Carved on a rock cliff in Gayasan Mountain, Unsan-myeon, Seosan, Chungcheongnam-do, this Buddha triad consists of Shakyamuni Buddha flanked by two bodhisattvas, one standing and the other seated in meditation pose.
The triad has been admiringly dubbed “Smile of Baekje” and is comparatively better preserved than other contemporary rock-carved images thanks to its location, i.e., under a ledge.
The principal Buddha of the triad, standing on a lotus pedestal, features a plump face with lunate eyebrows as well as almond-shaped eyes, flat and wide nose, and smiling lips, all contributing to the creation of a benign look characterizing the Buddhist images of an ancient Korean kingdom, Baekje (18BC-660).
His body is covered with a thick robe creating several U-shaped folds in front; around the head is a lotus halo enclosed by a flaming mandorla.
A bodhisattva standing on his right side also has a face with chubby cheeks full of benign smile and wears a bejeweled crown.
He wears nothing on his upper body except the ornamentation around his neck and on both shoulders, but the skirt-like lower garment is draped down to cover the feet.
The other bodhisattva seated in meditation pose on the Buddha’s left side also has a plump, smiling face.
The deity has both arms severely damaged, but the elaborate rendering of his posture with his right leg crossing the left -- which is pendent -- the left hand laid gently over the right ankle and the fingers of the right hand touching the right cheek, exhibits the excellent workmanship of the artist who carved him.
This triad, which is unique since it includes a pensive bodhisattva, is believed to have depicted the three Buddhist deities -- Shakyamuni, Maitreya, and Dipankara -- who appear together in the Avatamsaka Sutra.
Art historians conjecture -- from the deities’ chubby, cheerful faces and other details as well as the principal Buddha’s imposing figure -- that it was carved between the late 6th and early 7th centuries.
As suggested by its location in the area between Taean Peninsula and Buyeo, which had been a key strategic area linking Baekje southwest of the Korean Peninsula with the eastern coast of China, the triad is considered tangible evidence of the active cultural exchange between the two East Asian regions during the period when it was carved.