Apr. 18th, 2011

starlady: (orihime)
I first heard about this oral epic Korean poem in my premodern Korea class last semester; our professor recounted the details of the ballad, which is first attested in the later Chosŏn period (i.e. 17thC), as an example of the incorporation of Buddhist and Daoist elements into commoner popular culture, which was much less neo-Confucian than aristocratic culture and thus allowed comparably expanded gender roles for women.

The epic is still performed today by mudang (shamans, often female) during funeral rites in South Korea. The excerpt that follows is from the translation that appears in Hyun-key Kim Hogarth's book Syncretism of Buddhism and Shamanism in Korea, working from contemporary transcriptions of the text; as far as I know, it's the only one of the few translations of this poem into English (for others, see [personal profile] thistleingrey's comment below).

The story goes that Princess Pari is the seventh daughter of the King and Queen of the realm, and that in rage at her not being a son her father the King orders her to be sacrificed to the West Sea Dragon King (a Daoist deity) immediately after her birth. But the infant Pari is saved by the Lord Buddha (Sakyamuni | Sŏkka) and brought up by a virtuous old couple as their daughter. But when Pari is fifteen both the King and the Queen fall ill and are told by a diviner that they will die on the same day unless they find their abandoned daughter, for their illness is a punishment for the King's sin. The Queen goes on a quest to find Pari and does so, who is brought back to her parents' palace in honor but finds that neither the King's scholar-officials (whose duty to the King is supposed to be like that of sons to fathers) nor her six older sisters (who say they are too clueless, since they've been raised to be proper court ladies) are willing to undertake the journey to the Netherworld to obtain the medicinal water that is guarded by Mujangsŭng.

Pari Kongju says:
"The obligation that I owe my parents
Stems from the nine months that I was inside my mother.
I will go."
She then asks for a warrior's costume
Made of silk and steel to disguise herself as a man,
and also a walking stick and shoes made of steel.
Alas, Pari Kongju! )

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