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.