This beautiful cherry blossom tree was in full bloom when we arrived at Samseongam Hermitage in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
We had never planned on visiting Samseongam Hermitage, let alone ever heard of it. But on the way to the neighbouring, and much more popular and famous Gwanryongsa Temple, we saw a temple high up in the Hwawang mountain range. This temple turned out to be Samseongam Hermitage.
Samseongam Hermitage, which means “Three Stars Hermitage” in English, dates back at least a couple hundred years, but probably several hundred more. You first make your way up a very steep road that leads up Mt. Hwawang. Our car nearly stalled halfway up the 500 metre climb.
Finally at the ledge that houses Samseongam Hermitage, you’re first greeted by a three storied visitors’ centre and meeting hall. A bit further along are several beautiful cherry blossom trees. The views from this side of the hermitage of Changnyeong below are beautiful. They are only bettered by the views from the tiny pavilion that juts out over the quickly receding mountainside. The views from this pavilion are amazing.
Around the bend in the road, and a bit closer towards the hermitage grounds, is the monks’ dorm. It’s rather new looking with just the natural wood finish still untouched by a Korean temple’s colourful painted patterns. The next temple building to greet you is the Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The exterior is adorned with Shimu-do murals, better known as the Ox-Herding murals in English. As for the interior, it took me a few strong pulls on the door even to gain entrance to this hall. But with a bit of muscle, I was finally able to gain access to the beautiful decorated interior. Sitting on the main altar of the Myeongbu-jeon hall is an atypical stone statue of Jijang-bosal. This Bodhisattva is backed by an older looking mural of himself with Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the left of the stone Jijang-bosal statue is a painting of The Dragon Ship of Wisdom. And in front of this mural are two statues, of dissimilar size, of Yongwang (The Dragon King). On the right side of Jijang-bosal is another Dragon Ship of Wisdom mural. The other difference between the two is that a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sits on the right side of the altar. Amazingly, and all about this hall, there are masterful paintings of various birds like ducks, peacocks, and falcons.
Next to the Myeongbu-jeon hall is the main hall at Samseongam Hermitage. The exterior of this hall is atypically adorned with various murals like monks chasing after a scroll with the name of Wonhyo-daesa written on it in Chinese characters. As for the interior, the hermitage’s most prized historical possession sits on the main altar in the main hall. The wooden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal is Gyeongsangnam-do’s Tangible Cultural Property #414. The rounded facial expressions are reminiscent of the late Joseon Period. And connected literature of the time dates the serene wooden statue back to 1838. This statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) sits all alone on the main altar. On either side of the main altar are paintings and statues of the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). And on the right side of the altar, just below the statues of the Nahan is a painting of the famous Wonhyo-daesa. And on the far right wall is a mural dedicated to the Buddhist Silla martyr, Ichadon.
The final building of any significance at Samseongam Hermitage is to the left rear of the main hall. Interestingly, the hall should be called the Samseong-gak shrine hall because it houses the three most popular Korean shaman deities, and yet, it’s not named the Samseong-gak shrine hall. Instead, above each of the three entrances to this hall is a name plate written in Chinese characters that identifies each of the three shaman deities. As you step into this hall, and in the centre, is a simplistic painting of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the right is another atypical painting at Samseongam Hermitage. This time, the painting is of Dokseong (The Recluse). Finally, and to the left, is a mural of San shin (The Mountain Spirit) that is accompanied by a rather fierce-looking, but bloated, tiger. Strangely, there’s another statue of Yongwang in front of the San shin mural.
From the hermitage compound grounds, you get a great view of the neighbouring Hwawangsan mountain range, and the valley below where the city of Changnyeong resides. And behind the hermitage are several trails that lead up to the top of Mt. Hwawang.
Admission to the hermitage is free.
HOW TO GET THERE: Depending on where you’re coming from, you can arrive at Samseongam Hermitage in a couple ways. If you’re coming from Seoul, you can take a bus that leaves five times a day to Changnyeong. And if you’re leaving from Daegu, Busan, or Miryang, you can take a bus that heads to the city of Youngsan. The bus to Youngsan specifically says Youngsan-haeng (영산행) on it. During this bus ride to Youngsan, you’ll have to get off at Gyeseong. And from Gyeseong, you can take a local a taxi. You simply have to tell the taxi driver “Samseongam” and they’ll know the rest. Either that, or they’ll get to the base of the mountain where Samseongam Hermitage lies up a very steep road, and tell you get out and walk it.
OVERALL RATING: 6/10. If you’re in the Changnyeong area, and you want to visit a couple of beautiful temples or hermitages, I would suggest visiting Samseongam Hermitage in conjunction with those other temples. The views from the hermitage, at any vantage point, are amazing. Added to this is the historically important Gwanseeum-bosal statue inside the main hall and the stunning bird murals inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall. All of these things add up for a nice little visit to an out of the way hermitage in Gyeongsangnam-do.