Funeral bier ornaments
Various objects used to adorn a bier or the paintings on the bier.
Sangyeo, or the funeral bier, consists of three parts: the upper part considered an awning, the body, and the lower part with carrying poles. The top of the bier is covered with cloth (angjang) symbolizing floating clouds or a screen. The cloth is white, blue, or red. It is pleated with tassels or a traditional Korean lantern hanging from each corner. The lantern signifies light to guide the dead to the next world and a display of grandeur.
The body of the bier is decorated with painted pictures or patterns. The railing around the body and along the main roof ridge is decorated with wooden figures of animals and people, flowers, tassels, and traditional Korean lanterns. Dragons and phoenixes are some of the most commonly used animal figures. They are placed at the front, back, and sides of the bier. Both are auspicious animals that express the wishes of the bereaved that they serve as guides to protect and lead the deceased to a good place.
Most of the ornaments are human figures, especially ggokdu, meaning “puppet.” There are many kinds of puppets including men and women, boy monks and immortals, and clowns. These puppets adorn the path to the afterworld, protect the deceased and lead him or her to heaven. Lotus flowers also decorate the bier, implying rebirth from lotus flowers in the pure land in Buddhism. The bottom part of the bier has no specific ornaments because of the carrying poles.
The bier is made reflecting the wishes of the descendants that the deceased be led to a good place, but its appearance and decoration vary depending on region, social status and the tastes of the maker. In this regard, sangyeo is a good example of the display of the social status and circumstances of the deceased. Today some people adorn the bier with a cross or Bible verses, or the 卍 mark from Buddhism. Over time the appearance and decoration of funeral biers have been simplified and modernized, but the condolences and wishes of the descendants for the deceased to be led to a good place remain the same.