Tangun is the mythical progenitor of the Korean people. According to an old Korean legend, the Korean people descended from Tangun, the son of Hwanung, himself the son of Hwanin, the ruler of Heaven. Hwanung 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.
Hwanung descended to Mount Taebaek 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.
One day Hwanung met a bear and a tiger who were living in a cave. The two animals wanted to become human beings and begged Hwanung to help them. He gave them each 20 heads of garlic and a bunch of mugwort, a special mountain plant, and told them they would become human if they ate these foods and stayed out of the sunlight for 100 days.
The bear and the tiger tried to obey Hwanung but after several days, the tiger gave up and left the cave. The bear stayed inside, though, eating only garlic and mugwort. On the 100th day, the bear turned into a beautiful woman. She was very happy but soon found she was lonely, with no friends to keep her company. Finally she decided to ask Hwanung for help. Hwanung, moved by her prayers, took her for his wife and soon she gave birth to a handsome son. They named him Tangun, meaning "Altar Prince" or sandalwood.
Tangun developed into a wise and powerful leader and in 2333 BC moved to Pyongyang and established the Choson Kingdom, Land of the Morning Calm. Finally, at the age of 1,908, he returned to Mt. Taebaek where he became a mountain god. No one knows if Tangun really existed, but he is an important symbol of the Korean people and their culture. Today Koreans celebrate October 3; the day Tangun is said to have founded his kingdom, as National Foundation Day.