What is Pungmul?‎ > ‎

3 Origin and Evolution

Pungmul originated from rituals or labor dances that wished for good harvest and well-being of the village. This kind of activity seemed to have transformed into more game-, dance-, and play-like phenomenon that more and more people enjoyed.

Far before the emergence of the role of a Shaman, these rituals or similarly religious group activities consisted of group dances and playing of the percussion instruments that were easily accessible. Since the advent of the Chosun Dynasty, this primitive form of Pungmul established more organized structure as seen in today's Pungmul.

This assumption that more official form of Pungmul was founded during Chosun dynasty stems from the historical background of how Buddhism immigrated into the Chosun dynasty. Many of Pungmul instruments actually imitate some forms of Buddhist ritual instruments. The only time that common people could have directly accessed Buddhism must be when it was oppressed by the dynasty. Also considering that Pungmul grew with the Dure community, the group formed to do rice farming, it could have the same historical background as the Dure which Chosun people started to implement.

The scholars share split opinions about the origin of Pungmul: it was generated from either farming community's prayer, army band, or Buddhist activities. However, all these interpretations contribute to how Pungmul evolved rather than exactly where it originated from.

  1. The Root of Pungmul
    1. From farming community's prayer for abundance

      A farming community's predominant group wish is always about producing abundant crops and avoiding natural disasters in the town. These phenomena were to be determined by the Will of the Heaven. The process of prayer to Heaven usually consisted of particular dance and music. This first theory suspects that Pungmul is a transformation of this kind of community rituals.

    2. From Buddhist activities

      In the beginning of the Chosun dynasty, the Buddhist temples faced with economic crisis because the government officially oppressed Buddhism. As a solution, the monks came down to the town to perform dances and to play music from Buddhist rituals in order to collect money from the audience. While these kind of performance spread among the community, Pungmulgut people selected and integrated elements of Buddhist instruments, beats, and moves that fit Pungmul. Even nowadays, the drum - Sogo - used in Pungmul is called Beopgo (or Beoku), the name initially for Buddhist drums. Also one finds the traces of Buddhist influence in wearing Kkokkal hat - the colorful hat made mostly out of paper - as well as using Bara as an instrument.

    3. From Army band

      Traditionally the army reserve forces on the frontier or in other military services are selected from the farmers. There are some similarities between Pungmul outfits and army uniforms in those days. Also the hierarchy system within the play of Pungmul seemed to have been derived from the principles of the army. Many assume that the Pungmul, only with the assumption that it originated army bands, can achieve its innate orderliness. In these days, the contemporary armies often promote Pungmulgut for the army bands.

  2. Process of change

    Pungmul took its initial form as part of rituals and labor practices realized out of local religious beliefs and the needs of agricultural production. We can see that Pungmul may have evolved as a form of ritual prayer (Chukweon) to a labor practice or expression (Nojak) a fund-raising (Keollip), and finally to a entertainment-oriented expression (Yonye). However, instead of a clean linear progression from one form to another it is more likely that these various forms existed and developed simultaneously. When you see Pungmul today in its current form, the important thing is to be able to grasp the process of how its essence has been passed down from these various forms.

    1. Ritual Prayer form (Chukwon)

      One can find the influence of prayer rituals on Pungmul in the current practices of Tangsangut (prayer to the guardian angel of a village), Maekwigut(prayer to expel bad spirits from a house), Giwujae or prayer for rain, Pungeoje (prayer for a good fishing haul), and Thanksgiving or Chusok. We can gather that from these surviving ritual practices, the chukwon origins of Pungmul cannot be underestimated.

    2. Labor Practice and Expression (Nojak)

      This form about came about naturally as the people worked together in the fields, rhythmically matching their farming movements, singing songs, dancing and creating Pungmul. This method lessened the boredom of work and more importantly had a definite role in increasing efficiency and production. Especially after the introduction of rice-transplantation methods, the acts of rice-transplantation (monaegi) and weeding (Gimmaegi) were typical labor situations during which the expression of Pungmul took place. General work songs are called Nodongyo and songs sung specifically while farming are called Deulnorae or field songs.

    3. Fund-raising form (Keollip)

      This form of Pungmul developed as a group traveled from one house to another in one particular village or among several villages. They would collect rice or money in exchange for praying for the household to have a fully blessed year without bad incidents. This was done both as a way to create a collective fund for village purposes or as a method of survival for the members of a more professional type of Pungmul group. Usually this was done in the form of Jishinbalbki or Madangbalbi where the group would go around from one house to another collecting rice or money.

    4. Professional entertainment form (Yonye)

      This type of Pungmul group formed as people of exceptional talent gathered to perform as professionals (in groups called Sadangpae) solely for entertainment purposes. In the late Chosun dynasty, Durepae (Pungmul groups formed for the purposes of Dure farming labor) members split off intoSadangpae and flourished throughout this period.