The Three-story Stone Pagoda of Bulguksa Temple and Dabotap Pagoda (National Treasure No. 20) stand to the west and east of the frontal area of the temple’s Daeungjeon Hall, respectively.
The Three-story Stone Pagoda is also called Seokgatap (“Sakyamuni Buddha Pagoda”).
The two pagodas were built at the same site to reflect the content of the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (The Lotus Sutra) in which the Dabo Buddha (“past Buddha”) stands beside Sakyamuni (“present Buddha”) to prove that his Buddhist sermon is right.
The three-story body of this stone pagoda stands on a two-story platform, displaying the traditional style seen in the East and West Three-story Stone Pagodas at the Gameunsa Temple Site, Gyeongju (National Treasure No. 112) and the Three-story Stone Pagoda at the Goseonsa Temple Site, Gyeongju (National Treasure No. 38).
This style of stone pagoda reached its peak in the mid-8th century during the Unified Silla Period.
The two-story platform was strong enough to sustain the full weight of the pagoda.
Imitating the wooden construction style, the pagoda features stone pillar-shaped carvings at each corner of the upper and lower platform.
Such carvings were also made on the pagoda’s body, and the corners of the roofstone are all raised, lending the pagoda an impression of lightness, as if ready to fly away.
Although the platform and body of the pagoda are simply expressed without decoration, its upper extremity looks splendid.
In fact, the original finial of this pagoda is assumed to have been lost sometime before the 16th century, and was only restored in 1973, imitating the ornamental finials of the East and West Three-story Stone Pagodas of Silsangsa Temple, Namwon (Treasure No. 37), which were made 100 years later than this pagoda.
The pagoda is marked out, being surrounded by stones with lotus designs in every direction.
It is separated to stand for the divine place for enshrining the Artifact of Buddha.
The mark makes the pagoda look grander, being more or less unique to this pagoda and rarely seen elsewhere.
The work looks very settled from any direction due to its excellent balance, and exudes simplicity and grandeur.
Its construction can be loosely dated to shortly after the time when Bulguksa Temple became properly established as a temple, which, according to a record about the temple, was around 751.
For many centuries the original structure was preserved in perfect condition, but, regrettably, it was damaged by robbers in September 1966.
Afterwards, in December of the same year, the pagoda was perfectly reconstructed, leading to the discovery of a square space (in the front side of the second story of the pagoda’s body) containing Artifact associated with the Buddha.
Various artifacts and reliquaries were found there, the most prominent of which was the Spotless Pure Light Dharani Sutra (National Treasure No. 126).
Printed on mulberry paper, this sutra is the world’s oldest material printed by woodblocks.
The pagoda is also known as Muyeongtap, literally meaning “a pagoda that casts no shadow.” This alternative name is related to the sorrowful legend of Asadal, a mason of Baekje who built Seokgatap Pagoda, and his wife Asanyeo.
It is said that Asanyeo came to Seorabeol, the capital city of Silla, to meet her husband, but when she was unable to find him, she became desperate and drowned herself in a pond.