The Legend of Dangun
We’re gonna have another 3-day weekend with Monday being a holiday. October 3 is “Gae-cheon-jeol” or the “Festival of the Opening of Heaven,” which is the Korean foundation day. “Dan-gun” is considered the father or the founder of Korea. And the Koreans claim that their country was founded more than 5,000 years ago. I first heard about the story last year from Ate Rowena (ISKA) but I didn’t truly understand it that time. Today, I asked more than 30 Koreans about the story. It may sound ludicrous but majority of them believe it really happened. After all, it signalled the foundation of their country.
This is the version posted on the wikipedia:
Dangun’s ancestry begins with his grandfather Hwanin (화닌), the “Lord of Heaven” (a name which also appears in Indian Buddhist texts). Hwanin had a son Hwanung who yearned to live on the earth among the valleys and the mountains. Hwanin chose Mount Taebaek (대백산) for his son to settle down in and sent him with 3,000 helpers to rule the earth and provide humans with great happiness. Hwanung descended to Mount Taebaek and founded a city, which he named Sinsi (신시), or “City of God.” Along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind, he instituted laws and moral codes and taught the humans various arts, medicine, and agriculture.
A tiger and a bear living in a cave together prayed to Hwanung to become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwanung called them to him and gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bundle of mugwort. He then ordered them to only eat this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger shortly gave up and left the cave. However, the bear remained and after 21 days was transformed into a woman.
The bear-woman (Ungnyeo; 웅녀) was very grateful and made offerings to Hwanung. She lacked a husband, however, and soon became sad and prayed beneath a sandalwood tree to be blessed with a child. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a son, who was named Dangun Wanggeom (단군왕검).
Dangun ascended to the throne in the 50th year of the reign of the Emperor Yao (the legendary Chinese sage Yao), the year of Gengyin, built the walled city of P’yeongyang, and called the kingdom Joseon. He then moved his capital to Asadal on Mount Baegak (or Mount Gunghol). 1,500 years later, in the year Kimyo, King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty enfeoffed Jizi to Joseon, and Dangun moved his capital to Jangdangyeong. Finally, he returned to Asadal and became a mountain god at the age of 1,908.
Koreans wouldn’t mind you telling them that they’re descendants of a bear. They will just tell you that the story makes them half-bears and half-gods. Ludicrous or not, it’s their story. It’s just a good thing that October 3rd is a Monday and there’s no work! Yipee!!!