What was the Tripitaka Koreana and why was it significant?

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The Tripikata Koreana is a collection of 81,258 birch printing blocks that were carved in the 1200s by Korean craftsmen. The workmanship is of the highest aesthetic quality, as befitting a spiritual act of devotion. Employing more than 52,000,000 characters and comprising 6,568 volumes, the blocks are the most complete and error-free compilation of Buddhist thought, scriptures, laws, and treatises in the world. They contain not only the Tripitaka but also dictionaries in Sanskrit and Chinese, biographies of nuns and monks, and travelogues.

Tripikata is the doctrinal scripture of Buddhism and is a Sanskrit word meaning “three baskets.” The Tripikata Koreana was originally carved between 1011 and 1087 as a devotion and a plea for good luck. However, when the Mongols invaded Korea in 1232, they destroyed the original blocks by setting them on fire. Between 1237 and 1249, scholars and craftsmen recreated the blocks as both an act of devotion to the Buddha and to ask for Devine help in repelling the Mongols.

The blocks, which are in perfect condition, are stored in a Buddhist temple in South Korea. This site, Haeinsa, was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. In 1962 the Tripikata Koreana had been named a National Treasure by South Korea, and in 2007 UNESCO declared it part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Registry. Along with being beautiful works of art, the Tripikata Koreana is so complete and error-free that it is the basis for the Tripikata in Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese.

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