Seokguram Grotto:This is the site where there is a stone temple made of granite housing the Sakyamuni Buddha. To get there we had to drive up a winding cliffside road on Mt. Tohamsan.
Construction took place around 750 and was built by the Silla Prime Minister Kim Taesong. It was built at the same time as the Bulgulksa Temple and is the only intact surviving structure.
Because historical records are few the actual written history of how and why it was built remains more of a legend. This site gives one tale:
written by the monk Iryon in the 14th century, relates the following legend: the architect of Seokguram was carving the central ceiling stone when it cracked before his eyes. He wept bitterly at his blunder and fell into a trance. In a dream, he saw celestial beings descend from heaven and repair the critical ceiling stone. When he awoke, he found the stone healed but for the faint traces of cracks on the surface. Small cracks in the ceiling stone can still be seen today.It is also said that for a long time the site was left undiscovered or abandoned but others feel this is impossible. Some say a Japanese postman discovered it, but I feel that because the Chosun dynasty did not favor Buddhism heavily that someone took care of it in secret. Really who knows...though?
Either way the site seems very sacred and meaningful which is why I was excited to see it.
During the Choson period, or at least during portions of it, Buddhism was officially discouraged and both Bulguksa and Seokguram fell into disrepair. The story is ... that Seokguram was rediscovered by a Japanese postman taking shelter on T'oham Mountain in 1909. It is, however, probably something of an overstatement to say that it had been ... forgotten by local people up until that point. "Rediscovery" might be more accurately described as "discovery for the Japanese authorities," who at that moment just prior to formal annexation had a great interest in Korean antiquities, ...
Approaching the Sokkuram:
To get to the site you had to walk through a path along the mountainside and up some steps.
The grotto symbolizes a spiritual journey into Nirvana. Pilgrims were to start at Bulguksa or at the foot Mt. Tohamsan, a holy mountain to the Silla kingdom. There was a fountain at the entrance of the shrine where pilgrims could refresh themselves. Inside the grotto, the antechamber and corridor represent the earth while the rotunda represents heaven.
However, some details, particularly the placement of the central Buddha statue such that it gazes precisely in the direction of the underwater tomb of King Munmu located just off the coast in the East Sea, suggest that the carvings may have been executed to glorify the king or the royal lineage instead.
The temple site with the Buddha inside. *I did not take any pictures inside for respect of the "No Pictures" sign.
I can relate to you, however, the experience of going inside. When you enter you are crammed into a small space with other visitors. Before you is a glass barrier where behind that is the Buddha and surrounding cave wall with carvings. In front of the Buddha was a monk chanting with practitioners behind him bowing over and over.
In the spring they open up the Buddha to be viewed much more closely. In this case I was only able to see everything from an onlookers perspective and not up close. However, it still felt mystical and again fun because I had studied this relic in Korean Art History class. But I think because I saw the very huge Buddha in Nara when I was in Japan, that I could feel the difference in design.
However, I admired at how well it was preserved and that the muted colors of the cave gave it a very cleansing feeling.
For a 360' view of the temple check out this link. Now we will move onward....
A roof completes the covering of a house, standing above our heads and representing the overall style of the house. Traditional roofs with tiles were decisive elements that completed houses. First of all they protected houses from rain and bad weather.
And on our way to take the path back to the parking lot we passed the cleansing fountain, which was partially frozen.