfully did-so,
the king assigned them (still in the forms of small fish) to live in this sacred well here in Bunhwang-sa.
|other important relics of this temple include 3.6m-high Danggan-jiju twin flagpole support stones with unique
turtle-shaped bases, and several stone Buddhist statues now kept in the Gyeongju National Museum.
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.