Simwonsa Temple – 심원사 (Seongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The mountainside view between the Daeung-jeon and Geukrak-jeon at Simwonsa Temple in Gayasan National Park just outside Seongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located in beautiful Gayasan National Park, and just north of the much more famous Haeinsa Temple, is Simwonsa Temple. First constructed during the Unified Silla Dynasty (668 – 935), Simwonsa Temple was later expanded between 1522 to 1566. During the Imjin War, in 1593, Simwonsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire by some volunteer soldiers. It was later rebuilt some two hundred years after it had been abandoned. From the very day of its reconstruction, the temple has undergone numerous expansions and rebuilds.

You first approach Simwonsa Temple to the left of the eastern entry gate to Gayasan National Park. The entire temple grounds are beautifully framed by the surrounding mountains. Past a collection of nine stele, as well as a handful of temple buildings like the monks’ dorms, the kitchen, and the visitors’ centre, you’ll finally arrive in the centre of Simwonsa Temple’s courtyard.

Standing out in front of the main hall is the Jeongjung Sambotap, which is a three tier stone pagoda that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty. It also just so happens to be Cultural Property No. 116 of Gyeongsangbuk-do Province. To the rear of this pagoda is the newly constructed main hall. The first main hall to stand at Simwonsa Temple dates back to the 8th century. The exterior walls to the main hall are decorated with murals from the life of Uisang-daesa, which also includes the enlightenment of Uisang’s friend, Wonhyo-daesa. Inside the Daeung-jeon main hall, and sitting all alone on the main altar, is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (the Historical Buddha). The interior walls are decorated with Palsang-do murals that depict the eight scenes from the Buddha’s life. These paintings are joined to the right by an elaborate Nahan mural, as well as the traditional guardian mural.

To the left of the Daeung-jeon is the temple’s Geukrak-jeon. The exterior walls are filled with murals dedicated to the celestial. As for inside, and sitting on the main altar, is a statue dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This statue is joined by a light-beaming mural of Amita-bul.

To the right of the main hall is the newly constructed, and uniquely shaped, Yaksa-jeon. The low-lying exterior ceiling is adorned with beautiful white crane murals, as well as various murals dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha), Wolgwang-bosal (The Moonlight Bodhisattva) and Ilgwang-bosal (The Sunlight Bodhisattva). As for the interior of this rather compact hall sits a solitary statue of Yaksayore-bul holding a medicine bowl.

But the main highlight of the temple, other than the scenery that surrounds Simwonsa Temple, is the Sanshin-gak that rests on the heights of the temple grounds. The entrance to the three doors of the Sanshin-gak are adorned with three signboards: 산신각, 숭모전, 정견각. The one farthest to the left refers to the Sanshin-gak, while the one in the middle, Sungmo-jeon, refers to a “Highly Admiring Worship Hall.” While the third, and closest to the right when first approaching the Sanshin-gak, refers to the name of the female Mountain Spirit, Jeonggyeon Moju, that occupies Mt. Gayasan. The exterior walls to this hall are beautifully adorned with various murals such as a pond, a persimmon tree, a tiger, and a vibrant mural of Jeonggyeon Moju. As for the interior, and sitting all alone, is a statue of the female Sanshin, Jeonggyeon Moju. It’s also from the heights of the Sanshin-gak that you get an amazing look down at Simwonsa Temple and the valley below.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Seongju Intercity Bus Terminal, (성주버스정류장), you’ll need to take a bus that says “송계 – 수륜 – 백운동” on it. Take this bus for 14 stops, which should last about 40 minutes. You’ll need to get off at Gayasan National Park. From the Mt. Gayasan stop, you’ll need to walk nearly 800 metres, or 12 minutes, towards Simwonsa Temple (just follow the signs).

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Beautifully located in Gayasan National Park, you get an amazing view of the sprawling valley down below from the heights of the temple. Add into the mix all the recent construction and artwork, and you have yet another reason to visit this little known temple. And finally, the exceptional Sanshin-gak, which is home to one of the very few female Sanshins in Korea, only adds to the overall beauty of Simwonsa Temple.

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The entire temple grounds at Simwonsa Temple.

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A better look at the Daeung-jeon with the Sanshin-gak to its right.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon.

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One of the murals from the Palsang-do set.

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The guardian mural inside the main hall.

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The Nahan mural inside the main hall, as well.

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

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Wonhyo-daesa’s enlightenment, as illustrated on the exterior walls of the main hall at Simwonsa Temple.

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Just one of the celestial paintings adorning the Geukrak-jeon.

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The main altar painting and statue inside the Geukrak-jeon.

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The beautiful view from the Geukrak-jeon.

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To the right of the Daeung-jeon is the Yaksa-jeon.

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A collection of paintings of Yaksayore-bul, Ilgwang-bosal, and Wolgwang-bosal all together.

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And the statue of Yaksayore-bul inside the Yaksa-jeon.

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A look up at the hillside Sanshin-gak.

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The view from the Sanshin-gak down on the rest of the temple grounds.

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The female Sanshin statue inside the Sanshin-gak.

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The beautiful persimmon mural that adorns the exterior wall of the Sanshin-gak.

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The painting of Jeonggyeon Moju, the female Sanshin, adorning the exterior wall of the Sanshin-gak.

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And these murals are joined by this beautiful pond mural.

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