The amazingly ornate red datjib inside the main hall at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Busan.
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Inside all shrine halls at Korean Buddhist temples, and resting above the altar, is a canopy above the triad of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. While this canopy is brilliantly beautiful in design, the meaning behind the varying designs isn’t all that obvious. So why exactly is it above the heads of the different Buddhas and Bodhisattvas inside a shrine hall? And why are there varying designs?
The canopy that rests above the head of varying Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is made of wood. This wooden canopy structure is called a “datjib” in Korean. The “dat” means separate, while “jib” means house. Put together, the word “datjib” refers to a house inside a house. Another name for a “datjib” is a “celestial canopy,” which is in reference to the airy feeling that the roof-shaped structure possesses.
A closer look at the Eunhaesa Temple datjib with the uniquely designed dragon in the centre.
As for the design of the canopy itself, again, it is made of wood and the wood work consists of finely interconnected brackets that have been ornately decorated. The pillars of the canopy are usually thin, which helps contribute to the airy feeling of the design. Surrounding the usually red painted canopy are various things like dragons, phoenixes, lotuses, Biseon, which all provide a luxuriousness to the normally solemn structure. At a glance, the canopy looks like a mini-palace.
In total, there are three different types of canopies that take up residence inside a Korean temple hall. They are: 1. The Cloud Palace Type, 2. The Treasure Palace Type, 3. The Bejeweled Canopy Type.
The first of these three, The Cloud Palace Type, does not have any brackets in its construction. And overall, the design is very simple. However, while the design is simplistic, the canopied area directly above a Buddha or Bodhisattvas head is ornately designed with images of clouds, dragons, flowers, or phoenixes.
A good example of the Cloud Palace Type datjib from Botaam Hermitage near Tongdosa Temple.
The second type is The Treasure Palace Type. This type of design appears as though it’s a completely separate structure. It seems that with the passage of time that this type of canopy became more and more elaborate. Good examples of this type of design can be found at Buseoksa Temple and Beomeosa Temple.
A look inside the main hall at Buseoksa Temple. It’s a fine example of the Treasure Palace Type of datjib.
The third, and final, type of design is The Bejeweled Canopy Type. This type of canopy is recessing into the ceiling. Additionally, the four sides are finely bracketed.
So why exactly do these canopies appear above the heads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on altars inside Korean temple halls? The historical reference comes from the Amita sutra, where the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss (Sukhavati) is described. The canopy is said to represent a Pure Land image in order to conceal the unclean secular world which has endless cycles of birth and death. So the canopy acts as a piece of heaven for those that pray and live in a secular world tainted by Samsara.
At first glance, the canopy inside Korean Buddhist temple halls may seem like nothing more than decoration. However, this “decoration” is a little piece of heaven that attempts to wrench you clear from the secular world and Samsara. So not only are these canopies stunningly beautiful, but they are also loaded with a lot of religious meaning.
Saving the best for last. This awe-inspiring golden datjib can be found at Sujeongsa Temple in Ulsan.