Thursday, January 21, 2010

Burial Practices of the Joseon Kings

Composition of a Joseon Royal Tomb
The royal tombs were laid out in time-prescribed order, according to the laws of pungsujiri based on the 5 directions. [Center is also a direction, represented by the color yellow, the king's royal color.] Punsujiri is the life force as circulated by water but subtly affected by wind, which blows in healthy energy and carries away the bad energy. In the same manner of circular movement, the universe flows constantly around us, and so people, as mini cosmos themselves [traditional belief], must summon and channel energy of the macro cosmos, the universe.

Burial Goods for the King
Although there was no traditional belief in the after-life or a happy hunting ground, Korean royalty were for some reason buried with essential goods for performing daily functions: clothing, dishes for meals and rituals as well as eating utensils, musical instruments, weapons and various useful tools. These royal burial essentials were then carried in the Confucian behavior-regulated, ritualized funeral procession according to their functions and inherent cultural values.

State Funeral in the Joseon Dynasty
When a sovereign of the Joseon kingdom passed away, he was buried in his tomb following a series of court-regulated funerary rites. The state funeral for the king or queen was one of the five major state rites - the inauspicious rite - that was held with utmost respect. It took about five months from the moment of royal death until the departure of the coffin for the tomb site, and the mourning period lasted three years until it officially ended with the enshrinement of the spirit tablet into the royal ancestral shrine. The end of the state funeral was immediately followed by publication of the funerary procedures in an account called uigwe, the royal protocols.

Building the Royal Coffin
The coffin wood for a king was of carefully selected grained wood and fashioned into a rectangle. To line the bottom of the coffin, an image of the Big Dipper (북두칠성), having great portentous significance in Asia, was first laid and then the coffin was relined with geometric symbols and ready for the body. Once the wooden coffin was occupied, it was placed into a larger coffin, one which was painted on the inside walls with Celestial Animals, which also represented constellation groups in the sky with each groupings only seen in its entirety in its respective representative season:
Black Tortoise - north; represents longevity and endurance; rules water; yin; winter
Green (Blue) Dragon - east; augurs good fortune; rules wood; yang; spring
White Tiger - west; stimulates courage and patience, the always admirable characteristics; rules metal; yin; fall
Red Phoenix - south; engenders high virtue and grace; rules fire; yang; summer

Maintenance of the Joseon Royal Tomb
Once the tomb was built, the Joseon Dynasty annually held state memorial services and carefully maintained the site with utmost respect. Joseon kings with a strong sense of filial responsibility made frequent visits to the tombs and encouraged ['demanded' or 'required' might be better words] upkeep on the tomb.
A temple was designated for prayers blessing the deceased royals, and keeping the tomb was entrusted to an official with some age and experience. Consistent attention by the Joseon kings themselves followed by elaborate maintenance have preserved the original form of these royal tombs in excellent condition to this day, as well as the intangible royal tradition of annual graveyard rites for over 600 years [sic].

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