Colonial Korea: Tongdosa Temple – 통도사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do as it appeared in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This week, in the latest installment of the Colonial Korea series, I thought I would focus, instead, on a temple south of the DMZ. So this time, I thought I would focus on the famed Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Rather famously, Tongdosa Temple is part of the three Korean jewel temples (삼보사찰). Tongdosa Temple serves as the “Bul” or Buddha aspect of the three jewels. Tongdosa Temple is joined by Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do and Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do to comprise the three Korean jewel temples.

First founded in 643 A.D. on the southern slopes of the beautiful Mt. Chiseosan, Tongdosa Temple means “Transmission of the Way Temple,” in English. The temple was founded by Jajang-yulsa, and the reason that Tongdosa Temple is the “Bul” component of the three Korean jewel temples revolves around him. After traveling to China to further his Buddhist studies, Jajang-yulsa visited Yunjisi Temple. It was here that he obtained the holy relics of the Buddha. These holy relics included the Buddha’s begging bowl, a portion of his skull, as well as numerous sari (crystallized remains). After returning to the Korean peninsula, and through the support of Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647), Jajang-yulsa helped spread Buddhism throughout the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). A part of Buddhism’s growth throughout Korea was helped by the establishment of Tongdosa Temple to store the Buddha’s partial remains.

From the very moment Tongdosa Temple was established, it has thrived throughout the centuries and millennia. From state-sponsored Buddhism to the Confucian led Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Tongdosa Temple has always been at the forefront of Korean Buddhism. However, in 1592, and much like the rest of the Korean peninsula, Tongdosa Temple was laid to waste by the invading Japanese during the Imjin War. Finally, in 1645, the temple was reconstructed, including the beautiful Daeung-jeon main hall. In more recent years, Tongdosa Temple has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds, which includes the new temple museum. Tongdosa Temple is Korea’s largest temple.

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The second of two Iljumun Gates at Tongdosa Temple as of 1933.

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The stately Cheonwangmun Gate in 1933

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The bell pavilion at Tongdosa Temple from 1933

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The Yeongsan-jeon Hall in the lower courtyard in 1933.

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A closer look at the intricate woodwork adorning the Yeongsan-jeon Hall.

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The compact Yaksa-jeon in 1933.

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A better look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall.

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The three tier stone pagoda in the lower courtyard in 1916.

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The Bulimun Gate in 1933, as you transition to the upper courtyard.

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A closer look at the Bulimun Gate.

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The highly popular Gwaneum-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The stone lantern in front of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall from 1916.

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A closer look at the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.

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The Seokong from 1917, which purportedly houses some of the Buddha’s relics.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall in 1933.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall up close.

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The famed Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.

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A look at one of the entrances of the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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Some of the beautiful latticework that adorns the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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A look around the eaves of the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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And a look inside the Daeung-jeon.

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How the second of two Iljumun Gates looks today.

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The view from the Geukrak-jeon towards the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A look towards the temple’s bell pavilion.

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The view of the three story stone pagoda and the Yeongsan-jeon Hall backing it.

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The Yaksa-jeon Hall as it looks in 2015.

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The back of the Gwaneum-jeon with the Seokong behind it. The Bulimun Gate lies in the background.

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Both the Daeung-jeon Hall (right) and the Eungjin-jeon (left) together.

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The view from the left of the main hall.

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