Cheonjiwang Bonpuri

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Cheonjiwang Bonpuri
Revised Romanization Cheonjiwang-bonpuri
McCune–Reischauer Ch'ŏnjiwang-bonp'uri

The Cheonjiwang Bonpuri (Korean: 천지왕 본풀이 "Chronicles of Cheonjiwang") is a Korean creation myth, traditionally retold by shamans on the Jejudo. It is one of the best-known creation myths in the Korean Peninsula and many key elements in the Cheonjiwang Bonpuri can be found in the creation myths of the mainland.


Despite its title, the supreme deity Cheonjiwang (Korean: 천지왕), whose name means "King of the Heavens and the Earth", serves mainly as a secondary character. The protagonists of the myth are instead the two sons of Cheonjiwang, Daebyeol and Sobyeol.

Creation of the Rooster Emperors

The myth starts with the creation of the world, when the sky and the earth were one (This concept can be found in most other creation myths; see Chaos and Ginnungagap). As there were no sky nor earth, as a result, there was only an empty void. However, one day, a gap formed in the void. All that was lighter than the gap headed upwards and formed the sky. All that was heavier than the gap fell down to become the earth. From the sky fell a clear blue drop of dew, and from the earth rose a dark black drop of dew. As these two drops mixed, all that existed, except the sun, moon, and the stars, came to be. From these two drops came humans and even the gods.[1][2][3]

The leader of the gods, Cheonjiwang, awoke to the cry of the three roosters; the Rooster Emperor of the Sky (Korean: 천황닭), the Rooster Emperor of the Earth (Korean: 지황닭), and the Rooster Emperor of Humans (Korean: 인황닭). According to some scholars, the cry of the roosters signifies time.[4]) Cheonjiwang knew that the three roosters were crowing because there was no sun. To appease the roosters, Cheonjiwang crafted two suns and two moons, and made the two suns rise and fall every day and the two moons rise and fall every night.

Sumyeong Jangja's hubris.....

Meanwhile, the king of the mortal human world (Iseung, "This World") was Sumyeong Jangja, the first human to tame the beasts. He ruled atop the humans with his nine horses, nine bulls, and nine bloodhounds, taking most of the crop away and leaving just enough to prevent starvation. Sumyeong Jangja, riding on his chariot pulled by his horses and surrounded by his fierce dogs, was invincible. One day, Sumyeong Jangja cried "Who dare subdue me?", looking up at the sky.

His boast reached the ears of Cheonjiwang. The infuriated god invaded Sumyeong Jangja's kingdom. He rode on his own golden chariot pulled by his five dragons. He ordered his lieutenants, the deities, Byeorak Jangun (Korean: 벼락장군, General Thunder), Hwadeok Jingun (Korean: 화덕진군 and Pungu Dosa (Korean: 풍우도사, Master of Wind and Rain), to accompany him to Sumyeong Jangja's realm. The Three generals themselves led an army of 10,000 soldiers. When Cheonjiwang's army reached Sumyeong Jangja's palace, He climbed up a willow near the palace and cried out; "Foolish human, kneel before me!"

Sumyeong Jangja sent out all of his horses, bulls and hounds at the Cheonjiwang, but with a wave of His hands, all the beasts suddenly found themselves atop the roof of Sumyeong Jangja's palace. With another wave of His hands, the iron pots in Sumyeong Jangja's kitchen launched themselves into Sumyeong Jangja's garden.

Sumyeong Jangja fought fiercely against the soldiers of Heaven, but he was finally forced to kneel before Him. He put an iron ring on Sumyeong Jangja's head (as in Journey to the West) and Sumyeong Jangja experienced extreme pain as if his head was exploding. Whatever he did, the iron ring did not get off Sumyeong Jangja's head. Finally, in despair, Sumyeong Jangja ordered a slave to ease his pain by decapitating him. The surprised Cheonjiwang murmured "Amazing" and took the iron ring off Sumyeong Jangja's head. He then continued on his way.

The Twins apples

Cheonjiwang did not return to Heaven immediately, but spent the night in Grandmother Baekju's cottage. The bright-eared god heard someone brushing her hair with a jade comb in the next room and asked Grandmother Baekju who she was. She answered that it was her only daughter, Chongmyeong Agi. (Korean: 총명아기, Miss Chongmyeong). Chongmyeong was fairer than the Seonnyeo[Eastern Heavenly Ladies]. Cheonjiwang asked both Chongmyeong and Grandmother Baekju if he could have sexual intercourse with her and both agreed. Thus, that night, Chongmyeong Agi became Chongmyeong Buin (Korean: Mrs Chongmyeong).

Cheonjiwang stayed with his new wife for four days, then left. He gave Chongmyeong two gourd seeds and advised her to name their children Daebyeol (Korean: 대별) and Sobyeol (Korean: 소별). Cheonjiwang then flew away on his golden, dragon-led chariot.

Chongmyeong gave birth to two identical twin boys who she named Daebyeol and Sobyeol as the Cheonijwang had requested. One day, when the twins matured, they asked their mother, "Who is our father?" (a child abandoned by their parents is one of the most common theme in Korean mythology) Chongmyeong answered that their father was Cheonjiwang.

The twins planted the two gourd seeds. Gourd vines instantly sprouted from the seeds, and the vines finally grasped on the left armrest of Cheonjiwang's throne. They climbed up the vines until they reached the Palace of the Heavens, the abode of Cheonjiwang. But because of the combined weight of the two brothers, the left armrest of Cheonjiwang's throne had been broken. From that day, all thrones had no left armrest.

When Cheonjiwang found his sons, he admitted that they were his sons after a glance at them. Cheonjiwang informed them that he found it difficult to rule the heavens, the earth, the mortal world, and the netherworld(Jeoseung) all at the same time, and told the twins to try a contest between each other in order to aid him.

The first contest was riddles. Daebyeol would ask two riddles to his brother, who would answer it. If Sobyeol gave the right answers, he would rule the mortal world and his brother would rule the netherworld. However, if Sobyeol gave the wrong answers, his brother would rule the mortal world and he would rule the netherworld.

Daebyeol's first question was "Why do the leaves of some trees fall, while the leaves of other trees do not?" His brother answered that the leaves of trees that were hollow fell while the leaves of trees that were full did not fall. However, Daebyeol gave an example of a hollow tree that did not shed its leaves; the reed.

Sobyeol's next question was whether the plants in the high regions or the low regions grew better. Sobyeol answered that plants in the low areas grew better. However, Daebyeol refuted Sobyeol by saying that hair on the high areas (the head) grew better than on the low areas (the feet). Thus, Daebyeol won again and could rule the mortal world, but Sobyeol, who did not want to rule the netherworld, pleaded to have a new contest. The soft-hearted and kind Daebyeol agreed, and Cheonjiwang thought of a new competition.

The next contest was growing flowers for a hundred days. A hundred days later, the person with the better flower would rule the mortal world, and the person with the worse flower would rule the netherworld. Cheonjiwang gave them two flowerpots and two seeds, and let them grow their own flowers.

As time passed, the victor was obvious. Daebyeol's flower was full of life while Sobyeol's flower was dried up. But in the ninety-ninth night, Sobyeol only pretended to go to sleep that night and thus secretly switched the flowers, planting his flower in Daebyeol's pot and planting Daebyeol's flower in his own pot. The next day, Sobyeol proudly cried out that he was the victor. Thus, Daebyeol was forced to rule the netherworld, and Sobyeol went to rule the mortal world.

Rectifying wrongs

The first thing Sobyeol did when he came to the mortal world was to kill Sumyeong Jangja. Sobyeol defeated all of Sumyeong Jangja's beasts and personally captured him, forcing Sumyeong Jangja to kneel before himself. Sobyeol ordered his soldiers to rip Sumyeong Jangja apart into four pieces, and to throw his flesh and bones into the air. Sumyeong Jangja's cadaver turned into swarms of flies, mosquitoes, and bed bugs, which still plague the mortal world.

Sobyeol exterminated Sumyeong Jangja's children as well. Sumyeong Jangja's daughter turned into a bean weevil, and his son turned into a kite. Finally, Sobyeol burned down Sumyeong Jangja's palace.

But after the execution of Sumyeong Jangja and his family, Sobyeol came to be shocked at the mortal world's chaotic state. Grass, trees, fish, birds, beasts, and humans all had the power of speech, making the mortal world extremely loud. Humans could not converse with each other because whenever a human tried to talk to another person, it was not a fellow human but a gwisin (ghost) who answered it. Moreover, there were two suns and two moons in the sky. Every day, many people burned away, and every night, many people froze to death. Finally, humans were extremely aggressive, promiscuous and injust and were great liars and tricksters.

Sobyeol pleaded to his brother, Daebyeol, to rid the mortal world of this chaos, and the twins headed to Sobyeol's realm. Daebyeol prepared the Cheongeunsal, his two arrows, and five sacks of pine dust. Each of the Cheongeunsal weighed 600 kilograms, and were made purely of iron. With the first Cheongeunsal, Daebyeol shot down one of the two suns. The remains of the destroyed sun became the stars of the east sky. The next night, Daebyeol shot down one of the two moons. The remains of the destroyed moon became the stars of the west sky. Only since then were there one sun, one moon, and countless stars in the sky.

Daebyeol then sprayed his sacks of pine dust upon the world. Whenever the pine dust touched a grass, tree, fish, bird, or beast, it rendered these plants and animals incapable of speech. Finally, Daebyeol sorted out the ghosts and humans. The lighter beings became ghosts, and the heavier beings became humans. Daebyeol then returned to the netherworld.

However, Sobyeol forgot to tell Daebyeol about the chaotic habits of the humans. Thus, humans remained aggressive, promiscuous, and injust, and were still liars and tricksters, and Sobyeol could not prevent this chaos because his power was lesser than Daebyeol's.

Meanwhile, Chongmyeong was given the title of Bajiwang, the earth goddess, and thus, the four realms of the heavens, the mortal world, the netherworld, and the earth each came to have a ruler.

Comparison with Other Myths

The Cheonjiwang Bonpuri has many integral themes that are common in Korean mythology of the mainland (the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli myth is retold only in the large island of Jeju).

In the Changsega myth of the Hamheung region, the creator, Mireuk, destroys each of the two suns and moons, and creates the stars with the destroyed sun and moon. However, it is not shown how Mireuk destroyed the sun and the moon[5]

Also in the Changsega, Mireuk and the evil deity Seokga has three contests to win the world. The last contest is also growing flowers; in this case, magnolia flowers. If the magnolia flower grew towards Mireuk, Mireuk would win, and vice versa. The flower grew towards Mireuk, but Seokga broke the stem of the plant and put it in his own lap. Looking at what Seokga had done, Mireuk cursed both the magnolia and the mortal world, leading the mortal world to be imperfect and causing the magnolia to die quickly.[6]

In the Shirumal myth of the Seoul region, the Seonmun and Humun brothers destroy each of the two suns and moons.[7]

Finally, in the Dosolsa myth, written in the history book Samguk Yusa, the protagonist also destroys the sun and the moon.

Thus, it is generally believed that the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli myth is a branch of the ancestral Korean creation myth, which held such themes as the destruction of each of the two suns and a flower-growing contest between good and evil deities. These themes are still represented in many Korean creation myths, including the Cheonjiwang Bonpuli.[2]


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  5. ^ Changsega, page 16
  6. ^ Changsega, page 19
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