Architectural representation of the Pure Land: Constructing the cosmopolitan temple complex from Nagarjunakonda to Bulguksa

Young Jae Kim, University of Pennsylvania


This study explores why a Buddhist monastery combined 'Buddha stupas (mahacetiyas)/caityas (cetiyas)', and 'Buddha halls/pagodas', which culminate in the cementing of twin caityas and twin pagodas, and how it was ultimately constructed applying vernacular construction methods and pre-existing building types, through two case studies; Buddhist compounds built during Iksvaku period (the second to fifth century CE) at Nagarjunakonda, Andhra Pradesh, India; and Bulguk ('Pure Land') monastery founded in the eighth century of Silla (57 BCE-935CE), Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, Korea. It suggests a new interpretation of principles and techniques to build a Buddhist monastery, contrasting other sites in India, Central Asia, China, Japan, and Korea that follow the placement and the construction of building such as the two cases. ^ My contention is that the monasteries were constructed through the attempts of 'adoption' and 'adaptation' which demonstrates both the universalization of shared ideas of design and a vernacularization in preference for indigenous building types and local construction methods.^ The first tendency towards universalization is demonstrated in the adoption of broader intellectual programs in the combination of a 'mahacetiya and cetiya', a 'Buddha hall and Buddha pagoda' modeled on the law of 'causality'; the combinations refer to sacred venues and events during the life of the Buddha from his birth to mahaparinirvana passing through great departure, meditation, enlightenment, and preaching. The combination of a hall with two pagodas was an important innovation in the Bulguk monastery. Their amalgamation inside the gallery of Bulguk-sa already appeared at some Buddhist sites in India. These include Nagarjunakonda Buddhist remains of the Mahasangkika School founded between the 3rd and 4th century A.D. The monasteries include the grouping of a mahacetiya with twin cetiyas, a revolutionary way to represent sacred places and events. I argue that the homologous Indian Buddha stupa/cetiya and Korean Buddha hall/pagoda combinations are both grounded in the complementary pursuit of 'merit-making' and 'rebirth into the Pure Land (posthumous well-being)', by linking them through historiographical texts including epigraphy and literary evidence to the ritual life and aims of devotees. They likewise carve out a new standard of the narrative law of causation as a basic conception of the Buddhist mandala. The appearance of twin cetiyas and twin pagodas in the temple complexes "from Nagarjunakonda to Gyeongju" embodied in the three dimensional structures of the primitive idea of twin mandalas, the so-called mandalas of the Womb World and the Diamond World, which culminated in the temples of Heian Japan (794-1192) and Liao China (907-1125). The representation as the twin pagodas in East Asia also sheds a solid light on the new interpretation of the meaning and function of 'pagoda' with that of 'stupa' and 'cetiya' in the Suvarnaprabhasa-sutra, Rasmivimalavisuddha prabha dharani-sutra, Saddharmapundarika-sutra, etc; its reproduction of Buddhist temple appears through a transnational vocabulary of building types and layouts shared throughout the China, Korea, and Japan, ultimately derived from styles known to have spread from India via Central Asia. This thesis thus shows the universalization of shared concepts and programs through the dissemination of some fundamental ideas in the construction of Buddhist temples.^ The second tendency towards vernacularization is demonstrated through the adoption and adaptation of local idioms into a temple design, as a new model for "Pure Land architecture" which was an effective media in making the paradisiac milieu as a bridge between the future ultimate happiness and the present suffering world. The two sites depend on the indigenous meanings of pre-Buddhist building types in a persistent use of the taste and needs of votaries. They also fuse different styles in their contextualized application of various structural elements and materials according to different times and venues; particularly, the masonry structure of Bulguk-sa architecture follows in the eighth century the construction methods of the time when such wooden components as brackets, bearing blocks, pillars, beams, etc were in use. I argue that the adopted structural systems appear as localized adaptations in response to the degree of combination between two elements for structural stability, the so-called "piled-up" and "framed" structures. It further proves that Korean architecture absorbed the northern and southern regional construction method of Chinese architecture uncovered in Yingzao Fashi into their regional styles to create a 'new' official building for a dynastic power and a legitimate rule in close rapport with Tang China (618-907).^ Based on the understanding of universalization and vernacularization, this dissertation concludes that Bulguk-sa and Nagarjunakonda Buddhist architecture, between the other Buddhist monuments of Central Asia, China, Japan, etc., represent the harmony of a particular vernacularized material "body" with a universalist "spirit" of ideas, situated both firmly amidst a particular set of geographical, geomorphologic, and historic factors and a cosmopolitan philosophical system shared across much of the Asian continent. ^

Subject Area

Religion, History of|Art History|Architecture

Recommended Citation

Young Jae Kim, "Architectural representation of the Pure Land: Constructing the cosmopolitan temple complex from Nagarjunakonda to Bulguksa" (January 1, 2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3462183.