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In Session: Summoning Rain into the Human World: The Many Rainmaking Traditions Across East Asia
2: Praying for Rain to the Stars: Rituals for Rain and Their Political Understanding in the Koryŏ Dynasty
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Kookmin University, Republic of Korea
During the Koryŏ period, droughts were frequently occurring natural disasters, which is why various rain-calling rituals encompassing Buddhist, Daoist, and shamanistic rites were held in those days. Because droughts led to other disasters, such as rebellions or famine, which could cause the fall of the dynasty, the Koryŏ court tried to control them.
In traditional Asian countries, natural disasters were thought to be the result of the ruler’s misbehavior. The way to stop or prevent disasters was therefore for the ruler to cultivate his virtue or to pray to the heavens or heavenly god who managed the disasters. Of course, the latter was considered a faster and more effective way to solve the problem. This mechanism of calamity-dispelling ritual has appeared in many East Asian religions.
In Koryŏ, the heavenly gods dedicated in those rituals were Buddhist and Daoist celestial deities who symbolized the pole star such as Tejaprabha Buddha and Tai Yi. As a celestial thearch rather than a Buddhist deity, Tejaprabhā Buddha, in particular, earned political significance in Koryŏ. Accordingly, other stellar deities who were attendants of Tejaprabha Buddha or his Daoist counterparts were enshrined as the objects of ritual for rain as well.
This paper argues that the pole star deities, who had been nothing to do with rain in their original context, were accepted as the ones who could control rain-related disasters in the earthly world due to a localized understanding of the deities in relation to kingship.