Name/TitleSeokguram (石窟庵) Buddhist Temple on Mount Toham (吐含山), UNESCO 736
About this objectSeokguram was built between 742–774 under the patronage of the Prime Minister Kim Daeseong (金大城) of the Silla Kingdom (57 BC – AD 935) in memory of his parents from previous lives, showing the influence of Buddhism at the highest levels of government. The rock-cut temple form had travelled from sites such as Ajanta in India, through central and into east Asia. Like many of these models, Seokguram consists of antechamber with guardian gods, a corridor and a main chamber with a domed ceiling containing a monumental Buddha statue in the centre. Around the wall are attendant bodhisattvas—including Manjusri—and disciples, carved from stone brought into the site.
The chamber is cut out of a face of granite 750m high on the slopes of Mount Toham and facing the straits between Korea and Japan. The Mountain God of Korea, Sansin (山神), who was worshipped before Buddhism, was not displaced but retains a home with a shrine among the precincts of the contemporary Bulguksa (佛國寺) at the foot of the mountain [EXH43]. It is possible that this site combined traditional and Buddhist practices. Mount Unje (雲帝), the same range to the north, remains the home of a female mountain spirit [EXH45].
The rock-cut temple became a place of pilgrimage. Believers hiked from the foot of the mountain, climbed the last flight of steps and then circumambulated the statue, making their offerings.
Subject and Association KeywordsEncounters
Subject and Association KeywordsPilgrimage
Subject and Association DescriptionLearn more: Lee 2004: Ten and Winstanley-Chesters 2020; UNESCO 2003.
Medium and MaterialsStone
Object numberEXH44: Seokguram Rock-cut Temple