Stupas or Pagodas

Stupas or Pagodas

A stupa is a memorial — a symbol of the Buddha, as the principle of enlightenment, pointing indirectly to both the teacher and his teachings.
It is specifically a reminder of his final passing of the Buddha since sometimes it enshrines relics. In the early days, before Buddha statues were enshrined in temple halls, a stupa was the object of worship.
Traditionally, stupas are built in the central area of temples. There are two types of relics enshrined in a stupa: Buddha-sari (physical relics) and Dharma-sari or sutras (the Buddha’s teachings). On the surface of a stupa you will sometimes find carved figures of the Buddha, bodhisattvas or congregated guardians. Occasionally, wind-chimes hang from the corners of its roof and make beautiful sounds when a breeze blows.
A pagoda is the general term in English for a tiered tower with multiple eaves common to Nepal, China, Korea, Japan and other parts of Asia.
Pagodas in Korea were made of wood, earth, brick, stone or other materials.

Wooden Pagodas

Ssangbongsa Daeungjeon
Ever since Buddhism was first introduced to Korea in the late 4th century, the custom of building wooden pagodas became popular. Until recently, there were only two wooden pagodas remaining, preserved in Korea as cultural heritage objects: the Palsangjeon at the Beopjusa Temple and the Daeungjeon at the Ssangbongsa Temple, both used as Main Halls.

Palsangjeon, a five-story wooden pagoda, at Beopjusa Temple
Palsangjeon, literally, means hall of eight pictures. These eight pictures are of the acts performed by the Buddha in order to save people. The existing Palsangjeon is a square, wooden building with a five-tiered roof, 22.7 meters in height, with a surface area of eight square meters. It stands on a stone platform with an entrance at each of the cardinal directions. There are several structural characteristics to this Pagoda. For example, it has a central pillar running up the middle of the building, an inner frame of four stories in height with a log structure on top, and an outer frame ending at the third story.

The inside of the building is made up of three parts: the place to store the relics of the Buddha, the place to enshrine the statue of the Buddha and Palsangdo, the pictures of the eight scenes and a place for paying homage to Buddha.
All historical records of the Palsangjeon have been lost. Two inscriptions, however, were discovered during major repair work done in 1968. The dates of the inauguration of this building are on the relic container underneath the central pillar, and the other is on the main ridge of the roof. According to the inscription records, the relic was enshrined in 1605 and the roof frame was completed in 1626. The construction period lasted twenty-one years.

Stone Pagodas
There are many stone pagoda remains preserved in Korea. The first stone pagodas were built in the middle of the 6th century after two centuries of building wooden pagodas. The Silla stone pagodas and those of Baekje origin are distinguishable due to the techniques used and the design. They differ in the material used and the tectonic form adopted. In Silla, granite was used and the design was taken from wooden pagodas. In Baekje, andesite alone or mixed with granite was used and the design following this was brick-style masonry. A pagoda is basically divided into three parts: its foundation, body and finial.

Jeongnimsa Five-story Pagoda

The five-story stone pagoda on the site of Jeongnimsa Temple

The five-story stone pagoda at Jeongnimsa Temple was built during the Baekje Period (18B.C. –A.D. 660) along with the stone pagoda on the site of Mireuksa Temple in Iksan-si City. Believed to date back to the early seventh century, it is one of the oldest and most exemplary of the many stone pagodas still existing today.

The five-story pagoda body stands on a single narrow, low pedestal. Pillar stones are fixed in the middle and on the corners of each side of the pedestal. There are pillars at each corner of the body on each story. The roof stones are thin, wide and raised at the ends of the eaves to make them look elegant. From all this, we can guess that this pagoda was built following the design of a wooden building – a main characteristic of this pagoda. The whole figure is very majestic and beautiful and it is particularly prized because it is one of the two remaining stone pagodas from Baekje Period.

Gameunsa Twin Pagodas

The twin three-story stone pagodas on the site of Gameunsa Temple

These magnificent twin pagodas, built in the 7th century, are the biggest existing pagodas of their kind in the Gyeongju area. A pair of pagodas of the same size and style is found on the site of Gameunsa Temple. Traditionally, there were two types of temple layout. One was with one Main Hall and one pagoda. The other was first introduced at Gameunsa Temple and consists of twin pagodas for one Main Hall.
The twin pagodas have a three-story body on a two-tier foundation, creating an impression of stability and height. This impression is further increased by the main body of the first story, which is much taller than those of the other stories and a long, piercing mast as the finial. Something to take special notice of is each portion of the two pagodas is comprised of lots of stone pieces instead of a single stone. The pagodas have a carefully balanced ratio of one part to the next, which further increases the impression of dignity and magnificence. When the west pagoda was repaired in 1960, a royal palanquin-shaped relic container was retrieved from the third story.
Of all the pagodas in Korea, the two most representative pagodas at the same site are: the Pagoda of Many Gems and the Three-storey stone Pagoda of Sakyamuni in the world of Humanity at Bulguksa Temple. The reason for building the two pagodas at the same site is to follow the statement found in the Lotus Sutra that the Buddha of the past –Dabo — is standing beside the Buddha of the present — Sakyamuni — to witness the Buddha’s teachings.

Bulguksa Dabotap

The Pagoda of Many Gems at Bulguksa (다보탑, Dabotap)

The Dabotap stands to the right as one faces the Main Hall of the world of Humanity at Bulguksa — the Temple of Buddha Land. “Dabo” means “many Gems,” and the Dabotap is dedicated to the Dabo Yorae — the Buddha of Many Gems. Dabo was a disciple of Sakyamuni who eventually achieved enlightenment. Historically, there are records of a Dabotap being built in China in 732; the pagoda at Bulguksa was built less than twenty years later.

The three-story stone pagoda of Sakyamuni at Bulguksa (석가탑, Seokgatap)
The 8.2 meter high three-story pagoda is considered Korea’s most common stone pagoda and is even pictured on the 10 won coin. Indeed, along with the twin pagodas at Gameunsa, Seokgatap follows the “golden mean” in Silla pagoda architecture. During the restoration work in 1966, a wood-block printing plate containing a section of the Dharani Sutra was found in Seokgatap. This is considered to be the world’s oldest surviving wood-block printing plate.

The brick-shaped three-story stone pagoda on the site of Bunhwangsa Temple (모전석탑, Mojeonseoktap)
The pagoda of Bunhwangsa Temple is the oldest remaining stone pagoda of Silla origin. It was built in the 7th century. It is a stone masonry pagoda built by piling stones that were trimmed with charcoal-grey andesite. cut crudely into bricks. There is a record that the pagoda was originally nine-stories high, but today only three stories are left. Together with the nine-story wooden pagoda of Hwangryongsa Temple, it was built to supplicate the Buddha’s protection of the nation and the Queen’s reign.
This pagoda stands on a square single-story platform made of natural stones with a granite lion at each of the four corners of the platform. The pagoda body is presently only three-stories high and has been made by piling small brick-shaped stones trimmed from charcoal-grey andesite. Compared with the first-story core, it is prominently reduced in size from the second story on. There is a doorway complete with a stone lintel, threshold, doorjamb and two doors on each side of the first level. A pair of Vajrapani, guardians of Buddhism, stands sentinel at each doorway. The roof stone is like a brick pagoda that has staircase-shaped stories at both the upper and the lower part. Only the upper part of the three-story roof stone is square pillar-shaped. There are lotus flowers in full-bloom carved in the granite.

Gyeongcheonsa Pagoda

The ten-story marble pagoda of Gyeongcheonsa Temple

This pagoda was taken to Japan during the Japanese occupation period of Korea and relocated to the Gyeongbokgung Palace in 1960.
According to an inscription on the first story, this pagoda was erected in the 14th century. This 13 meter-high, ten-story pagoda is unusually made of marble, distinguishing itself from other pagodas of Goryeo origin. The three-tiered platform holds the first three stories of the pagoda. They are all cross-shaped with each part going out in the four directions. The next seven stories are square. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and flower designs are sculptured on them. From the fourth story up, each story has railings and hipped-and-gabled roofs, suggestive of a wooden building with a tiled roof. The eaves of the roofs appear to have been influenced by the wooden architecture of the period, which makes them an important object of study for understanding the architecture of that time period.