Chukseoam Hermitage – 축서암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look at the hermitage courtyard at Chukseoam Hermitage with the Chiseosan Mountains towering above.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Chukseoam Hermitage is one of nineteen hermitages directly associated with the famed Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

You first approach Chukseoam Hermitage down some country back roads. Finally, the road will start climbing, when you finally arrive at the outskirts of the hermitage. The hermitage is spread out over two courtyards. The lower courtyard wasn’t all that well maintained. The lower courtyard houses the monks’ dorms.

Walking through the staircase that divides the lower courtyard residences, you’ll arrive in the upper courtyard, where all of the significant buildings at the hermitage reside. To the left is an older looking building that acts as the residence for the monks. And to the right is the hermitage kitchen and visitors’ centre. Straight ahead is a rather non-descript main hall. The exterior is unadorned. All that adorns this bare exterior are the earthen dancheong colour tones that adorn all temples and hermitages in Korea. Inside, you’ll see a rather sparsely decorated main hall. On the main altar sits a unique triad of statues with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. The reason I say unique is that the statues seem to be rather squat in appearance and cube-like in the face. On the far left wall is the smaller sized guardian mural.

To the left rear of the main hall is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The shaman shrine hall is unadorned on the exterior, but it’s backed by a beautiful pine tree forest and the heights of Mt. Chiseosan. Inside the shrine hall, as you walk upon the rickety floor boards, you’ll see a set of gorgeous shaman deities. Unfortunately, the paintings are covered by glass, which takes away from getting a good picture of them; however, Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars) are beautifully rendered.

HOW TO GET THERE: Chukseoam Hermitage is tricky to find. With your back to the main gate at Tongdosa Temple, head straight for about 200 metres. Turn left at the first major road. This road will head straight, beside the Tongdosa Temple parking lot, for about 300 metres. As the road forks, head left around a curved road for about 200 metres. You’ll then see a handful of taller apartments. Head straight once more for about 400 metres with Tondo-Fantasia (an amusement park) to your right. Again, you’ll come to a fork in the road at a farmer’s field. Take the road that heads left. Follow this road for about a kilometer. During this one kilometer hike, you’ll be able to see signs that guide your way. Follow these signs until you arrive at the hermitage behind a few larger sized houses.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10. Chukseoam Hermitage certainly won’t blow you away. Much like Sudoam Hermitage, also associated with Tongdosa Temple, there is very little to see at the hermitage; however, with that being said, there are a couple of things that are unique to Chukseoam Hermitage. One is the gorgeous vista of the Mt. Chiseosan range behind the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, as well as the intertwining pine tree forest. Also, the gorgeous paintings of the shaman deities inside the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall certainly are the handful of highlights at the hermitage. But unless you have an easy way to get to Chukseoam Hermitage, the trip may not be worth it.

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The entrance that leads up to the hermitage courtyard.

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A look at a couple of the halls at Chukseoam Hermitage and the surrounding beauty.

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The compact main hall at Chukseoam Hermitage.

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A look inside the compact main hall.

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Both the main hall and Samseong-gak together.

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A better look at the beautifully located Samseong-gak.

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The beautifully manicured grounds that surround the shaman shrine hall.

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The modern Sanshin mural inside the Samseong-gak.

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A look up at the peak of Mt. Chiseosan.

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The view from the Samseong-gak.

Wongaksa Temple – 원각사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The central altar statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) inside the main hall at Wongaksa Temple in Yangsan Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!!

Wongaksa Temple is situated at the base of Mt. Cheonseongsan in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do down a nearly deserted country road. When you first approach the temple, the first thing to greet you is a yellow sign with the Korean word “원각사” and an arrow pointing towards the temple grounds. Up the temple driveway is the visitors’ centre with the dorms and kitchen to the right.

To the left of this initial cluster of buildings are the temple halls. Next to the visitors’ centre is a stone statue and alcove that houses a standing statue of Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). This statue is backed by a bit of a fading picture of lotus flowers. Around this outdoor altar are smaller statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Further left, and next to the outdoor altar centred by Yaksayore-bul, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall dedicated to three shaman deities. This temple hall appears to the right rear of the main hall. Inside the shrine hall are three beautiful renderings of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

Next to the Samseong-gak shrine hall is the main hall at Wongaksa Temple. In front of this hall is a three-tier pagoda that is Silla inspired. Inside the hall, and sitting on the main altar, is the triad of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre flanked by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left. The hall has two walls of miniature statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Next to these bronze coloured statues, on the far right wall, is an elaborate guardian painting. The exterior walls are adorned with simplistic Ox-Herding murals. These murals are said to have been painted by the head monk at Wongaksa Temple. Strangely, and this is a first for me, there was a punching bag to the right rear of the main hall. I guess when you need to get your stress out, no matter your calling, you have to get it out!

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to Wongaksa Temple is to take a taxi from the Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take about 20 minutes and cost 11,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 4/10. On its own, this temple really doesn’t have that much to offer. It does have a quaint outdoor altar dedicated to Yaksayore-bul, as well as the beautiful murals inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall and the head monk’s Ox-Herding murals around the main hall. And don’t forget the punching bag behind the main hall. However, if you include this temple with a couple other temples and hermitages in the area, it can make Wongaksa Temple worth the trek.

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The view as you make your way towards Wongaksa Temple.

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The welcoming yellow sign that greets you at the temple.

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A look around the temple courtyard.

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A standing statue of Yaksayore-bul at the temple.

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A closer look at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Wongaksa Temple.

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Inside hangs this impressive incarnation of Chilseong.

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As well as this equally impressive Dokseong mural.

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The visitors’ centre and monks’ dorms at the temple.

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The Silla inspired three-tier stone pagoda out in front of the main hall.

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A look inside the main hall at the main altar with Amita-bul front and centre.

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The guardian mural that hangs inside the main hall.

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Another look around the main hall’s interior.

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One of the murals that adorns the exterior walls to the main hall.

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The rather odd punching bag that’s placed behind the main hall. Perhaps one of the monks fancies himself a boxer in his spare time.

Colonial Korea: The Ancient City of Gyeongju – 경주 (Gyeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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A portion of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress in Gyeongju from 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

The ancient city of Gyeongju is located in the southeastern part of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. Gyeongju has a population over 264,000 people, and it’s the second largest city, by area, in the entire province behind Andong.

Gyeongju was once known as Seorabeol. Gyeongju was the capital of the Silla Kingdon (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). The Silla Kingdom, at its height, ruled over two-thirds of the entire Korean Peninsula between the 7th and 9th centuries. Gyeongju is known as the “museum without walls” for the nearly 200 Treasures and National Treasures spread throughout its city limits like the famed Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Hermitage, and Bunhwangsa Temple.

This article will more narrowly focus on the lesser known and visited sites in Gyeongju. One of these is the Banwolseong Palace Fortress just north of the Gyeongju National Museum. The Banwolseong Palace Fortress means “Half Crescent Moon” and it was first constructed in 101 A.D. It was the second royal palace in Gyeongju behind Geumseong.

Just across the road is Anapji Pond. Anapji Pond is an artificial pond that was first constructed in 674 A.D. by order of King Munmu (r.661-681 A.D.). The pond is located on the northeastern edge of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress site. Its oval shape measures 200 metre across east to west and 180 metres across north to south. The pond was constructed to commemorate the unification of the Silla Dynasty during the previous decade.

To the south of the ancient palace and fortress lies the 494 metre tall Mt. Namsan. With an area of eight kilometres by twelve, as well as over 40 valleys, there are a countless amount of treasures hidden on this sacred landmark.

A pair of these sites can be found along the Samneung Valley. The first of the two, about half way up the valley, is the Seated Stone Buddha. The statue of Seokgamoni-bul appears on a mountainous plateau. Sitting on a beautiful lotus pedestal, this statue was once disfigured with its head broken off and its face in pieces. At first, the statue was slapped together with concrete; but more recently, between 2007 and 2008, it was put back together. While not as beautiful as it once was in ancient times, it looks a lot better than its once deforming make-over. This is Korea’s Treasure #666.

Another site to be enjoyed along the Samneung Valley on the southern side of Mt. Namsan is a little further up the trail from the Seated Stone Buddha. This time, and past the Sangseonam Hermitage, is the Larged Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). Now off-limits because of falling debris from the neighbouring mountain, this amazing sculpture stands an impressive seven metres in height. With its panoramic views of the southern parts of Gyeongju, it makes for quite the photo-op. The sculpture dates back to the Silla Dynasty.

Yet another site to be enjoyed on Mt. Namsan is on the northern side of the mountain. Chilbulam Hermitage, known as the “Seven Buddhas Hermitage,” in English, dates back only a hundred years. A nun was hunting for mushrooms on the northern side of Mt. Namsan, when by mere chance she stumbled upon a pair of statues that make up the seven Buddhas statues. They were buried in the ground, so she dug them up. Now, Chilbulam Maae Stone Buddha is National Treasure #312. The stone statues date back to the 8th century. As for the temple itself, Chilbulam Hermitage’s main hall, Samseong-gak and dorms date back to 2009. Above the hermitage is Treasure #199, which is a 1.4 metre tall cliff-side carving of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

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The beautiful Anapji Pond next to the Banwolseong Palace Fortress also from 1916.

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The mountainous terrain where the Banwolseong Palace Fortress is located.

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And another view of the Banwolseong Palace Fortress from 1916.

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The view from Mt. Namsan in southern Gyeongju from 1916.

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A look up towards the peaks of Mt. Namsan in 1916, as well.

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The Seated Stone Buddha of Mt. Namsan in 1917.

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The Large Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul on Mt. Namsan in 1917.

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Part of National Treasure # 312 at Chilbulam Hermitage in 1917.

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Another part of the famed statue at Chilbulam Hermitage.

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A look towards the Banwolseong Palace Fortress in 2006.

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As well as Anapji Pond from 2006.

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Another beautiful look at Anapji Pond from 2011.

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The view from Mt. Namsan from 2013.

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Another scenic look down from Mt. Namsan in 2013.

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One last look down Mt. Namsan at Gyeongju.

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The Seated Stone Buddha on Mt. Namsan in 2013.

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Further up the valley is this Larged Seated Statue of Mireuk-bul in 2013.

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A closer look at the off-limits statue.

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Part of National Treasure #312 at Chilbulam Hermitage in 2013.

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And another look at the statues at Chilbulam Hermitage.

Sujeongsa Temple – 수정사 (Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The Daeung-jeon Hall at Sujeongsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just west of the summit of Mt. Bibongsan in northern Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do lays Sujeongsa Temple. This temple for nuns is situated at the end of a long valley and next to a wandering stream that flows the entire way.

Sujeongsa Temple was first constructed by the monk Naong (1320-76) during the reign of King Gongmin (1351-74) of the Goryeo Dynasty. Completely destroyed at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), it was later rebuilt during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

As you approach the temple from the west, you’ll first approach a slender Iljumun Gate along the way. A further kilometre along, and you’ll finally find yourself squarely located in the temple parking lot. Just to the right of the nuns’ dorms, and to the left, you’ll find yourself squarely at the edge of the temple courtyard.

Straight ahead is the temple’s main hall: the Daeung-jeon Hall. This hall dates back to the Joseon Dynasty, and while smaller in size, it’s Gyeongsangbuk-do’s Cultural Heritage #73. The main hall is surrounded by beautiful floral and Buddhist motif murals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of white and gold statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). This triad is backed by a stunning gold leaf painting of the Buddha. To the left of the main altar are two paintings. The first is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural, while the other is the temple’s guardian mural. And to the right of the main altar is a mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The entire main hall lies under a beautiful, and colourful, canopy of paper lotus flowers.

To the right rear of the main hall is another compact shrine hall. This hall is the Sanshin-gak, which is dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). While the exterior walls to this hall are all unadorned all but for the traditional dancheong colours, the interior houses a large Sanshin mural that is masterfully executed.

HOW TO GET THERE: The easiest way to get to the remote Sujeongsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do is to take a taxi from the Cheongsong Intercity Bus Terminal. The ride should take about 20 minutes and cost 15,000 won.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While there isn’t just one feature at Sujeongsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do that will blow you away, there are several highlights to keep an eye out for like the Sanshin Taenghwa mural housed inside the Sanshin-gak. The other main highlight is the Daeung-jeon Hall and main altar housed inside it.

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The view from the temple parking lot.

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The view as you enter the temple courtyard.

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One of the floral murals that adorns the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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And another more peculiar painting that adorns the main hall.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar.

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The guardian mural inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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As well as the Chilseong mural.

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And the Jijang-bosal mural.

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All of which is housed under a beautiful rainbow of paper lotus flowers.

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A closer look at the main altar and the gold leaf mural.

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The view from the Daeung-jeon Hall towards Mt. Bibongsan.

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The Sanshin-gak at Sujeongsa Temple.

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And the descriptive Sanshin mural housed inside it.

Gyeongheungsa Temple – 경흥사 (Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The view from the Sanhin-gak at Gyeongheungsa Temple in Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just south of the Gyeongsan, Gyeongsangbuk-do city centre and east of Mt. Byeongpungsan lies Gyeongheungsa Temple. As you approach the temple grounds, and enter the temple parking lot, you’ll first notice the temple stupa field to the right of the temple shrine halls. Slightly elevated, there are a row of six stupas of varying shape that first greet you.

A little further to the left and past the monks’ facilities, are a cluster of some four temple shrine halls. The first of the four is beautifully adorned with various Buddhist motif murals like Wonhyo-daesa’s enlightenment and the Bodhidharma. Housed inside this hall is a triad centred by a uniquely designed Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) statue. He’s joined on either side by a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the far right of the main altar hangs a guardian mural.

Between the monks’ dorms and the first temple shrine hall, and up a set of wooden stairs, is the temple’s main hall, the Daeung-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with Palsang-do murals that depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. As for inside this hall, there are a triad of historic statues resting on the main altar. Centred by Seokgamoni-bul and joined by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), these statues date back to 1644. Combined, these three statues make up Korea’s Treasure #1750. Also housed inside this shrine hall is a beautiful mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal.

To the rear of these two halls, and slightly up an embankment, are two smaller sized shrine halls at Gyeongheungsa Temple. Twisting to the left and then to the right, you’ll make your way towards these shrine halls up a forested pathway. The first of the two is the Chilseong-Dokseong-gak. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are a pair of original murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and the blue backdrop for Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And a little further to the right is the Sanshin-gak that also houses a blue background for Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) with a tiger with a nearly human-like face.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Gyeongsan Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to walk about 5 minutes (300 metres) to get to the Gyeongsan Shijang (market) bus stop. From this stop, you’ll need to board the Namcheon bus. After 15 stops, or 18 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Sinseok (Cheongdo) stop. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll need to walk about 3 kilometres to Gyeongheungsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. The one major highlight to this temple is the triad of 17th century statues housed inside the Daeung-jeon main hall at Gyeongheungsa Temple. Other points of interest at this temple are all three of the shaman murals and the collection of stupas at the temple stupa field.

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The first of four shrine halls at Gyeongheungsa Temple.

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The Wonhyo-daesa enlightenment painting.

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The Bodhidharma mural, as well.

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The main altar inside the first of the four shrine halls.

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The stairs that lead up to the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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One of the eight paintings from the Palsang-do set that make up the exterior wall murals on the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The historic 17th century statues on the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Jijang-bosal painting inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Chilseong-Dokseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Gyeongheungsa Temple.

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The Chilseong mural housed inside the first shaman shrine hall.

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As well as the Dokseong mural.

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The Sanshin-gak at the temple.

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The unique blue backed Sanshin mural at Gyeongheungsa Temple.

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The stupa field at the temple.

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With a closer look at one of the individual stupas.