Behind the stamp (Paju local revenue stamp)

Local 수입증지

Highway 1 leads northward from Seoul to Kaesong and then to P’yong-yang, connecting two ancient capitals of Korea with the modern one. A few miles from the Seoul city limits, a smaller road leads east towards Uijong-bu, and about two miles from Highway 1 there is a narrow gravel road headed north, up the steep slope to a pass. At the top of the hill one has a magnificent view of Kwangton Valley; in the distance two white specks above the trees indicate the site of two immense figures of bodhisattvas … the distance is three miles. The road winds down the pass, across and sometimes along the little river until a small parking area is reached.

From here, a footpath leads to the crest of a granite outcrop, from which the figures were carved nearly nine centuries ago. The last few yards of the path go above and behind the figures, but this is a sacred area, and one must get permission before climbing there. Vulgarly referred to as “Mamasan” and “Papasan” by many of the U.N. personnel who saw these, and the very recent third figure called “Baby-san,” the statues survived the war with little injury.

The robes of the two main figures are court dress from the middle Kang Dynasty, while the faces are typical Korean. At one time, brass bells hung from the hatbrim of the right-hand figure, but these were stolen before I visited the shrine in 1955. At the base of the figures, a stone-bordered, earthen platform was built to hold the altar; to the left and up the hillside a few feet is a modern stone pagoda. Between the sacred area and the road is a small house for the resident priest-caretaker. The pagoda and the small figure were erected in 1953, and are dedicated to the Presidency of Korea. Near the house, a sign tells the story in Korean and English:

According to legend, the thirteenth king of Koryo, Seun Jong had no heir. He selected a new consort from among the palace wo-men, but the union still produced no son. One night, Queen Wonsin Gung-zu dreamed that two priests appeared before her. “We live be-tween two rocks under the southern foot of Chan Zi Mountain. We are hungry and thirsty,” they said, “will you give us something to eat and to drink?” After this, they disappeared. The Queen related the story to the King who sent servants to search the area described in the dream. The rocks were located, and the King ordered statues resembling the two priests to be carved from the stone of the mountain. He also had a temple built, at which he prayed for a son. Subsequently, Hansam Hu Mul was born to the royal family. The story of the Merciful Buddha spread all over and many people made pilgrimages to the shrine.

Not long after the statues were carved, the King died; within a year his son was deposed by a brother of the late King. The temple has vanished, but the two stone bodhisattvas still stand and watch out over the peaceful valley.

Close inspection shows that the heads and hats are segments of the local rock added to the basic shapes which appear to be natural formation, only slightly modified by carving. The northern main figure (to the left) is fifty-eight and a half feet tall. The date of construction is given as 1094. However, this is not fully consistent with dates of reign for the Kang Dynasty: King Seun Jong died about 1095 and the son would have been an infant at that time.

The soldier and the statue, both in real life and on the revenue stamp.

The photograph shows a G.I. on the shoulder of the northern figure of the main group, from behind; he is six feet tall, so this provides a good comparison of the size of the statue.

The illustrated stamp is a provincial revenue item, issued in the early 1970’s by Kyong-gi Province. So far, no postage stamp has shown these two figures from the flowering of Buddhism under the Koryo era.

Background to article and stamp
John E. Strout was Korea Stamp Society member #308. This article was published in KP in 1980. This type of revenue stamp shown was no longer in use by then, having been superseded by a nationally produced series of “localized” revenue stamps in May 1976. At the time KP was published in b/w, but because Joe Ross has a version of this stamp for 10 won (notice the stamp in the article is a 100 won value) in his revenue stamp collection we can show this stamp in colour here:

Paju (파주군) revenue stamp from the early 1970s.

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