Pul-guk-sa Temple



Vernacular Architecture

High-Style Architecture



This temple is one of the few remaining pieces of Silla architecture.  According to historical records, it was founded in 535 C.E., and built by King Pob-Hung so his queen would have a place to worship.  The architect was the legendary Kim Tae-Song.  According to folk stories, he was later reincarnated as the Prime Minister Kim Mun-Yang.  Kim Mun-Yang personally designed the building as a tribute to his parents.  It was later repaired by King Munmu from about 661-680.

Pul-guk-sa Temple is located eight miles east of Kyongju in the foothills of Mt. Tohamsen.  The temple is organized in such a manner that it represents the procession through the worlds of Buddhism:  as people enter the grounds, they mount the Sokkye-mun, a staircase that ends at the Chaha-mun gate. The Sokkye-mun’s thirty-one stairs are broken into two portions: the first is called Ch’ongun-kyo (Blue Cloud Bridge), and the second is Paegun-kyo (White Cloud Bridge).  
Mounting the stairs is a symbolic representation of entering the realm of Buddha from the normal world.

The twin staircases, or "bridges,"
of Pul-guk-sa Temple

Beyond the Chaha-mun gate is a large courtyard with a singular focus towards the main hall of the temple:  Taeung-jon Hall.  Bordering this axis are the two entrance pagodas found in Buddhist temples:  the Sakyamuni Pagoda and the Tabo-t’ap.  The contrast of the two pagodas, one simple, the other complex, symbolizes creation for the Buddhists. 

Also known as “The Pagoda That Casts No Shadow,” Sokka-t'ap (or the Sakyamuni Pagoda) is the western pagoda in front of Pul-guk-sa Temple.  

This 27’ tall, three-story pagoda shows many of the details that are present in mid-Silla Pagodas:  a double-tiered pedestal, five-stepped Patchiim (supporting stones), eaves that flare slightly, and use of single blocks of stone to create the Ok-ssin-sŏk (main stone) and Patchiim.  The simplicity of this pagoda represents the Buddha absorbed in transcendant calm.

Located on the east side of the path, Tabo-t'ap is a thirty-four foot tall pagoda that is also known as the "pagoda of many treasures."  This complicated stone pagoda has a form that is utterly unique to Korea.

The first story of this pagoda is a platform with four stone staircases leading to a sheltered area created by the heavy pillars that hold up the second story.  This enclosed area may once have held a Buddhist statue.  The second, central stage is made up of a simple cornice of rounded, beamlike blocks of granite.

Above are three eight-sided tiers, each supported by a paling (small stones between the main tiers) of stone spokes.  The second paling is realistically carved to resemble bamboo.   Crowning this stage is a circular cornice of egg-and-dart moldings.  Atop the top-story’s palings is a single stone that makes up the morning-glory-shaped roof.  From the center of the roof rises a finial in a crown-ball-and-plate sequence.
The complexity of the Tabo-t’ap represents the manifestation of Buddha in the diverse universe.

Both of the Pagodas of Pul-guk-sa were designed by the master craftsman Asa-Dal, who had come from Paekche to craft them.  The first to be built was Tabo-t'ap, which took so long to build that his wife, Asa-nyo, came to the temple to meet him.  When she arrived, she wasn't allowed to enter on account of being "unclean": the Buddhists of that time forbade the entry of all women to their temples.  The gatekeeper eventually told Asa-nyo to go to a neaby pond called Shadow Pond, in which she could see Tabo-t'ap being worked on by her husband.

After making the journey, Asa-nyo looked into the pond only to see Tabo-t'ap completed and no one about.  Unbeknownst to her and the gatekeeper, that particular pagoda had been finished, and Asa-dal and his workers had begun work on Sokka-t'ap.  In grief, Asa-nyo threw herself into the water and cried out her husband's name.

Because of Asa-dal's loss, Sokka-t'ap is called "the Pagoda without a Shadow" and Tabo-t'ap is called "the Pagoda with a Shadow."