[FOUNTAIN]A balloon, a pagoda and peace

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[FOUNTAIN]A balloon, a pagoda and peace

Why has a pagoda been set up this year? For the last few years around the time of Buddha's birthday, City Hall square has been decorated with large balloons in the shape of lotus plants, elephants and dragons, the symbolic plants and animals of Buddhism. But this year, a large balloon in the shape of the nine-story pagoda at Hwangnyong (Yellow Dragon) temple, has been erected there.

Those who decided to feature the pagoda, which was destroyed, may be in tune with the thinking that led the Silla kingdom to build the pagoda 1,366 years ago. According to the Samgungnyusa, a book on the history of the three kingdoms of ancient Korea, construction of the pagoda was proposed by Jajang, a Buddhist monk, who had just returned from studies in China. While in China, the book says, he met a godlike person near a pond who called himself the "father of the Yellow Dragon." At that time, Jajang was thinking over how Silla could overcome its difficulties and live in peace. The apparition advised Jajang to build a nine-story pagoda to seek the assistance from the Yellow Dragon, the guardian of the Silla dynasty. So the Yellow Dragon temple pagoda reflected a longing for national prosperity.

The monarch of Silla, Queen Seondok, accepted the proposal by Jajang both for his reasons and for her political benefit. Because she was the first-ever female monarch of Silla, the kingdom's enemies viewed it as an easy target of conquest. The queen, who was made of sterner stuff than her enemies imagined, built the pagoda to demonstrate Shilla's unyielding spirit power.

Because of those two motives, it is said, the Yellow Dragon temple pagoda was breathtaking. It took three years to build, under the supervision of a master craftsman from the Baekje kingdom. It stood 80 meters high, like a modern 20-story building, and the carvings and paintings were called exquisite.

Twenty-three years after the pagoda was completed, Silla conquered Baekje and Goguryeo to unite the three kingdoms. It seems clear that the Silla unity inspired by the Buddhist pagoda at a time when Buddhism was prospering contributed to Silla's unification of the three kingdoms.

The Yellow Dragon Temple pagoda balloon at City Hall square is only 25 meters tall. The real pagoda would have matched the Seoul Plaza Hotel in height and made Namdaemun, South Gate, look ordinary. But the hopes that the balloon carries are similar to those pinned on the original pagoda -- peaceful reunification and a successful World Cup.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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