[FOUNTAIN]Eagles leading a charge

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[FOUNTAIN]Eagles leading a charge

An eagle is a spiritual creature to Tibetans, who consider the bird as having the role of taking souls of the deceased to heaven. They have a unique funeral practice for these sky burials, and the procedure is a little different from the bird burial.
The photojournalist Park Ha-seon, who in 2001 was the first Korean photographer to receive a prize in the World Press Photo competition, captured the Tibetans’ spiritual perception about eagles in his book “Sky Burial.” Tibetans take the dead person to the point nearest the sky and have eagles eat the body. In his notes, Mr. Park wrote that the scene of screeching eagles pushing one another to take a bite of the dead body was indeed pandemonium. But the eagles generating winds in a sky filled with dark clouds represented solemnity and sanctity at the same time, he recalled. The peculiar funeral tradition of the Tibetans seems to have been influenced by the Buddhist philosophy that once the soul leaves the body, the body is useless and is of no use for rebirth by karma. To Tibetans, the eagle is a kind of gateway for the soul to pass through in order to enter eternity.
Eagles are often mentioned as the symbol of courage, dignity and liberty. Zeus, the ruler of Mount Olympus and the leader of the gods in Greek mythology, always had an eagle at his side, and Westerners have a strong tendency to consider eagles sacred. In ancient Rome, the eagle was a symbol of the empire and the emperor. After the fall of the Roman Empire, many kings and kingdoms competed to adopt the eagle as the symbol of their dominion. Some European aristocrats even waged wars over using eagles in their crests. When Otto I (the Great) became Holy Roman Emperor in 962, he officially proclaimed the eagle as his symbol, and effectively ended the dispute over the bird.
Koreans, too, have a special affection for eagles. The South Gate of Seoul, National Treasure I, is adorned with heads of eagles on both ends of the ridges, displaying the vigorous spirit of the Koreans. Yonsei University chose the eagle as its symbol for intellect and truth, and a professional baseball club uses the bird as a symbol of courage.
Eagles are now designated a natural monument, and several nest north of the Civilian Control Line in Paju, Gyeonggi province in summer. Ecologists say the eagles now depend on people for food and have lost their wild instincts, preferring not to return north to their summer haunts. I am concerned that even the eagles are becoming banal. In my absurd imagination, I hope they can transform themselves into superheroes and lead the country’s restoration.


by Park Jai-hyun

The writer is a deputy city news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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