Songnimsa Temple – 송림사 (Chilgok, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Picture 042Just one of the amazingly grotesque murals that adorns the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Songnimsa Temple. They are amongst the best in all of Korea.

 Hello Again Everyone!

I had last visited Songnimsa Temple (송림사) back in 2005 with a couple of friends. So wanting to show off this lesser known temple in Chilgok, Gyeongsangbuk-do to my wife, we decided to visit this serene temple with the last few remaining days of my summer vacation.

Songnimsa Temple (“Pine Forest Temple”) was established sometime in the 9th century, and it was later destroyed in 1243.  Fortunately for us, the temple was rebuilt in 1689. There is a brick pagoda that stands in the centre of the temple courtyard that is as old as the temple itself. This five-tier brick pagoda dates back to the 9th century, and in 1961 several precious items were taken out of it. These items were two wooden Buddha images and a gold box that were discovered inside.  Now, these objects are kept at the Seoul National Museum.

When you first approach the temple, you’ll pass through the aged Iljumun Gate. As you pass through this gate, you’ll first notice a new hall under construction. This hall seems to be a conference hall in the making. To the right of this hall is the two storied bell pavilion, and to the right is a long hall dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And at either side of him is the familiar triad of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on his left and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to his right. These three larger statues are surrounded by the same three Buddha and Bodhisattvas, but only smaller in stature.

After taking a look at these periphery structures and halls, you’ll finally enter into the main courtyard at the temple. The very first thing you’ll notice is the ancient black brick pagoda. If you look close enough, you’ll notice grass growing out from between the black bricks. Directly in front of the ancient pagoda is the main hall at Songnimsa Temple. Surrounding the main hall is a beautiful set of Ox-Herding murals. Inside the main hall, reputedly, is the largest wooden Buddha statue in Korea. When we visited, there was a ceremony taking place, so we were unable to go inside. However, from the outside of this hall you can see the beautiful altar inside that houses the massive Buddha statues.

But what is most impressive about this temple is the Myeongbu-jeon, Judgment Hall, to the right of the main hall. Inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall are 10 standing Kings of the Underworld. Uniquely, it appears as though Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) occupies the central position on the main altar in this hall. I say this is unique because it’s usually Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) who is centrally located on the altar. Instead, Jijang-bosal is a flanking statue on this altar. But what is most impressive about this hall are the murals that are painted on the exterior walls of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. There are numerous graphic depictions of punishment being administered to evildoers on these walls. And in my opinion, they are the best renderings on a Myeongbu-jeon Hall in all of Korea.

To the rear of the main hall there are three additional shrine halls. To the left there is a hall dedicated to the Shaman gods Dokseong (The Recluse), San shin (The Mountain god), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The exterior walls are decorated with various Shaman paintings, and like the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, the paintings inside of this hall of Dokseong, San shin, and Chilseong are some of the best in all of Korea.

And to the right rear of the hall is a smaller sized shrine hall dedicated to only San shin (The Mountain god). Much like the hall that houses Dokseong and Chilseong, the painting of San shin is really second to none in all of Korea. The final shrine hall behind the main hall is to the far right. This shrine hall is called the Nahan-jeon Hall, and it’s dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul. The exterior walls of this hall are adorned with some beautiful renderings of the Palsang-do paintings about the Historical Buddha’s Life. Inside this hall is a gorgeous golden statue of Seokgamoni-bul that sits in the centre of a triad upon the altar. On either side of this triad sit statues of various depictions of the Nahan. And behind each one are more amazing paintings of the Nahan studying, teaching, and learning. Again, the paintings spread throughout the temple grounds at Songnimsa Temple are some of the best in all of Korea so keep a sharp eye open for them.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE:  If you’re not taking a taxi, Songnimsa Temple can be very difficult to get to.  You can get on bus #427 to Dongmyeong/Giseong-dong at the Daegu Bukbu Bus Stop and get off at Giseong-ri.  From there, you can walk to Songnimsa Temple.

View 송림사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10.  For the difficulty in finding and getting to the temple, Songmisa Temple rates a little lower than other temples in the Daegu area. But for how horrific (in a complimentary fashion) the Judgment Hall is, and the other amazing paintings at this temple, the struggle to get to the temple is well worth it.  Add to it the five-tier stone pagoda and the largest wooden Buddha in all of Korea, and you’ll realize why this temple is so highly rated by yours truly.

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The Iljumun Gate as you first approach the temple from the road.
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The under construction hall as you first enter the temple grounds with a look at the bell pavilion off in the distance.
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The hall that houses perhaps the most common triad in all of Korea.
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The popular triad inside the hall. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) with Jijang-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal on either side. And surrounding all three are miniatures of the aforementioned Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
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The beautiful source of water to the temple.
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And finally, a view of the main courtyard at Songnimsa Temple with the main hall on the left and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall on the right with the ancient pagoda out in front of the two.
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A better look at the black bricked pagoda that dates back to the 9th century at Songnimsa Temple.
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A look at the amazing Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Songnimsa Temple.
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A look inside the hall with, what looks to be, Gwanseeum-bosal in the centre of a very busy altar.
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Just one of the amazingly grotesque punishment paintings that adorns the exterior walls of the Judgment Hall at the temple.
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In this one, if you look close enough into the mirror, you can see the reason why this forsaken soul is being punished.
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But in the middle of all this damnation is a painting of the serene Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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Yet another one of the brilliant paintings.
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And one more of the amazing renderings. The set is perhaps the best in all of Korea.
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A better look at the main hall at Songnimsa Temple.
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Just one of the beautiful Ox-Herding murals that adorns the main hall.
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Supposedly, the largest wooden statue of Buddha in Korea takes up residence inside the main hall at this temple.
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To the right rear of the main hall are these two shrine halls. The first is the diminutive hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain god), and to the right is the Nahan-jeon Hall dedicated to the Historical Buddha’s disciples.
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Just one of the Palsang-do paintings about the Historical Buddha’s Life that adorns the exterior of the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The beautiful altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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A row of Nahan statues with another one of the beautiful paintings at Songnimsa Temple.
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The shrine hall to the left rear of the main hall. This shrine hall houses three of the most popular Shaman gods in Korea: Dokseong, Chilseong, and San shin.
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One of the most beautiful paintings of Dokseong in all of Korea.
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And a gorgeous rendering of San shin, as well.

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