Colonial Korea: Haeinsa Temple – 해인사 (Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

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First built in 802 A.D., Haeinsa Temple has grown throughout the centuries both in size and significance. The name of the temple means “Temple of the Ocean Mudra Temple,” in English; and alongside Tongdosa Temple and Songgwangsa Temple, they comprise the three jewel temples. Of the three, Haeinsa Temple represents the Dharma teachings of the three jewels (삼보사찰, in Korean).

The temple is located in Mt. Gayasan National Park just outside Hapcheon, Gyeongsangnam-do. Both Suneung and Ijeong, two Buddhist monks, helped establish the temple. After curing King Aejang’s wife of a serious illness, King Aejang of Silla (r. 800 A.D. to 809 A.D.) ordered the construction of Haeinsa Temple as a show of appreciation. Another story written by Choe Chiwon in 900 A.D. states that the temple gained the support of the queen after she had converted to Buddhism. Either way, and through the financial support of the king and queen, the famed Haeinsa Temple was built.

The temple has grown numerous times throughout the years. The very first of these efforts started during the 10th century. Haeinsa Temple’s growth was to continue in 1488, 1622, and 1644. In 1817, Haeinsa Temple was completely destroyed by fire. It was later rebuilt the following year; in total, Haeinsa Temple has been devastated by fire seven times in total over the course of its history.

Haeinsa Temple’s claim to fame is the Tripitaka Koreana. The Tripitaka Koreana was first housed at the temple in 1398. In total, the Tripitaka Koreana are comprised of some 81,258 wooden blocks that have the various Buddhist teachings written on them. The Tripitaka Koreana are housed in the Janggyeong-panjeon library to the rear of the temple grounds at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was first made in 1087; however, the first set of wooden blocks were completely destroyed by the invading Mongols. It would take from 1236 to 1251, under the royal orders of King Gojong (r. 1213 to 1259), to right this historic wrong.

In September of 1951, during the Korean War that lasted from 1950-53, a crisis was averted at Haeinsa Temple. The Tripitaka Koreana was nearly destroyed after the Battle of Incheon. At this stage in the war, the allied forces were turning the war around; however, some North Korean forces refused to retreat. Roughly a thousand North Korean soldiers remained in and around the Haeinsa Temple grounds as guerrilla fighters. The allied forces were ordered to bomb Haeinsa Temple using four bombers to clear the area of enemy forces. Fortunately for Korea, and Haeinsa Temple in particular, the leading pilot of the bomber planes, Kim Young, disobeyed the order. In time, the North Korean forces retreated from the Haeinsa Temple perimeter and the temple was saved from bombing.

In total, Haeinsa Temple houses three national treasures and an additional thirteen treasures. Not surprisingly, all three of the national treasures are linked to the Tripitaka Koreana. And in 1995, Haeinsa Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Haeinsa102 - Iljumun

The Iljumun Gate at Haeinsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

Haeinsa103 - Iljumun

The intricate design of the Iljumun Gate.

Haeinsa - Iljumun Pagoda - Samjung Seoktap

A three tier pagoda next to the Iljumun Gate in 1916.

Haeinsa109 - gugwang-ru

The Gugwang Pavilion at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

Haeinsa100 - Seokjo

The Seokjo in 1917 out in front of the Gugwang Pavilion.

Haeinsa104 - Daejeokgwangjeon

The Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

haeinsa108 - main hall

Some of the amazing woodwork adorning the ancient hall.

Haeinsa106 - main hall

A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 1933.

Haeinsa107 - main hall

And another look around the main hall.

Haeinsa1 - main hall samjung seoktap

The ancient three tier pagoda that stands out in front of the main hall at Haeinsa Temple in 1916.

Haeinsa10 - seokdeung

The stone lantern, or seokdeung, out in front of the main hall in 1916.

Haeinsa110 - myeongbujeon - josajeon

The Myeongbu-jeon and Josa-jeon halls at Haeinsa Temple in 1933.

Haeinsa111 - library

The amazing Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana. The picture dates back to 1933.

Haeinsa112 - library

A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.


The Iljumun Gate in 2015


The Gugwang Pavilion in the fall of 2015


The restored Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall.


A look inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon main hall in 2013.


A modern look at the Janggyeong-panjeon, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana.


A closer look at the Janggyeong-panjeon library.

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