The Traditional Culture of Gyeonggi-do 600 Years - Part 2 

Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation

 Religions, Seasonal Holidays and Holiday Customs


Silleuksa of Yeoju, located at the bank of the Namhangang River, is a historic Buddhist temple constructed by Wonhyo during King Jinpyeong’s rule of Silla. Once a grand temple, Silleuksa had fallen from its former glory at some point in its existence. However, in more recent centuries, when Yeongneung, the tomb of King Sejong, was relocated to the area, this helped Silleuksa garner new attention. The name “Silleuksa” is believed to derive either from Mireuk (Maitreya) or the legend in which old monks (Naong-hwasang, Indang-daesa) tamed a ferocious dragon-horse at this place. Naong-hwasang entered Nirvana at this temple where his portrait can be seen still today, in Seongakjindang Hall. Meanwhile, the writing above the door frame of Geungnakbojeon Hall which reads “Cheonchumanse” – literally meaning ‘eons’- is said to be by the hand of Naong-hwasang. Starting sometime in the Goryeo period, the temple was at times referred to as the Brick Temple due to the brick pagoda located on a high ground on the east side of its precincts.
In 1382 when Daejanggak was built, a copy of the Tripitaka Koreana was housed there. This copy of the Tripitaka Koreana was printed under an initiative of Yi Gok. The project, unrealized during his life time, was completed by his son Yi Saek and a group of disciples of Naong. Among the names of Silleuksa monks and close to two hundred disciples of Naong who participated in this project are found those of such illustrious monks as Gagun, Sinjo and Jacho as well as those of historical personalities like Choe Yeong, Jo Min-su and Choe Mu-seon.
During the Joseon period, Silleuksa was hurt by the anti-Buddhist policy of this dynasty. However, later, in 1469, when Yeongneung, the tomb of Sejong, which was originally located in Daemosan Mountain in Gwangju, was moved to Yeoju, it was adopted as the royal family temple, which was soon followed by a large-scale reconstruction project. Silleuksa was mostly destroyed in the course of the two wars in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, but was rebuilt in the late 19th century. Josadang Shrine, designated as Treasure No. 180, is the oldest surviving building in the precincts and houses the portrait of Naong alongside those of Jigong and Muhak.

Numerous Buddhist temples exist across Gyeonggi-do. Bongseonsa in Namyangju is one of the twenty-five head temples for the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Heungguksa, also located in Namyangju, at the foot of Suraksa Mountain, was founded during the Silla period by the monk Wongwang. During the Joseon period, it was regularly visited by members of the royal family seeking to benefit from the healing power of Bhaisajyaguru Buddha the temple was known for. Buramsa, located nearby, is also a Silla temple, founded by State Preceptor Jijeung. During the Joseon period, prayers were held there for the safety of the country from enemy attacks. Meanwhile, Sujongsa, a temple in a splendid setting at the point where the Bukhangang River and Namhangang River meet, is famously remembered through an anecdote involving Joseon king Sejo. As for Bogwangsa in Paju, this Silla-period temple constructed by State Preceptor Doseon is noted for the memorial tablet of King Yeongjo’s mother it houses. Yongmunsa in Yangpyeong, a temple founded by the Silla monk Wonhyo, has a majestic ancient ginkgo tree aged nearly 1,100 years (Natural Monument No. 30).
Yongjusa Temple in Hwaseong was constructed for the peace of the soul of Prince Sado. Hyeondeungsa Temple in Gapyeong is recorded to have been visited by an Indian monk during the reign of Silla Beopheung. The temple was rebuilt in the early 19th century. Finally, Sanasa Temple is nestled in a scenic valley at the foot of the slope where Yongmunsa Temple is located.


The hyanggyo, a Local Confucian School of the Joseon period, was the mainstay educational institution of this era that produced numerous government officials and scholars. Hyanggyo were the equivalent of today’s national higher education institutions. ‘Hyang’ in the name ‘hyanggyo’ designates the areas outside the capital city, and ‘gyo’ means ‘school.’ Therefore, Hyanggyo literally means a ‘local school.’

The first Hyanggyo was opened in 930 (the 13th year of Goryeo Taejo’s reign), in Pyeongyang. The institution had the dual purpose of providing instruction to youth to prepare them for careers in Goryeo’s six government ministries and observing memorial services for Confucius. By early Joseon period, under the influence of Neo-Confucianism that had taken hold since late Goryeo, hyanggyo had become a fully-fledged educational and religious institution. In the inaugural year of the new dynasty (1392), Joseon’s founding king, Taejo, ordered governors of provinces across the country to set up hyanggyo for their region. From this time on, the competence of a town’s governor was also judged based on how the hyanggyo fared.

Daeseongjeon, the main shrine of a hyanggyo, houses memorial tablets of Confucius and twenty Confucian eminences, including the four sages, ten wise men and the six Song-dynasty men of virtue. Meanwhile, in the two arcades that run perpendicular to Daeseongjeon on its either side, one hundred twelve memorial tablets of men of virtue - eighteen Korean and ninety-four Chinese men of virtue - are placed. Twice a year, in spring and fall, a worship service, known as “seokjeon,” is held in homage to Confucius.
Aside from performing rites and providing Confucian instruction, hyanggyo also educated the local community. Today, many hyanggyo offer instruction in Sino-Korean characters and traditional etiquette and manners to local residents and youth. Hyanggyo based in the Gyeonggi-do area include Suwon, Gimpo, Goyang, Yangju, Pocheon and Yeoju Hyanggyo, Jeokseong Hyanggyo of Paju, Anseong Hyanggyo, Jipyeong Hyanggyo of Yangpyeong and Gwangju Hyanggyo.

Folk Cults
Dodang-gut (Tutelary Rite)

Dodang-gut is a village shamanistic rite surviving in Galmae-dong, Guri, a village located near the East Nine Royal Tombs. Known also as “Sanchiseong Dodang-gut,” this rite has been designated as Gyeonggi-do Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 15. Dodang-gut is a community rite held with massive participation by villagers. It consists of two segments: a shamanistic rite to pray for the peace and prosperity of the village and a Confucian rite. However, the shamanistic rite and the Confucian rite are held at two different points in time, the former in October, every year and the latter sometime in spring. Before the main shamanistic rite, there is a preparatory phase during which the officiant is selected, a rite of purification is held, the shrine is tidied up and torches prepared. Bean curd is also made during this phase to ward off evil, followed by anbangosa, a rite performed by the wife of the officiant. Sanchiseong, the worship of mountain spirits which is similar in its proceedings to a Confucian rite, is held at night, in Dodang Mountain behind the village. Guided by the torchlight, village women, their mouth sealed with a strip of paper to prevent the desecration of the event through speech, arrive at the site, carrying offerings to the spirits on the head. Next, a street procession for welcoming the spirits, known as “seonangmaji,” takes place. A shaman and her suite and a band of musicians tour the village, blessing each house and performing music and dance with villagers. This activity usually lasts from the evening of the first day of Dodang-gut till the morning of the following day.

The main rite begins when the villagers arrive at the shrine through a slow-paced walk known as “jangmun-bapgi. It consists of ten successive segments; namely, ‘bujeong-geori,’ ‘dodang-geori,’ ‘bulsa-geori,’ ‘daeanju-geori,’ ‘jeseok-geori,’ ‘changbu-geori,’ ‘gyemyeon-geori,’ ‘gunung-geori,’ ‘dang-gut’ and ‘dwitjeon.’ A succession of shamans, including Yi Cheon-bun and her mother before her, and Choe Bok-dong have presided over Dodang-gut at Galmae-dong. The current village shaman is Jo Sun-ja.

Folk Cults
Seohaean Pungeoje (West-coast Ritual for Bountiful Fish) 

The west-coast fishing rite is a ritual performed in fishing villages in the west coast of Korea to pray for an abundant catch and for the peace and prosperity of the community. The preservation and transmission of this ritualistic heritage is today led by Kim Geum-hwa (Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 82-Na: Seohaean Baeyeonsin-gut and Daedong-gut (Fishing Ritual of the West Coast), a shaman who is originally from Hwanghae-do and who is currently serving the Incheon area.
The cost of a fishing rite is usually shared by the villagers who also take part in any necessary preparations. This rite is comprised of two rituals: the daedong-gut performed on land and the baeyeonsin-gut at sea.

The daedong-gut, in turn, consists of several separate rites: the dang-gut performed at the village guardian mountain, segyeong-gut performed inside the village and the gangbyeon yongsin-gut (riverside dragon god rite) held on the shore.
The successive segments of the daedong-gut are ‘sincheong-ullim,’ ‘sangsan-maji,’ ‘segyeong-gut,’ ‘bujeong-geori,’ ‘gamheung-geori,’ ‘choyeongjeongmullim-geori,’ ‘bokjan-naerim,’ ‘jeseok-geori,’ ‘sodaegamnori-geori,’ ‘sanyang-geori,’ ‘seongsu-geori,’ ‘tasal-geori,’ ‘gunung-geori,’ ‘meonsanjanggun-geori,’ ‘daegamnori-geori,’ ‘baetgi-naerim,’ ‘josang-geori,’ ‘seonangmoksin-geori,’ ‘yeonggan-harabyam-halmyam-geori,’ ‘baenginyeonggam-geori,’ ‘beoldaedong-geori’ and ‘gangbyeonyongsin-geori’ in this order.

The baeyeonsin-gut is a rite for the souls of those who died at sea. This rite is performed offshore, onboard a boat arrayed with portraits of shamanistic gods and laden with offerings to the gods. The boat adorned with floral decorations also has flags showing images of various shamanistic deities hoisted on the deck, along with maritime banners. Several musical instruments are used for this rite, including janggo (an hourglass-shaped drum), a gong, fiddle, piri (a tubular-shaped oboe) and taepyeongso (an oboe-like instrument) sometimes replaced by haegeum, the Korean traditional two-string fiddle. But, the most important of them remains the janggo.

The pungeo-gut is a particularly interesting element of this rite, performed in sumptuous garments and involving a rich variety of dance. The eeriness of the shaman’s trance is undercut in this ritual by its theatricality and humorous mood. This routine, festive and entertaining, combines ritualistic elements with performing arts.

Folk Cults
Yangju Sonori-gut (Shamanic Ox Performance of Yangju)

The sonori-gut of Yangju is a segment within the gyeongsa-gut as performed in northern Gyeonggi-do. Performed right after the jeseok-geori segment, this routine harks back to ancient ox rites observed in farming communities.
The sonori-gut of Yangju adds theatrical monologues and songs to the original older version from which it derives. The mood is overall more playful. Although a routine within a larger rite, the sonori-gut of Yangju was separately designated as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage No. 70.

The routine begins with a street procession, followed by the appearance of the ox and the coachmen. The remaining nine segments include ‘jubaji’ (jeseok-gut), conversation with the coachman, ‘mabu-taryeong’ (song of the coachman), ‘conversation with the head coachman,’ ‘gyeonmabu-taryeong’ (song of the assistant coachmen), ‘conversation with assistant coachmen,’ segments describing the appearance of an ox part-by-part, negotiations over the ox and the collective dance. The routine includes twenty-seven total songs and segments on the appearance of an ox and the various ox adornments – ‘jubaji,’ ‘mabu-taryeong,’ ‘gyeonmabu-taryeong,’ ‘sojimyeong,’ ‘jeol-naeryeok,’ ‘bit-naeryeok,’ ‘eunja-bomul,’ ‘meori-naeryeok,’ ‘ppul-naeryeok,’ ‘gwi-naeryeok,’ ‘nun-naeryeok,’ ‘ko-naeryeok, ‘ip-naeryeok,’ ‘soe-naeryeok (hyeo-naeryeok)’ ‘i-naeryeok,’ ‘dari-naeryeok,’ ‘gup-naeryeok,’ ‘kkori-naeryeok,’ ‘gulle-chijang,’ ‘jilma-chijang,’ ‘geul-naeryeok,’ ‘nonbat-galgi,’ ‘jongja-taryeong,’ ‘mabu-chijang,’ ‘buin-chijang,’ ‘malttuk-chijang’ and ‘jip-chijang’. The musician Kim Byeong-ok is an honorary holder of the sonori-gut of Yangju. More recently, Kim Bong-sun, a shaman, was designated as the holder of this ritualistic and performing arts tradition.

Folk Cults
Eommi-ri Totem Pole Rite

The totem pole (jangseung) worship of Eommi-ri, Gwangju is a village rite that used to be held near Namhansanseong Fortress, together with the worship of mountain gods. The rite is observed in Miraul and Saemal Villages, both located at Eommi 2-ri. This area was an important point of passage. When this heavily-travelled mountain pass was cut with the construction of the Jungbu Expressway, the worship of mountain gods was no longer held there. Only the totem pole worship continues on. However, that this rural custom will survive is all but certain, as new restaurants have been mushrooming in the area.

The totem pole worship service is observed every other year, on varying dates in the early lunar month of February. Both the officiant presiding over this ritual and the person in charge of preparing food offerings are subject to a strict code of conduct, consisting in avoiding certain taboo behaviors.

The officiant, after carefully bathing and grooming himself, climbs the mountain with about two liters of rice and brews wine out of the rice. He then digs a hole in the ground outside the mountain god’s shrine and buries the wine there.

In the early morning of the day of the totem pole rite, a simple pre-ritual is held at the planned site in the mountain. When the ritual is over, villagers cut alder trees to make totem poles. Two male poles and two female poles are carved, along with a long pole known as “sotdae.” The bottom end of the tree trunk is used to carve the head of the totem pole. The male poles are carved first, and the female poles are made with the remaining wood. When the totem poles are completed, the faces are plastered with yellow clay, and the names, “Great General of All under Heaven” and “Female General of the Underworld” are written with the help of a brush, on the male and female poles, respectively.

The completed totem poles are then placed on either side of a path so that the male and female ones face each other across it. Meanwhile, a goose is carved out of wood and placed on a long pole to make the gireogidae. The pole is then planted into the ground so that the wooden goose faces north. When this is done, offerings are placed at the altar, and the rite begins. One noteworthy detail is that meat dishes like a steamed pig or cow head, usually a staple for this type of occasion, are excluded.

The rite starts with a libation by the officiant, followed by the reading of a prayer text. Next, another libation is made, sheets of paper are burnt and ashes are spread in the wind according to a custom known as “soji.” After the soji, the ritual concludes with the hanging of a dried pollock fish on the totem poles. The expenses are normally covered through funds from geollip, a custom in which villagers perform music and dance to raise money for communal projects. Today, the totem pole rite is financed through the village fund or through subsidies from the Gwangju municipality.

Seasonal Holidays and Holiday Customs
Holiday Festivities: Tortoise Parade on Chuseok 

The geobuk-nori is a representative example of village festivities observed in Gyeonggi-do, during the harvest festival of Chuseok, on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This holiday activity is observed today mostly in central and southern Gyeonggi-do and in northern Chungcheong-do. It is a parade by performers wearing a costume made to look like a large tortoise shell - or several dozens of small shells depending on the area – which is crafted out of sorghum leaves.

In the afternoon or evening of Chuseok, a band of teenage boys tours the village, leading a large tortoise so created. They collect food to ‘feed the wayward, hungry tortoise’ from each household they visit. In some villages, music is also performed at each home visited as a well-wishing for the household. When the round is over, the band feasts on the food thus collected.
This custom has been slowly vanishing since the 1970’s-1980’s, with the decline of the youth population in villages as a result of the rural exodus. In addition, farming communities have become more affluent, and food more readily available; these factors, along with the fact that the sorghum crop is no longer grown, have also contributed to this phenomenon.

Holiday Festivities: Haedonghwa-nori (Thaw Fest), Fifteenth of Lunar January

The haedonghwa-nori of Gwangjiwon is a holiday custom observed in Gwangjiwon-ri, Jungbu-myeon of Gwangju on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar. During the night of the fifteenth of lunar January, at the rise of the full moon, villagers makes a huge bonfire to pray for an abundant harvest and the safety of the community in the year that just began. Fire is meant as both a means of purification and an exorcism for warding off evil influences.

Variants of this custom are known in southern Korea as “daljip-taeugi” (moon shack-burning) and in inland areas of Chungcheong-do as “donghwaje” (winter fire festival). Finally, in Hanteo Village of Yongin, a similar custom is referred to as “donghwae-nori.”

All variants have villagers gathering around a bonfire performing music and dances in prayer for a safe and prosperous year. Aside from being a symbol of purification, fire is also a symbol of energy and vitality.

Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation
Credits: Story

600 Years of Gyeonggi-do

Planning | Gyeonggi-do, Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation
Organization | The Center for Gyeonggi Studies, Gyeonggi-do Institute of Cultural Properties
Co-authors | Jingap Gang(professor at Gyeonggi University
Jonghyuk Kim(professor at Research Institute of Korean Studies, Korea University)
Sangdae Lee(head of Future Vision Department at Gyeonggi Research Institute)
Jihoon Lee(senior researcher at Gyeonggi-do Institute of Cultural Properties)
Hyungho Jung(cultural properties specialist at Cultural Heritage Administration)
Project support | Taeyong Kim, Seoyeon Choi, Youngdae Kim, Hakseong Lee, Sohyun Park, Hyungmo Seong, Hogyun Kim, Kyeongmin Kim, Sujin Jo(PR & Marketing Team, Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation)

For the celebration of Gyeonggi's 600 years(1414-2014), this exhibition is organized based on 『Gyeonggi-do 600 years』 which was published to remind us of the valuable history of Gyeonggi-do and encourage us to work further towards Korean reunification.

ⒸGyeonggi Cultural Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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