starlady: (orihime)
[personal profile] starlady
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!
When she puts her steel stick forward once,
She covers a thousand ri,
Twice, three or four thousand ri.
The time is early spring;
All the flowers are blooming;
The streams gently flow;
Birds are courting with sweet songs.
She comes across
Sŏkka Yŏae, Amit'abul, and Chijang-posal,
Playing games of paduk and changgi.
She prostrates herself twice in front of them.
Lord Sŏkka closes his eyes,
Amit'abul and Chijang-posal say to her:
"Are you a ghost or a human?
How have you entered the Heavenly Palace,
Where neither flying nor crawling animals can enter?"
"I am the seventh prince of the Chosŏn Kingdom.
I am on a filial mission for my parents.
Unfortunately I have lost my way.
Since it is thanks to Lord Buddha, lead me onto the correct path."
Lord Sŏkka then says:
"I have heard of the king's seventh daughter,
But never the seventh prince.
You may deceive the Heavens,
But you can never deceive me.
It was I who saved you
When you were abandoned as a baby in the western river.
The sin of telling a lie to Lord Buddha
Will make you fall into eighty-four thousand Hells.
You have covered three thousand ri, by road,
But there still remains three thousand ri
Of dangerous journey left.
How will you get there?"
"I will go, even if I die a worthless death
Like a dog on the way."
"Your devotion will even move Heaven.
I am so moved by your words, I will lead you on the correct path.
Have you brought flowers?"
"I left in such a hurry I forgot."
The Buddha Emperor Sŏkka then gives her
Three branches of flowers and a golden bell.
"If you take this golden bell,
Rough waters will become land;
The land will become smooth;
The great seas will become streams."
Pari Kongju receives them with both hands,
And bids Him farewell.


In the remainder of the poem, Pari passes through eighty-four thousand Hells and meets Mujangsŭng, for whom she chops wood and carries water for nine years before bearing him sevens sons, all for the sake of filial piety. When Pari returns to the realm with Mujangsŭng and her sons ("one body has become nine", the poem observes), she finds that her parents have died that very day, but one drop of the medicinal waters of life in their throats revives them. Pari's sons become the Ten Kings of the Netherworld, her adoptive parents become the door-wardens of the Netherworld, and she herself becomes a Boddhisattva who guides souls to the Netherworld, whence her epic being sung at funerals--obviously, she's something of a Kouric figure. She's also pretty kick-ass, and the epic itself is rather gently subversive of the neo-Confucian ethics of the aristocratic class: it's the filial piety of a woman who saves, not just her parents, but the King of the realm, with the help of Buddhist and Daoist deities.

Note: one ri = 393 meters.
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