Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jongmyo Shrine Court Music

Jongmyo Shrine is the supreme shrine of the state where the tablets of royal ancestors are enshrined and memorial services are performed for deceased kings and queens. King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, started construction of Jongmyo Shrine as soon as he designated Hanyang (Seoul today) as capital of the newly founded dynasty. The construction of Jongmyo was completed in 1395, before that of Gyeongbokgung, the main palace. 

According to Confucian philosophy and the concepts of geomancy, Jongmyo the national shrine, was built on the east side of the royal palace, to its left, and Sajik Shrine, where ritual services for the gods of earth and crops were performed, was built on the west side of the royal palace, to its right. As more and more kings and queens were enshrined with the passage of time, the facilities were necessarily expanded to what we see today. When a king or queen died, mourning at the palace would continue for three years after the death. After the three-year mourning period was over, memorial tablets of the deceased were moved to Jongmyo and enshrined. Kings credited with outstanding, virtuous deeds are enshrined in Jeongjeon, the main hall. In Yeongnyeongjeon are the tablets of King Taejo's ancestors of the preceding four generations and those who were posthumously crowned as king. There are also tablets that were moved from Jeongjeon. At present, Jeongjeon has 19 spirit chambers and houses a total of 49 tablets. At Yeongnyuongjeon, there are 16 spirit chambers and 34 tablets. The tablets of two kings, Yeonsangun and Gwanghaegun, who were deposed from the throne, are not kept in Jongmyo. 

Jongmyo Jerye, the Royal Ancestor Rite, was the most important state ritual. It was conducted five times annually at Jeongjeon and twice annually at Yeongnyeongjeon. The king performed the ritual himself. The crown prince and all high-ranking civilian and military government officials attended Jongmyo Jerye. Royal ancestral ritual music involved instrumental music, singing, and dancing. At present, Jongmyo Jerye is performed once a year, on the first Sunday of May. Other ceremonies to report important state affairs or to pray for the state are also performed at Jongmyo. None of Jongmyo's facilities are lavishly adorned; they emphasize only solemnity, piety, and sublimity. In its extreme simplicity, we can feel the deep meaning of life and earth, and in its stately serenity, we feel the sacred authority of the Joseon Dynasty. Of all Confucian states in Asia where counterparts of Jongmyo Shrine were established, Korea is the only one that has preserved its royal shrine and continues to conduct royal ancestral rites, known in Korea as Jongmyo Jerye and Jongmyo Jeryeak. This is the main reason that Jongmyo Shrine was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995 and Jongmyo Jerye and Jeongmyo Jeryeak were inscribed on the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001.

Shrine Music

There are two kinds of shrine music -- Deunngga and Heungga, both unusual, ethereal, and lilting with drumbeat and winds. This music, accepted as a UNESCO World Heritage was the first of, at present, 13 World Heritage treasures in South Korea. The music is rather indescribable so here are some clips of both types of shrine music. In a large pavilion a large group of us gathered around to hear a small 5-person performance of some the lyrical court music. A five-member group member played a janggu (drum), a gayageum and a haegeum, as well as two different kinds of flutes. Very relaxing to listen to on a warm spring day.

the two-string haegeum and a large flute
the six-stringed gayageum

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