Heng and Ha: The Twin Guardians of Korean Temples

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With mouth wide-open, the eloquently ferocious Ha welcomes visitors to Beopjangsa Temple in Gyeongju. He is one of two guardians that protect temples from evil spirits.

Hello Again Everyone!!

When you first enter a temple you’re either greeted by paintings or statues of the Four Heavenly King guardians, or just two guards painted on the front gate to the temple.  For the sake of this article, I’ll be writing about the two guards that are painted on the front of the temple’s gate. Later, I’ll write an article about the Four Heavenly King guardians. So why are the two guardians on the front gate? And who exactly are they?

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The little bit more worn, Heng, who keeps Ha company at Beopjangsa Temple in Gyeongju. He shoots powerful light rays from his flared nose.

Usually, if the temple is smaller in size, then the temple won’t have a gate designated for the Four Heavenly King guardians; instead, they will have two fearsome guardians painted on the exterior of the temple’s gate. Specifically, these guardians are deities that prevent evil spirits from entering the temple compound.

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The intricately painted Ha, who protects Nojeonam Hermitage from evil spirits using light rays that shoot forth from his mouth.

There doesn’t seem to be a Korean name for these two guardians; however, in China, these two guardians are called Heng and Ha. They have the power to use deadly rays of light. One of the guardians shoots these deadly rays of light from his nostrils; and while he does this, it makes the sound “heng.” The other shoots rays from his mouth, and the sound that he makes is “ha.” And that’s where the two get there names: Heng and Ha. However, not only do these two gods protect the physical world of the temple, but they also protect wisdom over ignorance.

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And to Ha’s left is the equally ferocious Heng at Nojeonam Hermitage.

One great example of these twin guardians is at the small temple called Nojeonam Hermitage in Yangsan, in Gyeongsangnam-do, nestled under the slopes of Cheonseosan Mountain. As you first enter through the first gate you’ll encounter the ferocious Ha on the right gate with his mouth wide open, and on the left you’ll see Heng with his nostrils fiercely flared! Two other great examples of Heng and Ha are at the Gyeongju Temple called Beopjangsa Temple.  Again, Ha is on the right, and Heng is on the left.There is very little else to see at this temple other than the twin guardians adorning the gates.  However, if you do have time on your way to Anapji Park in downtown Gyeongju, I think these twin guardians are two of the better examples of the guardians all throughout Korea. Another pair of great examples of Heng and Ha are the two painted on the Heavenly Kings Gate at Haeinsa Temple.  Even though the two are fading, they are just as beautiful as ever. And finally, there is a beautiful compact pairing of Heng and Ha at Bulguksa Temple beside the bell pavilion in Gyeongju.

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The ever fierce, but fading, Ha, at Haeinsa Temple.

So the next time you visit a smaller sized temple, and you see these two ferocious guards, you’ll know that they’re the powerful Heng and Ha, and they’re there to protect you from any evil spirits that might be floating around the neighbourhood.

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Heng is to the left with his nostrils in a full death flare.

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The ferocious pair of Heng (right) and Ha (left) by the bell pavilion at Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju.

2 thoughts on “Heng and Ha: The Twin Guardians of Korean Temples

  1. Excellent website mate. Making our second trip to Korea tomorrow and thanks to your Temple reviews, my wife will have her Buddha fix with ease!

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