Seokguram Grotto: Tracking Buddha’s Enlightenment

Temples of Asia | | October 29, 2010 at 1:30 am


Next time when you plan to take a tour of South Korea, do make it a point to visit this most amazing, spiritually awakening, and probing grotto of Seokguram. The name of this cave itself means the Stone Cave Hermitage and it adorns the territory of the sacred Mount Tohamsan that is situated at 4 km from the Bulguksa Temple. As it is on a hill, your journey to it is going to be exciting with the varied views of the surroundings. This Buddhist cave temple spectacularly dominates the Sea of Japan from 750 m. Historically and interestingly, this is the only carvings or edifice of the Silla era, which is well maintained. As per a reliable research, the construction of this temple began in 750 A.D., which was only over in 774 A.D. Further what is more interesting is the fact that this along with the Bulguska structure was made by the legendary Prime Minister Kim Daeseong.

Seokguram Grotto


As per the 14th century Samguk Yusa revealing the Legends of the Three Kingdoms and written by the monk Iryon, this temple has magical stories attributed to it, a major draw. Once, it so happened that an architect was carving a stone of the central ceiling. However, it suddenly broke due to which cracks were formed. Looking at this, the skilled man wept very badly and whole-heartedly for his this error after which he went into the unexpected event of a day dream. During this, he could see that the celestial souls from the heaven descended and repaired the mistake. And guess what? The man, after being awaken, literally saw the repair done turning the dream into reality. After that, very nominal cracks were left, whose traces are even seen today. How exciting this is to see!

After this historical legend, I am sharing with you one more modern legend. After deserted for centuries, this temple was reinstated in 1909 when a miraculous tale spoke about the live spirituality within the temple. Because of a rainstorm, a local postman stopped here to rest for some time. As the interior was dark, he burned a candle upon which he saw a big stone Buddha staring at him.

Seokguram grotto korea


The archaeologists have found that the architecture of this cave is somewhat similar or is based upon the structure of the Longmen Grottoes in China. But, there exists a major difference – the granite stone scattering the slopes of the hill here are not in a form that facilitates molding them into any design. Therefore, the temple is carved out from a plethora of granite stones that are attached via the stone pins.

Symbolically, the Seokguram grotto is a representation of the spiritual journey of Buddha in order to attain Enlightenment. So, it goes without saying that this site is an important pilgrimage halt for the pilgrims who come here from Bulguksa marking the end of the spiritual voyage.

Talking about the Entrance and Antechamber, you will come across a domed entrance leading one to a rectangular room. This is where a Bojon statue of a Bodhisattva, 40 icons, and disciples denote the values as well as the teachings of the lord. The ceiling here bears half moons, whereas the antechamber is protected by the Eight Guardian Deities. Guarded by the Four Heavenly Kings, a thin Corridor is adorned by the bas-reliefs and this is the way to reach the rotunda. Symbolically, the rotunda represents the heaven, while the antechamber and corridor indicates the Earth.

Seokguram Grotto entrance

The focal highlight here is the Buddha Statue that is believed to be of Sakyamuni or Amida. Posed in the state of meditation, the statue is on a tall lotus podium and dressed in the Korean style. This is evident from the fan-like folds visible at the legs. Probingly, the Buddha seen here is completely different from the other Buddha statues. Looking at it one faces an illusion of it being a circle of light through a granite roundel as well as lotus petals; which is nestled at the back of the rotunda’s wall, not at the rear of the head.

Buddha Statue

The reliefs at the Seokguram grotto shows the Lord Buddha, two bodhisattvas (Manjusri and Samantabhadra), two Hindu deities namely Brahma and Indra, and 10 disciples with Greek features along the wall. Just over these bas-reliefs, check out for the 10 bodhisattvas statues and saints. On the Rotunda’s back wall is the Avalokitesvara that is a notable 11-faced idol. This one is also called the Bodhisattva of Compassion and is decorated with a jewelry, lotus vase, and crown.


Because of its lot of spiritual and historical significance, visitors are permitted to explore its interior only via a short look and that photography is not permitted. The entrance fee is $4.30 per adult, W3,000 per teen, and W2,000 per child above 6.

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