Colonial Korea: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

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Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do in 1933

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Songgwangsa Temple is one of the three Korean jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Unlike the other two temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels.

Songgwangsa Temple is located in scenic Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. The name of the temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English, and Songgwangsa Temple was established in the 1190s. Much like Bulguksa Temple a few hundred years earlier, Songgwangsa Temple was created on the former grounds of a temple; in this case, it was Gilsangsa Temple. Gilsangsa Temple was first built in 867 A.D. Gilsangsa Temple was built by the Seon master, Hyerin. In total, some thirty to forty monks lived at the temple at this time.

From the mid to late 12th century, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned as a functioning temple. It wasn’t until 1190, and over the course of a nine year period, that the famed monk Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210), rebuilt the temple. Not only did he rebuild Gilsangsa Temple, but he also renamed it Songgwangsa Temple. It was not long after his renaming of the temple that Songgwangsa Temple became important as a centre for Korean Buddhism.

Like so many other temples throughout Korea’s turbulent past, Songgwangsa Temple also suffered. During the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as the more recent Korean War (1950-53), Songgwangsa Temple suffered varying degrees of damage.

But with this devastation and destruction goes periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was then largely rebuilt in the 17th century after the Imjin War. And even more recently, Songgwangsa Temple was renovated in 1988. It was during this time that fourteen of the temple buildings were refurbished. And even as recently as 2013, Songgwangsa Temple’s Cheonwangmun Gate received a complete renovation.

Throughout its storied past, Songgwangsa Temple has produced some sixteen national preceptors. Also, in 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, which Korean Buddhism is a part of. In total, Songgwangsa Temple houses four National Treasures and twenty-one additional Treasures.

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The Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in 1933.

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The Jogyemun Gate in 1933.

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The stupa field at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The front entrance of the temple in 1933.

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People swimming in the stream that flows down from Mt. Jogyesan.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate.

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A closer look at the intricate artwork that adorns the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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The temple’s bell pavilion in 1933.

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The Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

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Another look at the main hall from 1933.

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A closer look at the amazing artistry on the main hall.

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A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.

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A look around the main hall.

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The Guksa-jeon from 1933, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #56.

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A closer look at the shrine hall’s artistry.

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The shrine hall dates back to 1369 and houses 16 paintings of the 16 national preceptors.

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The Eungjin-jeon Hall at Songgwangsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

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And a look inside the Eungjin-jeon Hall.

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The Jogyemun Gate in 2007.

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A look at the front entry at Songgwangsa Temple in 2007.

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The stream that flows down to Songgwangsa Temple from Mt. Jogyesan in 2007.

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The Daeungbo-jeon main hall in 2013.

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And a look inside the main hall in 2013.

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