Goguryeo’s religion played a significant role in the life of Goguryeo people. They not only held memorial rites for ancestors frequently but also worshipped them as supernatural beings, or gods. King Chumo, the founder of the kingdom, and his mother, Lady Yuhwa, were examples in point. They were anointed respectively as the “God of Godeung” and the “Goddess of Buyeo” after their deaths and were subsequently remembered and revered at the Dongmaeng Festival, the kingdom’s largest annual festive event. The people at the time believed that the king was an offspring of God of Heaven, the god of the highest standing among the people. That the kingdom was founded by the son of the highest god meant that their country was the most divine of all, a belief that was the key source of national pride for the people. It was in this context that the people of Goguryeo kept performing rituals during the Dongmaeng festivals, which were designed to confirm and deepen the faith that King Chumo had indeed been a god’s descendent who was born on the land of their kingdom.
In their (religious) belief, the citizens of Goguryeo thought that the deceased would continue his or her life in an afterlife; this belief apparently was the reason that more than ten thousand gigantic tumuli were built in Gungnaeseong, once the old capital. Also, people at the time considered a long, leisurely hermitic life with the pleasure of riding dragons, cranes and giraffes to be the most ideal form. In addition to worshipping the God of Heaven and the God of Ancestors, they also
worshipped a variety of gods, including the god of the sun, god of the moon and ‘gods of functions,’ like the god of agriculture and god of fire. Shamans and ritual masters performed religious (sacrificial) rites, and shrines were constructed where god-worshiping activities took place frequently. Kings would never be absent from these ceremonial rites for the God of Heaven and the God of Ancestors, as well as the Dongmaeng Festival.
What brought a new wave of change to the religious life in the kingdom was Buddhism, which was recognized by the government as a religion in A.D. 372. It presented itself as a full-fledged religion that featured specific images of Buddha and a formal organization of practitioners. Supported by kings and their royal families, Buddhism began flourishing, building temples at numerous locations and setting up huge pagodas and gold-plated Buddhist statues (inside the temples). The Buddhist monks of the kingdom spread the religion to its neighbor, the Silla Kingdom, while also playing a vital role in disseminating the Buddhist region and culture to other parts of the region, including Japan.