Divine Monks & Shapeshifters: Korean Folktale Types

Korean folktales carry universal memes you can find in European and African folklore. Evil stepmothers, shapeshifting animals and humans, and magical monks with Jedi-like powers. PLUS the tale of the Nine Dragons Temple.

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The Tale of the Nine Dragons

Long ago, the great Buddhist monk Master Uisang, known as the Temple Builder, wished to build a temple on an auspicious site along the lower flanks of Mount Chiak. There was a natural pond on this site and living in the pond were nine dragons. Uisang wished to build the main temple hall where the pond was located, which meant the pond would have to be filled in. So, Master Uisang spoke to the nine dragons, asking them to move to another pond. The nine dragons didn’t want to leave their home and refused. Master Uisang, however, was adamant, and so the dragons proposed a contest to see which party could force the other to leave the pond.

The nine dragons used their mastery over water to bring great rainstorms with thunder and lightning to Mount Chiak, causing landslides and flooding in the valleys.

Master Uisang was unmoved by this. The great monk took his mystical talisman and dipped it in the dragons’ pond, causing the water to boil. Unable to bear the heat, eight of the dragons fled the pond and settled in the East Sea. The ninth dragon was blind and unable to find his way to the East Sea, so it instead ascended into heaven.

With the dragons gone, Master Uisang filled in the pond and built the hall Daewoongjeon on top of it. The great monk built the rest of the temple on the auspicious site and in honour of the pond’s original inhabitants, named it Guryong-sa, meaning Nine Dragons Temple.

Daewoongjeon today is a great heritage site in Korea and is designated as Tangible Cultural Property no. 24. This particular version of this legend is paraphrased from “Chronicles on the Founding of Guryong Temple in Mount Chiak” (Guryongsa-Chiaksan-jeokgi) found in Records of Guryong Temple (Guryongsaji).

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