Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University Bulletin, 2016, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 32–52
94(5) + 902 + 930.2:003.071

Incense burial ritual 埋香 Maehyang in the southern part of the Korean peninsula: problems of reconstruction

Shmakova A. S. 1 (Novosibirsk, Russian Federation), Bae Kidong 2 (Ansan, Republic of Korea), Voytishek E. E. 1 (Novosibirsk, Russian Federation)
1 Novosibirsk State University
2 Hanyang University

Among various types of rituals that emerged in the mainstream culture of East Asia, the “incense burial” ritual 埋香 (Chin. maixiang, Kor. maehyang) holds a prominent place. It is connected with agar wood (Aquilaria agalloha Roxb.), which has long been well known in Eastern countries. Originating from South China in ancient times as a funeral ceremony when a dead body was surrounded by aromatic timber chips, the “incense burial” ritual failed to develop in China. Since the 7th century in Chinese literary tradition, the term “incense burial” was mentioned as “to bury a beauty”, or “to bury a beautiful young woman”.
As said above, the tradition of “incense burial” hasn’t been well developed in China or on Japanese islands, but it was broadly spread on the Korean Peninsula, especially from the 8th to the 14th centuries; the period considered as the medieval times of Korean history.
The article declares that the “incense burial” ritual involves two stages: the ritual burial of aromatic wood in the ground with the aim of “wearing out” and possibly accompanied by kindling, as well as the installation of a stone stele 埋 香 碑 maehyangbi in honor of this event. Both stages could be separated in time by tens and hundreds of years.
The authors of the article define the typology of the maehyangbi steles found so far in the south of the Korean Peninsula, which reveal their value as important historical, archaeological and epigraphic monuments, consider a close relationship between the maehyang ritual and Buddhism (in particular, with the cult of the Buddha Maitreya), and designate a similarity of cultural and historical processes in the culture of Eastern Asia.


incense burial, agarwood, maehyang ritual, stone steles maehyangbi, East Asia, Korean Peninsula, buddhism

For citation:
Shmakova A. S., Bae Kidong, Voytishek E. E. Incense burial ritual 埋香 Maehyang in the southern part of the Korean peninsula: problems of reconstruction. Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University Bulletin, 2016, vol. 6, no. 6, pp. 32–52. DOI:
  1. Beylis V. A. [Introd.]. Terner U. V. Symbol and ritual. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1983, 277 p. (In Russian)
  2. Voytishek E. E., Shmakova A. S. “Insense burial” ritual in the traditional culture of East Asia: from literature to inscriptions. Vestnik of Novosibirsk State University. Series: History, Philology. 2016, vol. 15, iss. 4: Oriental Studies, pр. 101–110. (In Russian)
  3. Calendar customs and ceremonies of the people of East Asia. Annual cycle. Ed. R. Sh. Zharilgasinova, M. V. Kryukov. Moscow, Nauka Publ., 1989, 360 p. (In Russian)
  4. Lee Jungon. The Interpretation of the Buried Perfume Inscription on the Rock at Eum-gil Village (奄吉里), Young-am Country (靈巖郡), Korea. Bulletin of  Mokpho National University. 2001, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 1–13. (in Korean)
  5. Lee Jungon. The Analysis of the Contents of “Buried Perfume Tombstone” discovered in Korea. Mokpho, Mokpho National Marytime University Publ., 2005, pp. 93–101. (In Korean)
  6. Ota Kiyoshi. Incense and tea ceremony. Kyoto, Tankōsha Publ., 2001, 190 p. (In Japanese)
  7. Tikhonov V. M., Kan Mangil. A history of Korea: in 2 t. T. 1. From ancient times to 1876. Moscow, Natalis Publ., 2011, 533 p. (In Russian)
  8. Tolstokulakov I. A. Issue of history of the Korean culture. Vladivostok, Far East University Publ., 2002, 233 p. (In Russian)
  9. Fu Jingliang. Chinese cilture of incense. Jinan, Qilu shushe Publ., 2011, 316 p. (In Chinese).
  10. Han Yeongwu. The History of Korea. New look. Moscow, East Lit. Publ., 2010, 758 p. (In Russian)
  11. Hyung Kwang-Seok. A Study on Sandai Port Through MaiHyangbi Gravestones and Ports of Yeongnam. The Journal of Northeast Asian Economic Studies. 2010, vol. 22, iss. 3, pp. 25–41. (In Korean)
  12. Kang Jae-eun. Two Thousand Years of Korean Confucianism. New Jersey, Paramus, Homa & Sekey books Publ., 2006, 516 р.
  13.  Voytishek E., Shmakova A. Epigraphic memorial stele 埋香碑mehyangbi (“Incense Burial”) as an Archaeological and Cultural Heritage of Medieval Korea (Compared to Chinese and Japanese Traditions). The 21st Suyanggae and Her Neighbours International Simposium.  Laramie, University of Wyoming, USA, 2016, pp. 229–235. 
Date of the publication 26.12.2016