[FOUNTAIN]A piece of the past

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[FOUNTAIN]A piece of the past

It is rather unusual that the nation's largest hanok, or traditional Korean house, stands in downtown Seoul. Daewoongjeon, the main building of the Seoul's Chogye temple, the Buddhist headquarters of the Chogye order, is a frequent subject of many tourists' curiosity.

The building located just past the commercial complex of Woojeong boulevard in Jongno, Daewoongjeon is one of the most magnificent structures in this country's history.

Not only does its 1.6 meter-high stone foundation add a sense of dignity to the building's structure, but the entire frame of the hanok, consisting of 34 pillars, is even more grandiose than the main building of the Gyeongbok palace. Gongpo, the wooden sculptures installed near the roof, provide an ornate quality to this ancient style of architecture.

Daewoongjeon was built in downtown Seoul in 1938 when the colonial policy under the Japanese rule was most severe. For the convenience of ruling Korea, the Japanese government of Korea tried to unite several Buddhist orders scattered throughout the peninsula into one and named it the Joseon Buddhist Headquarters.

Ironically, Daewoongjeon, or the heart of the Buddhist headquarters, was also once used as the main building of a sanctuary of Bocheongyo. An ethnic religion, Bocheongyo would rapidly grow during the 1920s by drawing several million peasants as its followers. In 1928, the followers of Bocheongyo built a large sanctuary in Jeongeup, North Jeolla province, as a symbol of rebellion against Japanese authority.

The fate of the ethnic religion, however, did not last long. In 1936, soon after the religious founder of Bocheongyo died, the Japanese police invaded the sanctuary and removed sacred instruments used in religious rituals. Several followers were also hauled away during that incident. After forming a special committee to manage the remaining property of the Bocheongyo, the police eventually sold the main sanctuary building, which was torn down and reconstructed as Daewoongjeon in the Jogye temple. During the more than 60 years since, Daewoongjeon has stood as a symbol of the Buddhist faith and the violence of that once passed through it.

Currently, the building's rafters are cracked and its support beams show severe damage. Chogye temple will begin a renovation project that will cost some 3 billion won ($2.5 million). I look forward to seeing this celebrated building repaired.

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

by Oh Byung-sang

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