Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks

The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana , the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The buildings of Janggyeong Panjeon, which date from the 15th century, were constructed to house the woodblocks, which are also revered as exceptional works of art. As the oldest depository of the Tripitaka (Three Baskets), they reveal an astonishing mastery of the invention and implementation of the conservation techniques used to preserve these woodblocks.

The Haeinsa Tripitaka woodblocks were carved in an appeal to the authority of the Buddha in the defence of Korea against the Mongol invasions. They are recognized by Buddhist scholars around the world for their outstanding accuracy and superior quality. Chinese Buddhist scholars have also used the Tripitaka Koreana as a reference in their compilations. The woodblocks are also valuable for the delicate carving of the Chinese characters, so regular as to suggest that they are the work of a single hand.

The collection is also an invaluable cultural heritage because of its outstanding historical significance and associations with ideology, religion, historical events and the experiences of individuals. Among Korea's historic Buddhist temples, three are recognized as the Three Jewels of Korean Buddhism. Haeinsa, the largest temple in Korea, is known as the Dharma Jewel Temple because it houses the woodblock texts. Originally the term 'Dharma Jewel' (poppa ) referred to Buddhist doctrine or the compilation of the Buddha's teachings, which form the basis of Buddhist laws. As the Haeinsa woodblock depositories house the most complete and accurate version of the scriptures in the world, they are a famous destination for pilgrimages, not only among Korean Buddhists but also Buddhists and scholars from all over the world. There are some 500 monks living at Haeinsa today, studying the Buddha's teachings and guarding the Tripitaka Koreana . The depositories at Haeinsa are extremely rare in that they were built for the express purpose of housing the woodblocks; 18th- and 19th-century buildings for the same purpose in China and Japan are inferior in design and construction. They are also among the largest wooden structures in the world.

This is a distinctive cultural heritage testifying to the development of important cultural assets, society, art, science and industry. The depositories were built in the traditional wooden architectural style of the early Joseon period and are unparalleled not only for their beauty but also for their scientific layout, size and faithfulness to function, i.e. preservation of the woodblocks. They were specially designed to provide natural ventilation and to modulate temperature and humidity, adapted to climatic conditions and thus preserving the precious woodblocks for some 500 years undamaged by rodent or insect infestation.

Historical context

Haeinsa Temple is Situated on Mount Kaya (1430 m), one of Korea's most beautiful mountains which, because of its rugged terrain, has been immune from the ravages of war that have plagued Korea throughout its history.

The temple was first built in 802 during the United Shilla Kingdom, and has been restored and enlarged on a number of occasions. The Changgyong P'ango are the four depositories used to store the 80,000 woodblocks used to print the Tripitaka Koreana. Their original form is uncertain: it is known, however, that the Queen ordered their restoration in 1481 during the reign of the Choson King Sejo, the work being completed in 1488. Sudarajang, one of the main depositories, was restored in 1622 and the other main depository, Poppojon, in 1624 (as shown by a dedication found during restoration work in 1964). They remain intact and in use for their original purpose today.

The Haeinsa Changgyong p'ango depositories house the world's most complete and accurate version of the Tripitaka, the complete Buddhist canons. They were carved to replace the first Tripitaka Koreana woodblocks, carved during the reign of King Hyonjong (reigned 1010-31) in the hopes of protecting the Koryo kingdom from invasion by the Khitan people of Mongolia. The first set of woodblocks were carved during the Mongol invasion of 1232. The seat of the Koryo court was moved to Kanghwa Island in that year, at the beginning Of a long episode of resistance. The project began in 1237 with the woodblocks for two volumes, comprising a total of 113 books, and was completed twelve years later with the woodblocks for the three-book index, making a total of 1496 volumes (6568 books) Of Buddhists teachings, sutras, and rules.

The Haeinsa Tripitaka Koreana is considered to be the most accurate Of all extant Tripitaka texts using Chinese characters because at the time of carving the National preceptor Sugi, the Buddhist monk in charge of the carving, thoroughly compared them with the contents Of texts extant at that time, including the Northern Sung Chinese version, the Khitan version, and the first version of the Tripitaka Koreana, to correct errors and replace missing characters. His revisions are recorded in the thirty-volume Record of the Revisions of the Tripitaka. The Haeinsa Tripitaka Koreana is the only Tripitaka to include material found in the Northern Sung and Khitan versions, which are almost non-existent today. In addition, the Haeinsa Tripitaka Koreana includes the pop won Churim, IIch'ae Kyongumui, and Naejon Suhamumso, three texts that would otherwise have remained unknown.

They were carved in Namhae (South Kyongsang province), and after their completion were stored in the Taejanggyong p'andang, outside the west gate of the Kanghwa Fortress. A ceremony was held to celebrate their completion in 1251; they were moved first to Sonwonsa Temple on Kanghwa Island in 1318 and to the present depositories in 1398, because of frequent foreign invasions towards the end of the Koryo period. Records indicate that the king went to the Yongsan River (now the Han River) to supervise personally the transportation of the woodblocks.