Abandoned Princess Bari
The shamanic myth“ Barigongju” narrates the origins of an underworld deity and is recited as part of deathappeasing shamanic rites including the underworld entry rituals jinogigut, ogugut, mangmugigut and the grievance cleansing ritual ssitgimgut.
The following version of“ Barigongju” is considered one of the most complete:
Jusanggeummama (His Majesty the King) and Jungjeonbuin (Lady Queen) are to be wed, but when they seek the advice of Dajibaksa of Cheonhagung (Palace Under Heaven), he imposes a taboo that they should not rush the wedding. The couple, however, breaks the taboo and goes ahead with the wedding, which results in the birth of a string of daughters and no sons. When their seventh child once again turns out to be a daughter, they abandon her, and she thus acquires the name Barigongju, or Abandoned Princess, and is rescued by Birigondeok Grandpa and Birigondeok Granny, who bring her up. Princess Bari’s parents, in the meantime, fall critically ill, and learn that the only cure is the potion Yangyusu and flowers, available only where Mujangseung lives. The king orders his six princesses to go to Seocheonseoyeokguk (Kingdom of Western Territories Under Western Heavens) to get the medicine, but the princesses all make excuses not to go. Left with no other choice, the king searches for the seventh princess who he abandoned, to ask her to find the cure, and finally the king and queen reunite with Princess Bari. Determined to get the cure for her parents, the princess disguises herself as a man and travels to the underworld, in the course of which she saves those suffering in hell, using spells and a rattle. When she finally arrives in the underworld, she encounters Mujangseung, and she serves him by practicing good deeds and having his children, in the course of which she learns which flowers and potions can save her parents. She takes the flowers and Yangyusu, along with her children and her husband, and heads back to the world of the living, during which she meets Gangnimdoryeong (Descended Young Man) and learns that the royal funeral is under way. Princess Bari hurries along and with Yangyusu and the flowers, brings back her parents from death. For this accomplishment, she is given a sacred title by the king. Her children are assigned to serve as Chilseong (Seven Stars), Mujangseung as Siwanggunung (Guardian of the King of the Underworld), and Princess Bari as the possessing deity (momju), worshipped by the shamans.
“ Barigongju ”is transmitted as different versions of shamanic song, with details that vary according to region, the versions categorized as follows:
The version transmitted in North Korea portrays Bari’s parents as exiles from the heavens, and includes a scene of her parents, who are childless, envying couples with children, and also a scene in which Bari dies after bringing back the medicinal water. In this version, Princess Bari’s status as the guide of the spirits of the dead to the underworld has been weakened.
In versions from the mid-western region, which includes Seoul, Gyeonggi and Chungcheong provinces, the scene of the births of Bari’s six sisters take up a significant amount of time; Bari is rescued by Birigondeok Grandpa and Birigondeok Granny; and Bari meets Mujangseung, the guardian of the medicinal water, after which they wed. The midwestern version is considered an alternate version that emphasizes the ritualistic traits of the narrative, and of Bari’s role as guide to the underworld for the spirits of the dead.
The east coast version highlights the entertaining elements of the narrative: the guardian of medicinal water, called Dongsuja in this version, tries again and again to reveal that Bari, disguised as a man, is a woman; the comical rendering of the scene of Bari fetching the potion at Yaksutang (Pool of Medicinal Water); and sexual implications in the scenes of the conception and birth of the seven daughters.
The versions from the South Jeolla Province vary greatly in detail, allowing for sub-categorization. The biggest departure is that unlike versions from other regions, Bari does not disguise herself as a man, and many other differences are found in characterization, backdrop, and especially the plot following Bari’s return with the medicinal water.
An examination of the characteristics of the various versions, show that the Barigongju narrative took shape as a shamanic song based on the existing underworld entry ritual cheondogut, influenced by folk narratives and myths of the divine mother (sinmo) and developed into different versions that emphasized ritualistic or entertainment elements. The versions from the mid-western regions focus on the ritualistic, and with the embrace of shamanism by the royal court, maintained a serious tone, while in the east coast regions the song was influenced by the solo narrative song genre pansori, developing into longer versions that focused more on entertainment elements. To conclude, the mid-western version of “ Barigongju, ”with its focus on the ritualistic elements and clear in its purpose as a underworld entry ritual, is considered the basic type, while the South Jeolla version the condensed type; the east coast version the expanded type with a focus on entertainment; and the North Korean version the modified type, in that the heroine dies in the end.
This narrative features the heroine Princess Bari as the agent of action who drives the plot, also notable for placing priority on blood ties rather than family ties established through marriage. The story’s ending includes a section that prays for rebirth, revealing Bari’s desire to rise above the limitations of mortality. To sum up, “ Barigongju ”is a vivid expression of the desire to overcome male-centered worldviews and human mortality, and the limitations of this desire.