|the 2004 Jiri-san Namak-je 지리산남악제
[Southern Peak Ceremony]
The Jiri Mountains have been the most sacred peaks in the southern
quarter of the Korean peninsula since at least the 6th-Century Shilla
Kingdom. The Shilla kings regarded Jiri as one of the outer "O-ak" or
five great mountains protecting the kingdom, and built a shrine for its
Spirit at Cheon-hwang-bong [Heavenly-King Peak, the highest, on the eastern
end], holding rituals up there for the well-being of the nation and its
citizens despite severe weather.
There were both Buddhist- and Daoist- flavored royally-sponsored
ceremonies honoring its spirit(s) and beseeching protection and
fortune during the Goryeo Dynasty, at first at a shrine on Nogo-dan
[Crone Altar Peak, the third highest, on the western end], and later
down on its lower slopes.
The Joseon Dynasty officially established a system of three holy peaks
which would be semi-annually worshiped in the Neo-Confucian style,
under lavish royal patronage; Jiri-san was the southern one. A large
shrine was built at the western foot of the Nogo-dan slopes, in
Dang-dong [Shrine Village] of what is now Jwasa-ri of Sandong-
myeon, beneath Gal-moi-bong Peak (now called Gori-bong). It was
moved to this site in 1737 by the Namwon Magistrate, and titled
Nam-ak-dan [South Peak Altar], a.k.a. Ha-ak-dan [Lower Peak Altar].
The ceremony started off at about 10 AM, with a professional
traditional dance performance accompanied by a Korean
Confucian orchestra, everyone in full traditional dress.
That original Shrine in Dang-dong was torn down by the Japanese invaders in 1908, as they
launched their early-20th-century colonial occupation of Korea, as part of a program to weaken the
national spirit. The holding of rituals to respect Jiri-san was slowly revived after the destructions of
the Korean War. This small shrine building, now called Nam-ak-sa 남악사 [South-Peak Shrine]
was rebuilt in 1964 by an association of Gurye County residents, who then began the modern local
revival of the ancient Royal Nam-ak-je [Southern Peak Ceremony], in the Neo-Confucian style.
It is held just once a year, on the traditional date "Gok-u" 곡우 -- one of the 24 seasonal divisions by
the old Oriental solar calendar), during the Third Moon of the Lunar Calendar (very first day of it,
this year), also an important date for the picking of green tea at Jiri-san -- in conjunction with the
local Gurye Festival called the Yaksu-je [Celebration of Medicinal Water]. Every year the costumes
and performances have gotten more elaborate, and ever more people attend.
I had tried to catch this ritual for 15 years, but always failed to find out the date in time, or to get all
the way down there at the proper time (there's a new expressway now, makes it SO much
faster/easier!). At last in April 2004 I did get to see it and photograph it thoroughly... It was about
two hours long, and was solemn, profound and even beautiful. The Mayor of Gurye County and
other prominent locals officiated, with evident sincerity. Holding the ceremony has come to mean a
lot for the pride of the residents in their own ancient cultural forms and values.