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Throughout Korea, and at the various Buddhist temples and hermitages that dot the Korean peninsula, you’ll find a countless amount of beautiful latticework adorning the entryways to temple shrine halls. This latticework is typically floral or geometric in design. And while these designs are usually rather stunning in appearance, the exact meaning behind them may be less clear. So what does this latticework look like? Where can you find it? And what does it all mean?
Location of the Latticework
The traditional place to find this latticework, which is known as “Ggotsalmun – 꽃살문” or “Flower Latticework Door” in English, is on the front side entryways of a temple shrine hall. Typically, the more important a temple shrine hall: the more ornate the latticework becomes. So the main hall at a Korean Buddhist temple, whether it’s a Daeung-jeon Hall, a Muryangsu-jeon Hall, or a Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall, it will have the most ornate latticework adorning the front side of the shrine hall. And the auxiliary halls like the Samseong-gak Hall or the Myeongbu-jeon Hall will usually have less elaborate latticework. This isn’t the rule, but it’s something that should be expected when you visit a Korean Buddhist temple or hermitage.
Designs of the Latticework
So typically, you’ll find four different types of latticework designs adorning the entryway to temple shrine halls. The more popular designs are floral and geometric. The two less popular designs that are harder to find adorning temple shrine halls are either animals or Buddhas and/or Bodhisattvas.
In total, there are typically three kinds of design patterns adorning the latticework. The first is a Diagonal Grid; the second is a Upright Diagonal Grid; and the third is the Upright Diagonal Floral Grid. While there are exceptions to these three standard designs, these are the three most common design patterns that you’ll find adorning Korean Buddhist temple shrine halls.
The Diagonal Grid sounds exactly the way you’d expect it to look with intricate cross-hatching of vertical and horizontal wooden strips. In Korean, this design is known as “Jeongjamun.” The wooden strips run at a forty-five degree angle.
The Upright Diagonal Grid, on the other hand, consists of the same diagonal pattern with vertical strips added at each intersecting part of the diagonal pattern. This mesh-like pattern is believed to ward off evil spirits just like the Diagonal Grid pattern.
The third, and final design, is the Upright Diagonal Floral Grid. This pattern is a mixture of floral and geometric designs. Of the three, this pattern is the most ornately designed. And not so surprisingly, it’s also the most popular, especially for the main hall at a given temple. The floral designs that typically make up the design of the Upright Diagonal Floral Grid are lotus flowers, peonies, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums. And yet, while these are said to be the flowers that make up the floral designs of this style of latticework, these flowers are usually too abstract to actually identify. Typically, the wooden flowers have either six (the most common design) or four petals. The reason for this floral design is that flowers are used to pay respect and reverence to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
There are a countless amount of great examples of the latticework that adorns Korean Buddhist temples and hermitages throughout Korea. Here are just a few of those examples of this amazing style of Buddhist artistry. Perhaps the most famous is Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do. Other examples can be found at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Gijang-gun, Busan; Tongdosa Temple and Anyangam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do; Eunhasa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do; Naesosa Temple in Buan, Jeollabuk-do; and Guryongsa Temple in Buk-gu, Busan.
Korean Buddhist temples are so filled with symbolic meaning that even the latticework has meaning. To the uninitiated eye, the floral latticework might simply be pretty and nothing more. However, while this latticework certainly is beautiful, it also has symbolic meaning, as well. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also meant to ward off evil spirits and to give praise to those Buddhas and Bodhisattvas housed behind the entry of the intricate and amazing latticework.