|Upper Crags of Inwang-san
Natural Boulder-Sculptures of the Benevolent King
Mountain-Spirit and his Tiger
|On the highly-sacred "Benevolent King" Mountain, Shamanic center of Korea's Capital
an important part of the Bukhan-san Sub-Range
Above, the craggy-peak on the left is the In-wang or Benevolent* King himself (in a seated position
seen in left profile), or the San-shin if you will, overlooking downtown Seoul. To his right (the other
rocky peak) is his accompanying Tiger (pet / servant / guardian / mount / enforcer / alter-ego) with a
dark bird perched behind his head. These natural boulder-cliff-formations are among Korea's most
significant sacred monuments, serving as masters over the nation's most active center of Shamanism
and folk-religious traditions. They are both "manifesting" up out of this mountain in geological time.
Much more on this Korean concept of spirits manifesting upwards in stone is here. Between and
behind them is, most unfortunately, a military base, because this most sacred peak overlooks the
Gyeongbok-gung Palace (main royal seat 1392-1910) and Korea's Presidential Mansion (the "Blue House").
These unique rocky outcroppings on the southern cliff face of this mountain, along with other striking
natural features such as the Seon-bawi (seen here directly below the King) have attracted shamanic
worship to this place since before recorded history. The main figure can be seen as a Benevolent
King that will rule humankind (or at least Koreans) in a utopian state when he finally finishes
manifesting, or as a kind of natural Buddha statue, or as Mireuk-bul (the Buddha who will come in
the future for universal enlightenment and salvation), or the best interpretation, in my opinion) as
the very powerful San-shin [Mountain-spirit] of these crags manifesting into the world in stone, in his
role as King of the Mountain (as he is usually painted, wearing distinctly royal clothing), extended to
national significance (could even be seen as the return of Founding-King Dan-gun, who is sort of the
San-shin of all Korea). The fact that he (or she?) is side-by-side with a crouching tiger certainly lends
weight to the San-shin interpretation -- as that deity is always depicted in icons accompanied by a
tiger (Korea's national animal).
They both have stone-altars beneath them, frequently hosting rituals by Shamans and lay-devotees,
and the Central Upper Shrine-Altar is right in-between them.
*The Chinese character pronounced In is one of the most important in Oriental philosophy; it is often translated benevolence,
or maybe human-hearted, or simply Good / goodness; it's a key Confucian and Neo-Confucian term, as the master himself
repeatedly used it to describe how rulers ought to act towards those under them (if they do not they are not to be considered
legitimate rulers). It is also heavily used by Buddhists due Inwang-gyeong [Benevolent King Sutra] which was very influential
in the early centuries CE when Mahayana Buddhism became established in China and spread to the Korean Peninsula.
Closer look at the main temple area of the Inwang-san -- indicated are features that are shown / explained in
detail on other pages: the "view crags" are gigantic boulders that visitors can climb up on for one of the best views
of Seoul City from anywhere; the Seon-bawi is a weird humanish formation that just may be the most-worshiped
rocks in the world; the Guksa-dang is Korea's National Spirit Shrine (not actually visible in this shot because it is
hidden behind those big trees); the "Main Hall" is a Shamanic/Buddhist temple that calls itself the central worship-
building of the entire complex; the sextagonal roof of the Bell Pavilion built by the government in the 1980s; and
Seonam-jeongsa, the largest and most prominent out of the many Shamanic/Buddhist temples here.
|Shot from the old Hanyang City Wall, looking west, in 1988:
Seon-bawi stands black on the left, and the Benevolent King sits up at the top-right.
<--Magpie behind tiger-head
|the Inwang / Benevolent King or San-shin / Mountain-Spirit, viewed from his SE
Head (with crown?), left shoulder and arm, left leg in a seated-crossed position, are clearly visible
|his Tiger, viewed from its SW
Triangular face with broad bottom is actually upside-down from how cat-faces are usually depicted...
but somehow this still "works". The "crouching body" is indistinct, looks better from the SE.
Identifying this crag as a Tiger is additionally significant because Inwang-san is the White-Tiger Peak [Baekho-ak] of the West
[Seo-ak] in the pungsu-jiri geomantic configuration of Seoul city.
The "bird" behind his head (a dark volcanic outcropping like the Seon-bawi) is another auspicious
Shamanic symbol, complimentary to the human, animal and pin-tree elements. It might be seen as
a crow, which frequently appears in Korea's ancient folklore-myths, or as a magpie (bright blue, but
often depicted together with tigers (whom they annoy) in the common kkachi-horangi motif of
|with the Seon-bawi and shamanic temples directly below him
|from halfway down the slope to the west (Dongnip-mun side)