WPC – Ornate Temples

The Roof's Corner of Haeinsa Temple
The Roof’s Corner of Haeinsa Temple

When I was in South Korea, I was so attracted to their ornate colorful temples, especially on the roof.  The people behind these temples were so amazing, they did with the heart, focused on the small details one by one, day by day until it completed done. And after a while, the continuous process started again, this time was for the maintenance.

I saw the work result of the monks who is always embracing the present moments. They’re never in hurry, do everything quietly and in calm spirit. They do not lose their inner peace for working with the intricate designs.

“Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you will look back, and realize they were the big things”

In response to the Daily Post weekly photo challenge – Ornate

When I Smell the Fragrance of Heaven in Bulguksa Temple…

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Mid-day in Gyeongju, South Korea…

When the local bus stopped at Bulguksa and the visitors got off the bus, it didn’t mean they had arrived at the temple. Actually all visitors should walk around 200m uphill along a nice walkway to reach the ticket booth. Then walk along a natural path to the temple’s gate.  But while walking the beautiful scenery will surround us in 360. Seems the Koreans love to build temples and monasteries in harmony with the mountains since long time ago.

The walkway was comfortably made, wide and neat, with food or souvenir stalls in each side. The beautiful autumn scenery with red and yellow maple leaves with fresh atmosphere and the happiness of family picnics on the greenery grass removed the tiredness of walking.

And after walking for a while, finally I reached the iconic stone with UNESCO World Heritage Site symbol on it in Roman and Hangul. Bulguksa Temple itself was designated as a World Cultural Asset by UNESCO in 1995, which is home to many important cultural relics.

My heart smiled when I stepped into the natural path, sensing the aura of beauty. A picturesque pond welcomed me with autumn colored trees around it and the motionless water showed its total reflection. Very beautiful. It’s Bulguksa! As the name indicates, it was designed as a realization of the blissful land of the Buddha in the present world. It was intended to be the happy land where all beings are released from the suffering by following Buddha’s teachings. Meaning, the temple had to be not only faithful to Buddha’s teachings but beautiful as well. It works, I felt it.

I stopped for a while in the gate with four statues of heavenly gods inside as temple’s guardians, watching some Koreans gave a slight bow to each god with both palms met in front of the chest, some others passed as nothing was important. From the gesture and the intimidating stares of the gods, they looked like asking me the reason going to Bulguksa. Hmm.. I thought of this Korean trip. Bulguksa Temple was in my bucket list since my first plan going to South Korea last year. But it’d never happened because of the warming political situation between North and South Korea in the first quarter of 2013. I had to cancel the trip although all was ready. Well, no regret at all, there’s price I had to pay for extending my trip in Japan instead of going to South Korea at that time. Fortunately I got the beautiful chance to go in autumn. In November 2013 my dream came true, arrived in Bulguksa temple, -a complex of beautiful wooden buildings and stone pagodas built upon decorative stone terraces-, and here I was standing on my own feet.

It was a heartwarming moment, like a kid got unexpected gift. I walked slowly, enjoying moments in this representative relic of Gyeongju, and was known worldwide for the amazing details and the touch of stone relics.  In front of my own eyes, I saw the famous White Cloud and Blue Cloud Bridge which are the thirty-three stone-stairs adorned with elaborate railings, -which symbolize the thirty-three heavens-, that originally to reach the elevated compound of the temple.

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Then after a while, avoiding the crowds of people at Tourist Information hut, I went to a small shrine on the right side which was less people visited but interesting. There were stone tub filled with water for purifying all beings before praying. Looking at the tub with lotus petals in each foot and details where the water comes out, reminded me of Yoni, as one pair with Lingam in Hinduism.

I walked slowly and entered the main yard from the right side of the temple. The long wooden terrace was so lovely with adorned detail pillars and roof. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath trying to absorb all the beauty of the temple. My mind was flying back many centuries ago, giving me a flash of its history. Originally called Hwaeombeomnyusa or Beopryusa Temple, a small wooden temple, -built in 528 during the reign of King Beop-Heung-, was for the Queen to pray for the welfare of the kingdom. It took hundreds years to be redeveloped. The current temple was built by Kim Dae-Seong, -a devoted believer and the architect of the original temple with a remarkable eye for beauty and legendary reincarnated into the prime minister-, in 751 during the reign of King Gyeong-Deok and completely built in 774. After that the temple logged a long history of reconstructions and numerous renovations from the Goryeo Dynasty to the Joseon Dynasty included burned down during the Imjin Waeran war following Japanese Invasion in the end of 16th century. Then it was reconstructed again in 1604 during the reign of King Seon-jo of the Joseon Dynasty and had continuous renovation for 200 years.

The chitchat of other visitors woke me up from the daydreaming and realized that I’d been on the land of Seokgamoni Buddha as part of the temple’s main yard. Actually Bulguksa’s cloistered sanctuary is divided into two, the land of Seokgamoni Buddha and the land of Amitabha, means the Buddha of Boundless Light. The land of Seokgamoni Buddha, -the impure land-, is larger and higher than Amitabha’s, the pure one. Some said that Seokgamoni, or Sakyamuni, is praised as the more noble to appear in the mundane world out of his great compassion.

One of the buildings in the land of Seokgamoni Buddha is Daeungjeon, hall of great enlightenment, which enshrines a gilt-bronze Buddha and is the main hall for worshiping. The other important one is  Musolijeon, the Hall of No Discourse, as the lecture hall.

But I was amazed with view in front of me. Between Daeungjeon and Jahamun (Mauve Mist Gate), stand the famous pagodas, Tabotap, the Pagoda of Many Treasures, and the other should be the Seokgatap (the Seokgamoni Pagoda). Unfortunately on my visit, the sacred Seokgatap was being under 3 years restoration.

I walked into the Jahamun, the Mauve Mist Gate that is full of delicate detailed decoration on the wooden roof and pillars. Jahamun was the gate for people to reach Daeungjeon from the outside by using staircases. But considering the age and value, visitors cannot use the staircases anymore.

The staircases, although they are called as bridges, have deep meaning. The staircase which is in the lower part is Cheongungyo or Blue Cloud Bridge and has 17 steps. The staircase which is in the upper part is Baegungyo or White Cloud Bridge and has 16 steps. These staircases symbolically connect the earthly world below and the world of Buddha above. In the other version, some wise people said that the staircases are the symbol of man’s journey from youth to old age.

Back to the land of Seokgamoni Buddha,  among the many treasures of Bulguksa, the famous pagoda pair in the main yard have an unmatched reputation. Seokgatap and Tabotap, have stood for over 12 centuries surviving the flames of war that engulfed all of the temple’s original wooden structures. And it’s surprising me that a legend inspires the arrangement of them. When Seokgamoni preached the Lotus Sutra, the pagoda of Prabhutaratna emerged out of the earth in witness of the greatness and truth of his teaching. Some other said that both pagodas are the manifestations of the Buddha’s contemplation and detachment from the world. Because of the legend and amazing history of them, none of thousands pagodas scattered across South Korea surpass those two pagodas for the philosophical depth. 


Based on many sources, Seokgatap, or the Seokgamoni Pagoda, represents the finest traditional style of Korean Buddhist pagodas that was inspired from China’s one. As proven by many people, the three-story pagoda is admired for its proportions, simple with minimal decoration but graceful style. Unfortunately I was not able to see the glorious height of Seokgatap because of its current restoration process.  However, during restoration when the second roof was removed, it’s showed a gilt bronze casket containing, for those who believe, was the relics of Sakyamuni.

It was like in 1966, during repairing a collection of precious treasures was found in the Seokgatap. They included a paper scroll of the Pure Light Dharani Sutra, printed between 706 and 751. The scrolling Sutra, 6m long 7cm wide, was one of the world oldest printed materials. The other treasures found were three sets of beautiful decorated relic containers including a gilt-bronze box in elaborate openwork, a gilt-bronze box with a fine engraving of bodhisattvas and heavenly gods, and a glass bottle containing 46 grains of holy relics. No wonder Seokgatap is so sacred.

Beside the sacredness of Seokgatap, I was told about its legend. Among the Koreans, Seokgatap is also called as the Pagoda without Reflection. It referred to the sad legend of Asanyeo, wife of the Asadal, who built this pagoda. The poor woman came to Gyeongju to see her husband as years had gone without any news. At that time, no outsiders were allowed to come into the holy site and she had to wait by a pond near the temple until the the water showed a reflection of the pagoda. But that reflection was never showed up, she gave up waiting in vain and finally she threw herself into the pond.


This beautiful pagoda is symbolizing Prabhutaratna Buddha, -the one that emerged out of the earth in witness of the greatness and truth of Seokgamoni’s teaching. The highly ornate pagoda representing the skill of Silla’s craftsmanship, looks like a shrine with railings supported by a square slab roof on four pillars, and seems unbelievable that was constructed of stone. Those pillars stand on an elevated platform approached by four staircases in each side with 10 steps, symbolizing the 10 paramitas, or great virtues in Buddhism.

Considering the name of Tabotap which is called as Pagoda of Many Treasures, there was no record about the treasures found inside it.

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Slowly I continued to walk to the quietness of the backyard by using a steep stairs. I saw here Gwaneumjeon or Avalokitesvara’s Shrine, the Boddhisattva of Perfect Compassion. It is called as the shrine of the One who Listens to the Cries of the World. I noticed that few people worshiped here. Perhaps it was a good sign that most Koreans had solved their own problems.

From Gwaneumjeon, I had to go downstairs for reaching Birojeon. It was similar with the adjacent building with more people worshiped. Birojeon is the hall in which enshrined the Golden Bronze Vairocana Buddha Sitting Statue, which was believed for the Truth, Wisdom and Cosmic Power. At the corner of Birojeon’s yard, there is a small building which houses the Sarira or Relic Stupa.

Leaving Birojeon then passing the Beophwajeon, -the area of stone foundation-, and my journey in Bulguksa was approaching the land of Amitabha, the pure land with Geungnakjeon or the Paradise Hall as the main hall. From many resources, Amitabha, -who vowed that all who believed in him and   called upon his name would be born into his paradise-, has a broad following among Koreans. It’s proven by lots of fresh beautiful and colorful flowers arranged in front of this hall and of course, the crowds in the Shrine. In front of this main hall, stand the Anyangmun Gate -the Pure Land Gate- and a big golden mouse statue in between.

Similar to Jahamun Gate in the eastern of the temple, Anyangmun Gate in the western part was the gate for people to reach Geungnakjeon from the outside by using staircases. But, again, considering the age and value, of course visitors are not allowed to use the staircases anymore.

These are 18-step stone staircases, the lower part of staircase called Yeonhwagyo or Lotus Flower Bridge and has 10 steps. Long time ago, this staircase was graced by the delicate lotus blossom carvings. The upper part of the staircase called Chilbogyo or Seven Treasure Bridge and has 8 steps. It is said that only those who reached enlightenment could use these stairs. Although these structures are smaller than the eastern one, both are similar in design and structure form.

My journey in Bulguksa was almost completed. I stopped for a minute in a building that stores a big heavy bell. My mind flew back again centuries ago and the sound of the bell heard over every corners of the temple, waking up the monks in grey robe to start the day with their daily routines.

Then I was back again in the front yard of Bulguksa Temple in the western side. From this corner people usually take the picturesque Bulguksa Temple in Autumn, with red and yellow colorful trees. My eyes absorbed the beauty in front of me. This was truly heaven on earth.

From the western corner I walked slowly to face the central façade of the temple. I saw Beomyeongnu or the Overflowing Shadow Pavillion, an elevated center building between Anyangmun and Jahamun Gate and originally constructed in mid of 8th century for placing the Dharma Drum. Its shape represents of Mt. Sumeru, an imaginary mount considered to be in the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. The current structure was restored in 1973, which is smaller than the original. Particularly unique are the stacked pillars, using 8 differently nice shaped stones and their placement, facing each of the four cardinal directions. The workers seemed in meditative state when putting the stones into the arrangement. 

Before leaving Bulguksa, I sat facing the temple and enjoyed the view. Closing my eyes and imagined a lotus pond that once existed beneath the staircases leading up to the main courtyard gave a fresh atmosphere. Seems I could smell the fragrance of heaven here…

Mencicipi Ruang Publik Di Gyeongju, Korea Selatan

Bangku Taman Gyeongju

Masih di hari kedua saya di Korea Selatan, tengah hari saya tiba di Gyeongju, sebuah kota kecil sekitar 1 jam berkendara dari Busan (Baca seru dan heboh perjalanannya di sini). Dengan menggendong daypack, saya meninggalkan guesthouse dan menelusuri trotoar menuju Gyeongju Station, stasion kereta api. Orang di guesthouse menyarankan untuk Bulguksa Temple, -destinasi utama saya di Gyeongju-, dapat menggunakan bus nomor 10 atau 11 dan halte busnya ada di depan Geongju Station. Saya melewati ujung lorong pasar tradisional Gyeongju, yang ketika saya intip, terasa lengang. Mungkin karena hari sudah beranjak siang.

Warna Musim Gugur Menuju Bulguksa Temple
Warna Musim Gugur Menuju Bulguksa Temple

Di perempatan saya menyeberang menuju stasion kereta api Gyeongju dan mampir sebentar di Tourist Information Center yang ada di depannya untuk mengambil peta Gyeongju dan petunjuk arah bus. Kemudian menyeberang lagi ke halte bus dan menunggu beberapa saat hingga bus yang dimaksud datang. Sambil menanti kedatangan bus, saya perhatikan keadaan sekitarnya. Menyedihkan, karena  semua informasi di halte bus hanya dalam Hangul yang tidak bisa saya baca. Kemudian saya perhatikan lagi bahwa semua kendaraan yang lewat di depan saya, hampir semua made in Korea Selatan, taksi-taksinya tampak masih baru walaupun pengemudinya rata-rata berusia lanjut. Penduduk Gyeongju, cukup tertib dengan lampu lalu lintas walaupun tidak tampak seorang polisi di situ. Yang menanti di halte bus kebanyakan pelajar dan remaja, mungkin karena hari Sabtu, mereka memanfaatkan waktu untuk berjalan-jalan.

Tak lama kemudian bus datang dan setelah memasukkan koin Won ke dalam box di dekat supir, saya masuk ke dalam. Untunglah seorang pelajar berbaikhati menggeserkan badan menyediakan tempat duduk untuk saya. Bus umum di Gyeongju seperti bus-bus umum di Indonesia, ada yang duduk dan banyak yang berdiri. Lagi-lagi saya teringat bahwa di Korea Selatan bukanlah hal yang aneh bila bus padat oleh penumpang. Terbersit di benak saya, bahkan di sebuah negara maju pun, orang masih berjubel di bus umum. Betapa transportasi publik yang nyaman semakin dibutuhkan dimana-mana.

Saya naik bus umum ini pakai iman (istilah saya untuk ‘pasrah mode’) artinya, saya hanya mengandalkan telinga untuk mendengar bahwa saya harus turun di Bulguksa. Dan pada suatu tempat, ketika bus berhenti di sebuah halte saya membaca bahwa di halte itu tertulis Bulguksa. Melihat banyak orang yang turun, saya sempat bersiap-siap turun. Tetapi entah mengapa, saya bertanya dulu  kepada pelajar di sebelah saya, apakah benar ini menuju Bulguksa Temple? Dia menggeleng sambil menjelaskan dengan bahasa Inggeris yang cukup bisa dimengerti. Bahkan dia mengatakan, masih beberapa halte lagi dan dia akan memberitahu saya jika sudah sampai nanti. Ah, saya bertemu lagi dengan orang baik. Dan memang benar setelah melewati tempat-tempat yang berbau resort, bus akhirnya berhenti dan pelajar di sebelah memberitahu bahwa saya harus turun di sini. Lepas dari bus, di hadapan saya terbentang bukit luas dan terdapat petunjuk ke Bulguksa Temple. Kamsahamnida my friend… Untuk sepotong rute di  Gyeongju, saya terselamatkan di transportasi publik: bus umum!

Saya mulai melangkahkan kaki menuju Bulguksa Temple melalui jalan mendaki yang di sebelah kiri kanannya terbentang taman-taman yang tertata rapi. Kuil yang merupakan salah satu UNESCO World Heritage Site di Korea Selatan ini termasuk yang sangat diminati oleh wisatawan domestiknya. Saya akan posting tentang Bulguksa Temple ini terpisah. Tidak hanya keluarga yang mengunjunginya tetapi juga pasangan remaja. Semua tampak berbondong-bondong berjalan ke atas bukit. Mungkin saja mereka tidak masuk ke kuilnya, dan hanya bersantai di taman-tamannya. Korea Selatan memang saya acungi jempol untuk penyediaan ruang publik berupa taman yang nyaman. Dengan beralaskan tikar, mereka bisa berpiknik bersama seluruh anggota keluarga tercinta. Anak-anak berlari-lari berkejaran sementara pasangan-pasangan tampak berdekatan berduaan merancang masa depan.

Jalan Kaki Menuju Bulguksa Temple
Jalan Kaki Menuju Bulguksa Temple

Saya mengunjungi Bulguksa Temple yang indah dan sekembalinya dari sana tampak antrian panjang mengular di halte bus. Rasanya tidak mungkin saya menunggu bus untuk sampai tepat waktu di destinasi  berikutnya. Setelah menimbang-nimbang akhirnya saya memutuskan untuk naik taksi daripada menunggu bus.

Ketika masih di Indonesia, seorang kawan telah mengingatkan untuk tidak menggunakan taksi di Korea Selatan, karena mahal. Tetapi apa boleh buat, saya harus pergi ke destinasi berikutnya. Sang pengemudi tampak senang ketika saya bilang mau ke Cheomseongdae. Lagi-lagi saya pakai iman untuk menggunakan taksi. Saya tidak tahu rute terdekat dari Bulguksa ke Cheomseongdae. Argo sudah bertambah ketika akhirnya sampai ke jalan besar yang tampak padat. Sang pengemudi mengatakan dalam bahasa Korea campur Inggris yang terbatas ‘traffic not OK’ berkali-kali. Dari bahasa tubuhnya, tampak ia tidak senang dengan lalu lintas yang macet. Ia minta ijin untuk memutar dengan jalur yang lebih kosong. Saya memahami dan setuju agar ia mengambil jalan yang lebih kosong. Hahaha, saya menyadari ketololan saya, karena pada akhirnya ujung jalan itu tetap macet dan saya harus membayar ongkos jalan yang memutar dan pastinya lebih mahal. Terlebih lagi, bukannya menurunkan di Cheomseongdae, ia menyarankan saya untuk turun di Anapji Pond yang berada “tidak jauh versi Korea” dari Cheomseongdae, karena lalu lintas macet total. Bodohnya lagi, saya setuju! Hahaha… Akhirnya saya turun di Anapji Pond yang kilometernya lebih dekat daripada ke Cheomseongdae tapi saya membayar ongkos yang lebih mahal karena jalan yang memutar. Berdiri di depan Anapji Pond, saya tergelak dalam hati. Kamsahamnida Pak Sopir Taksi, sudah menambah cerita tentang transportasi umum di Gyeongju.

Hari sudah beranjak malam ketika saya selesai mengunjungi Anapji Pond, namun tentu saja saya mau ke Cheomseongdae yang terkenal itu. Di peta, Cheomseongdae berada di depan Anapji Pond, walaupun dalam kenyataannya harus jalan kaki beratus-ratus meter untuk sampai. Jadilah saya menyeberang jalan raya mengikuti the crowd, sekumpulan orang yang sedang berjalan di depan, yang menurut intuisi saya juga menuju Cheomseongdae.

Tidak lama mengikuti the crowd hingga ke seberang, sebagian dari mereka berpisah. Sebagian melanjutkan jalan di trotoar yang terang benderang dan sebagian lagi berbelok ke kiri menembus jalan tanah yang lebih gelap. Mampuslah saya! Saya harus berpikir cepat. Seingat saya, Cheomseongdae berada di tengah taman sehingga saya mengambil rombongan yang berbelok ke kiri, dan itu juga berarti saya jalan kaki sendirian ke tempat yang lebih gelap. Aahh… travel solo kali ini, memang seru sekali!

Taman yang saya jelajahi ini sebenarnya merupakan ruang publik yang bagus dan indah, tapi jika datang saat matahari masih muncul! Kalau sudah tenggelam, ruang publik ini menjadi serupa seperti ruang publik dimana-mana. Penerangan hanya cukup di tempat-tempat strategis, tetapi selebihnya gelap. Ada bangku-bangku taman dengan penerangan yang tidak berlebihan. Untuk jalan kaki di jalur setapaknya masih bisa terlihat, tetapi harus dengan mata yang lebih sensitif terhadap cahaya redup. Kalau istilah fotografi, katanya ISOnya harus lebih tinggi supaya hasilnya lebih jelas.

Sebenarnya sejak dari Anapji Pond, sebenarnya kaki sudah berteriak lelah, tetapi bukan di Korea Selatan namanya kalau kaki tidak pegal-pegal karena kebanyakan jalan kaki. Sehingga mau tidak mau, saya harus terus jalan kaki. Perut juga sudah menagih minta diisi. Tetapi semua permintaan tubuh itu belum bisa saya penuhi. Di tengah penjalanan ketika Cheomseongdae sudah terlihat indah, -sekitar 500meter lagi-, saya menikmati fasilitas yang ada di taman itu, duduk!

Bangku Taman Gyeongju
Bangku Taman Gyeongju

Di seberang jalan setapak, tampak sepasang remaja sedang bercengkerama, dan tidak jauh di hadapan saya ada seorang bapak bercelana training sedang asik merenggangkan badannya. Walaupun sudah lanjut usia, ia tampak fit dan lentur. Sebentar dia merenggangkan ototnya lalu melanjutkan berjalan lagi. Di Korea, terutama di taman-taman publik, saya sering melihat orang-orang berolahraga, tidak peduli udara musim gugur yang lumayan dingin. Buat saya ini luar biasa, taman yang sedang saya duduki ini, bukan taman yang terang, walaupun bukan juga taman yang gelap total. Namun masih banyak orang yang beraktivitas dan berolahraga. Sambil menikmati keadaan sekitar, akhirnya saya memenuhi kebutuhan perut juga. Ayam goreng tanpa tulang yang saya beli di Busan kemarin (kalau belum baca proses terbelinya ayam itu di Busan, baca disini ya), akhirnya saya santap habis di taman Gyeongju ini. Ah, memang menyenangkan sekali berada malam-malam di taman publik di Gyeongju ini.

Sambil makan di tengah keremangan malam, tiba-tiba saya seperti tersadarkan. Taman tempat saya duduk ini, -ruang publik ini-, sebenarnya merupakan bagian dari Tumuli-tumuli yang berserakan seantero Gyeongju. Tumuli, atau gundukan-gundukan besar yang terlihat langsung di hadapan saya ini sebenarnya merupakan… Kuburan! Yah, siapapun yang dikubur di dalamnya, raja atau petinggi kerajaan, tetaplah dulunya seorang manusia yang sekarang sudah meninggal! Tiba-tiba udara terasa lebih dingin menusuk tulang sehingga saya merapatkan jaket. Mengapa tiba-tiba saya jadi teringat film China yang orang matinya hidup kembali dan lompat-lompat yaa? Aduh.. lalu benarkah si kakek tadi manusia? Cepat saya menutup day-pack dan melanjutkan jalan kaki, meninggalkan kegelapan dan udara dingin…

Sekeluar dari taman saya menghadapi kenyataan bahwa tidak ada satu pun transportasi publik yang bisa saya gunakan padahal hari sudah malam. Lalu bagaimana saya pulang ke Guest-house? Saya tidak tahu rute dan nomor bus yang bisa dinaiki (dan kalaupun ada halte, rutenya tidak bisa dibaca karena dalam Hangul) dan juga di sekitar itu tidak ada taksi yang tersedia. Saya tidak melihat tempat menunggu taksi dan tidak ada informasi tentang itu di sekitar. Padahal di dekat saya terdapat batu besar bertulisan UNESCO World Heritage Site. Menyedihkan sekali! Tidak ada pilihan lain kecuali jalan kaki menyusuri trotoar, padahal kaki sudah menjerit minta istirahat. Mungkin dalam keadaan normal, jarak 2 km masih bisa dibilang dekat. Tetapi di kota kecil, di negara orang, di trotoar yang tidak kita kenal daerahnya, di malam-malam yang sepi…? Biar itu ruang publik, tetapi tetap saja terasa tidak nyaman, terasa jauh dan tidak sampai-sampai, apalagi dalam keadaan kaki sangat-sangat pegal seperti mau putus !!