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Buddhist Art of Korea_
Buddhist Altar Paintings (幀畵; Taenghwa)
Buddhist paintings (佛畵) express Buddhist ideas and teachings in simple, easy to understand manner, in part, for the purpose of spreading these teachings among the general population. Of the many kinds of Buddhist paintings, “Buddhist altar paintings (幀畵; Taenghwa)” are drawn on fabric, like silk or cotton, or on paper, and then are either mounted on scrolls or framed.
As Taenghwa is drawn according to the object of veneration, the type of Taenghwa differs according to which Buddha is enshrined in the particular Buddha hall. In case of the Main Buddha Hall, during the Dharma service, we offer respect first to the Upper Altar (上壇; Sangdan) or Main Altar where the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are enshrined. Then we bow to the Middle Altar (中壇; Jungdan), which is on the wall to the right of the Sangdan, where the guardian deities are enshrined. Lastly we offer respect to the Lower Altar (下壇; Hadan), on the left wall of the hall, where the spirits of the deceased are enshrined. On the wall behind the Main Altar are hung Main Altar Paintings (後佛幀畵), to the right are hung Middle Altar Paintings (中壇幀畵), and to the left are hung Lower Altar Paintings (下壇幀畵).
Main Altar Paintings in the Main Buddha Hall often portray the Assembly on Vulture Peak (靈山會相圖) which depicts the scene of the Buddha teaching at the Vulture Peak, which is mentioned in many Buddhist Sutras. In the picture there are many bodhisattvas and their retinues who surround the Buddha while listening to him preach.
Middle Altar Paintings are also called “Paintings for the Guardian Deities’ Altar (神衆幀畵).” These Guardian deities protect the Dharma and guard temple compounds. They also bestow good fortune and prevent disasters. The guardian deities depicted in this type of paintings number between 39 to 104 separate beings.
The “Sweet Nectar Altar Paintings (甘露幀畵)” are often hung on the wall behind the Lower Altar. These paintings depict Amitabha Buddha, who rules the Western Paradise, and his retinue. Sometimes, “Hell Altar Paintings (冥府幀畵)” are hung here, which depict the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha or the ten kings of the Hell Realms (十王), who pray that the spirits of the deceased will be guided to Amitabha’s Western Paradise.
- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism