Colonial Korea: Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site – 굴불사지 (Gyeongju)

Gulbulsaji - 1917

The west side of the four sided sculpture at Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site in Gyeongju from 1917.

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Located on the western slopes of Mt. Sogeumgangsan in the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, Gyeongju, Gulbulsa-ji Temple Site is home to one of the most uniquely crafted four-sided sculptures in all of Korea.

According to the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), the 35th king of the Silla Dynasty, King Gyeongdeok (r. 742 A.D. – 765 A.D.) was making a short trek up to the neighbouring Baeknyulsa Temple, which lays a little further up Mt. Sogeumgangsan. During his walk, he heard a noise coming from beneath the ground. For some reason, King Gyeongdeok believed the noise to be the sound of a Buddhist monk reading Buddhist sutras. Immediately, the king ordered his servants to dig up the spot where he had heard these sounds. As they dug, the stone image of the four-sided sculpture appeared. So moved by this incident, the king decided to call the future temple grounds Gulbulsa Temple. Regrettably, the temple no longer stands; instead, all that remains is the four-sided sculpture that King Gyeongdeok discovered. As for the name of the temple, Gulbulsa Temple, it literally means “To Dig Up an Image of the Buddha Temple,” in English.

Each side of the four-sided statue has a different Buddha or triad. On the west side, you’ll see a triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul) to the left. On the east side of the sculpture is Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), who has his legs crossed. An image of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) is found on the north side, while on the south is an image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

Surprisingly, this four-sided stone sculpture isn’t a national treasure; instead, it’s Korea’s Treasure #121.

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The stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal from 1917.

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The severely damaged image of Daesaeji-bosal from 1917, as well.

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The folded legs of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

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The north side relief of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

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The Gulbulsa-ji in 2013.

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A modern look at Gwanseeum-bosal.

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And a better look at the severely damaged Daesaeji-bosal.

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A fuller look at Yaksayore-bul in 2013.

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As well as Mireuk-bul in 2013.

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