Legend has it that Hwan-ung, the son of Hwan-in (who was the God of All and the ruler of Heaven), yearned to live on Earth among the valleys and the mountains. His father sent him and 3,000 helpers to rule Earth and provide humans with great happiness.
Hwan-ung descended to Mount T’aebaeksan on the border between Manchuria and what is now North Korea. He named the place Shinshi, City of God. Along with his ministers of clouds, rain, and wind, he instituted laws and moral codes and taught the humans various arts, medicine, and agriculture.
A tiger and a bear living in a cave together prayed to become human. Upon hearing their prayers, Hwan-ung called them to him and gave them 20 cloves of garlic and a bunch of mugwort. He then ordered them to only eat this sacred food and remain out of the sunlight for 100 days. The tiger shortly gave up and left the cave. However, the bear remained true and after 21 days was transformed into a woman.
The bear-woman was very grateful and made offerings to Hwan-ung. However, lacking a companion she soon became sad and prayed beneath sandalwood tree to be blessed with a child. Hwan-ung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a handsome son. They named him Tan-gun, meaning “Altar Prince” or sandalwood.
Tan-gun developed into a wise and powerful leader and in 2333 BC moved to P’yongyang and established the Choson (“Land of the Morning Calm”) Kingdom. Finally, at the age of 1,908, he returned to T’aebaeksan where he became a mountain god.
(Recently, in a move to try to legitimize itself, the North Korean government claimed it had found and excavated the burial site for Tan-gun.)