Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

DSC_0241The beautifully spacious main hall that buttresses up against the sides of Cheonseongsan Mountain.

Hello Again Everyone!!

My first attempt to get to Hwaeomsa Temple (not to be confused with the much more famous one in Jiri-san) was thwarted. The burning of a bit of rubber from my car as it tried to ascend the mountainous road didn’t allow me to get to the temple. So instead, I visited the neighbouring Mitaam Hermitage. This time, with a little preparation, I was able to see the beautifully situated Hwaeomsa Temple.

After making the long ascent up Cheonseongsan Mountain, along the east side of the mountain, you’ll come across the picturesque Hwaeomsa Temple. Hwaeomsa Temple is a very small temple with nothing more than the monks’ living quarters, the main hall, and the Samseong-gak shrine hall. However, the gorgeous views of the east side of Yangsan below, and the beautiful grays of Cheonseongsan Mountain all around it, allow the scenery to nearly outshine the temple.

When you first arrive at the temple, up the long steep road, you’ll be greeted by a twin set of temple buildings. The smaller one to the right is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities. Straight ahead is the rather large, but precariously placed, main hall. And to the far left, and a little further down the mountainous road is the monks’ dorms and kitchen. There is very little to see in this area except a beautiful spot to take pictures of the city and valley below and the mountains around you.

First, the Samseong-gak shrine hall is placed slightly ahead of the main hall, which is a unique feature to this temple. As you approach the entrance to this hall, you’ll notice the Korean writing –삼성각 – which helps you identify this hall. Around this hall are murals dedicated to the three shaman deities inside the hall. And inside this hall are three good examples of the fine shaman artistry that can be found at Korean temples. The best of the set is the golden and black mural of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre upon the main altar of this hall.

The main hall has a rather unique interior. The exterior, on the other hand, is adorned with some rather simplistic Palsang-do paintings that depict the eight stages of the Buddha’s life. The most alluring is the painting dedicated to the temptation of the Buddha by the three daughters of Mara. As you enter around back on the right side of the main hall, it almost seems as though you’re entering a cave. Instead, the mountainous walls of Cheonseongsan Mountain are so close in proximity to the main hall, that appearances can be deceiving.

As for when you enter into the main hall, the first thing to greet you is a spacious main hall. On the far right is a beautifully large guardian painting. It isn’t until you pass this painting that you realize just how unique the main altar of the hall truly is. Behind the triad of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the right, and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the left, is an ornately designed pagoda. The pagoda is backed by a golden sun painting, and it’s surrounded by paintings of dragons and Nahan (The disciples of the Historical Buddha). As for the pagoda itself, it is a three-tiered pagoda that is highly original in its design. It’s adorned with various guardians, Biseon, and Bodhisattvas. Even more surprising than the main altar pagoda was the triangle window above the stone pagoda that looks out onto the neighbouring mountainside. I’m not sure why this window is there, other than to saw that it looks out onto a cluster of large granite rocks. And to the far left is a copy of the Dragon Ship of Wisdom from the neighbouring Tongdosa Temple. This is the surest indication that the head monk at the temple is a former student at Tongdosa Temple.

For more information on Hwaeomsa Temple, please follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Hwaeomsa Temple in one of two ways. First, you can catch a bus to Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal and catch city bus #2000. The bus ride will take you about 40 minutes, and you’ll have to get off at Jujin Village in Soju-dong. Either that, or you can catch city buses # 247 or 301 from the Busan City Bus Terminal in Nopo-dong. You’ll then have to get off at Jangheung. Wherever it is you get off, follow the sign markers leading you to the neighbouring Mitaam Hermitage, which are well placed. But instead of heading right towards the trail that leads towards Mitaam Hermitage, follow the road left for another 400 metres. Again, make sure you pack a good pair of hiking boots, because you’ll need them.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While not as picturesque as the neighbouring Mitaam Hermitage, nor as amazing with what it has to show both inside and outside of the temple halls, it is beautiful and original in its own right. From the beautiful views from Cheonseongsan Mountain, to the beautiful Chilseong painting, or the pagoda that sits in the middle of the main hall, Hwaeomsa Temple has a lot to offer both the casual and more die-hard temple adventurer.

The beautiful view from the eastern side of Cheonseongsan Mountain.
The long narrow road that leads up to the temple.
The first look you’ll get of the main hall at Hwaeomsa Temple as you approach.
A look at just one of the Palsang-do paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
The fierce looking Nathwi.
The spacious interior of the main hall at Hwaeomsa Temple.
The beautiful guardian painting to the right of the main altar.
The unique and gorgeous main altar at Hwaeomsa Temple.
A better look at the main altar pagoda with golden sunlight at its back.
A unique look at the triad upon the main altar from behind.
A look across the front facade of the main hall.
And a look at the forward protruding Samseong-gak shrine hall.
A look at the beautiful San shin (Mountain Spirit) painting inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
And a look at the golden Chilseong (Seven Stars) painting inside the Samseong-gak shrine hall.
The trail that leads left of the main hall towards the peak of Cheonseongsan Mountain.
And a look up at the cluster of boulders that the window inside the main hall looks out upon.

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