Korean Symbolism and Traditional Patterns You Must Know!

From Mugunghwa flower, taegeuk flag even to the manja – swastika pattern, South Korea is a country full of beautiful sacred symbols and traditional patterns. But what do these patterns and symbols represents? In this article, we’ll take a look at some of korean symbolism and traditional patterns with it’s meaning. Let’s dive right into these korea symbol and meaning.

Table of Contents

Korean Symbolism

korea symbol

All through out history, the ancient Korean has adapted and found meaning in the nature. It’s shown through many diverse patterns and various motifs that can be found adorning everything from Korean traditional architecture to objects of every day life.

However, many of this symbols are quiet similar to Chinese characters for luck, fortune, longevity, and fertility. Below are listed some symbols and traditional pattern that related and represent the beautiful country of South Korea.

1. Mugunghwa Flower

korea symbol

Mugunghwa (무궁화) has been well known as South Korean national flower and also a symbol of south Korea since ancient times, even before the gojoseon period. This flower is a korean symbol of ‘eternal blossoms that never fades‘, which represents the Korean people’s resilient spirit and constant improvement to create a better future of Korea.

korea symbol

You can see the significance of the Mugunghwa flower as this flower’s shape is even used on various national symbols, such as the President’s emblem, lawmakers’ badges, the Supreme Court logo, and korean symbols of other government agencies.

korea symbol

South Korean National Flowers: Mugunghwa
Scientific name: Hibiscus Syriacus L

Characteristics of Mugunghwa Flower:

  • Mugunghwa flower blooms from early July to mid-October (100 days)
  • It has five petals, short stems, and is usually white, pink, or purple.
  • The flowers bloom early in the morning and wilt in the afternoon.
  • Mugunghwa lives and grows vigorously even in harsh environments, such as valleys and cliffs.

2. Tiger

korea symbol

Tiger is unofficially known by many people as the national animals of South Korea. You can easily find tiger character in various korean folk tales, fairytales and paintings in Korea. Koreans regarded tigers as a sacred creatures and lord of the forest since ancient times. More than that, tiger is a korean symbol for strength, endurance and courage.

korea symbol

You can even see the map of United Korea resemble a tiger shape, so Koreans consider tigers as guardian gods for Korea. During the 1988 Summer Olympics, Tiger was chosen, and that was the beginning of Korea’s rising internationally.

3. Taegeuk

korea symbol

We can see Taegeuk in the middle of south korea national flag. Most of us might even call this Taegeuk korean symbol as Yin and Yang, which is actually right. In Buddhism, this pattern means the ultimate equality and balance. In korean symbolism, Taegeuk is a symbol that represents the continuous cycle of life that never ends.

4. Taegukgi National Flag

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This national flag is the most well-known symbol of South Korea. The flag is known as the Taegeukgi and features a red and blue yin-yang symbol in the center. The four black trigrams around the yin-yang represent the four elements of nature: fire, water, earth, and wind.

The first flag was created in 1882 and the design has varied over the years. After being banned during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), the present taegukgi flag was created in 1948 as the South Korean national flag. The flag is flown proudly by Koreans both at home and abroad.

5. Korea Symbols in Color

The colors in Korea have a traditional symbolism and related meanings. It has a unique traditional color spectrum called Obangsaek (오방색), consisting of white, black, blue, yellow, and red. That’s why the Taegeukgi, or Korean National flag, has four of those colors, white, red, black, and blue.

korea symbol

Korean Symbolism in Color:

  • White symbolizes the beginning, and foundation of mankind, as well as represents light and purity.
  • Red: symbolizes power and passion.
  • Blue: symbolizes hope and calm, yet also represents life. 
  • Black: symbolizes darkness, death, courage, and discipline.

6. Danch'eong

korea symbol

The combination of Dancheong colors that you can see a lot in Korea symbolized the bright enlightenment of the next world. Round patterns meant that when someone reaches Nirvana, they can obtain the wisdom of Buddha.

7. Fish

korea symbol

You might see a lot of dragon with a fish body in most of traditional korean temple. This korean symbol represents a continuous effort. Fish never ever close it’s eyes, even when it sleeping. You can even find the classic Yin and Yang symbol interpreted as two fish that represent fearlessness, freedom and continuous effort.

8. Bat

korea symbol

While most of us have a negative perception when we think about bat, Korean actually think of a bat in a good way. Bat can live for a really long time, so this animal is a Korean symbol of longevity. You might also see the design of 5 bats formation, which called Obok or ‘five blessings’. This Korean symbol represents the five fortunes in life – longevity, wealth, health, love of virtue, and natural death.

9. Double Hee

korea symbol

This korean symbols expresses the wishes for a husband and wife to enjoy a happy marriage and you can find this usually at wedding ceremonies. In a broader sense, the meaning of the Double Hee symbols extends to a harmonious combination of Yin (female) and Yang (male) energies taken from Chinese cosmology.

10. Pujok

korea symbol

Pujok is a korean symbols in talisman that have two type with two opposite meaning – the one acts as a good luck charm, and the other works to protect from evil or bad luck. You can find this symbol easily by recognize it’s bright yellow background and red symbols or characters. Koreans felt that evil spirits disliked the colors of gold and yellow. Red represented blood or fire, and psychologically it meant the color of life and emotion.

11. The Manja 만자 – Swastika

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You might seen the Manja many times especially when you visit south korea temple during your travel. While you might thought this is Swastika that represent and related to Hitler and Nazism, the Manja – korean symbol actually represent a good fortune and auspiciousness.

korean symbolism

Credit to alamy

Even if you want to use the word ‘svastika’, from sanskrit language, came from ‘Su/sv’ that means ‘good’, and ‘asti’ means ‘it is.’  combine both and you will get the real meaning ‘it is good’.

The Manja actually meant to symbolize universal harmony, prosperity, good fortune and usually represent the wholesome of the creation process. The Manja itself means ‘The Character for Ten Thousand’. Man, can mean ‘Ten Thousand’ or ‘Myriad’, which represents ‘eternity. Now you can see the connections.

12. Lotus

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Lotus is a Korean symbol that represents birth and creation. For Koreans, Lotus also represents the light in the dark. Lotus flower lives and bloom amid the muddy environment, so we also can be the light that shines bright amid the dark world.

13. Eight Marks: Truths of Life and Nature

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This korean symbol is originally came from Bokhee, a famous chinese king who created the eight marks. According to the story, Bokhee created eight marks after observing the nature of sky, geography, and natural laws. These 8 characters were geometric symbols that were believed to explain all shapes and natural phenomena that happens in the world.

14. Korean Dragon 'Yong'

korean dragon

Credit to wikimmedia

The Korean dragon is one of Korea’s most well-known compassionate creatures among the four creatures – Dragon, Turle, Qulin, and Phoenix.

This legendary creature can control water and bring rain to the land, a crucial aspect of agriculture in Korea.

In addition, the dragon’s image was also associated with the ruling elite, emphasizing the creature’s connection with imperial authority and nobility.

korean dragon

This symbolism can be found in all South Korean social sphere strata. For a King, the dragon symbolizes power and justice, while for ordinary people dragon is the god who brings good fortune.

There are three type of Korean dragon that represents three realm they operated in – Yong (Sky), Yo (Ocean) and Kyo (Mountain). Click here to know more about Korean dragon!

15. Wild Goose (Kireogi)

korean symbolism

While goose has a lot of meaning in animal symbolism, in South Korea, goose is a Korean symbol for peace, faithfulness and luck, depends on the paintings. Wild geese and reeds in Korean traditional paintings represents peace, while flying wild geese usually mean good luck.

korean symbolism

Korean consider wild geese as a symbol of good luck and faithfulness because they are a migratory birds, which people belief that this animals related to a better change in life.  Other than that, wild geese also used in korean traditional wedding ceremonies.

korean symbolism

Credit to lifeinkorea

During the traditional Korean wedding ceremony, the groom gives his mother-in-laws a single kireogi. The wild geese is a korean symbol that represents several virtues that the couple should follow in their marriage life:

  • They should be faithful to one another until death tear them apart just the way wild geese faithful to their only mate even after their mate dies.
  • They should respect one another and keep the hierarchy the way wild Geese respect structure and hierarchy. We can see that even when they’re flying, they maintain structure, order and harmony.
  • They should leave a great legacy for their descendants when they leave this world, just as wild geese do everywhere they go.

Bonus: Kimchi

Kimchi has always been on people’s mind when it comes to korean food. While it just a simple side dish in Korea, you can see in almost all korean dramas, a scene where the actors are eating kimchi, talking about kimchi or showing their interest in kimchi. Kimchi is known as a food that symbolize Korea by most tourist, and some of them even said that Korea is a Kimchi Land.

Kimchi is symbolic of Korea,” said Dr Park Chae-lin of the World Kimchi Institute in Gwangju. “One can see it on every meal table throughout the day.”

Koreans use salt to preserve vegetables during the cold harsh winter seasons, which is what is done with kimchi. This is actually the origin of South Korea’s fermented food culture. If you ever see Onggi, or korean claypot outside of restaurant, it is actually korean kimchi fermented process.

Korean Symbols and Meaning

South Korea has a rich and vibrant culture that is steeped in symbolism. From the national flag to traditional pattern we see in many architecture in korea, there are many symbols that represent the country, its belief and the value koreans live by.

So, next time you see a South Korean flag, Korean traditional paintings or korean traditional arts, take a closer look to appreciate all of the symbolism that went into its creation and try to guess the deeper meaning behind it!

How do you think about these 15 korean symbolism and traditional pattern of south korea? Do you learn something new from this article? Feel free to share it with the world and help us make korea known to the world.

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