Just one of the mid 17th century painting from inside Daegwangjeon Hall at Sinheungsa Temple.
Hello Again Everyone!!
My wife and I have been to most of the major temples in and around Yangsan; however there was one temple we had yet to visit. So yesterday, we headed off to Sinheungsa Temple (not to be confused with the one near Sokcho in Gangwon-do).
Sinheungsa Temple (신흥사) means “New Enjoyment” Temple. And like all Korean temples, Sinheungsa Temple has a great story about why and how it was first built. According to legend, King Suro, the first king of the Gaya Confederation, was praying at the temple when he was advised that there was a poisonous dragon in a neighbouring jade pond. He was instructed to drive out this poisonous dragon from the countryside. So praying in earnest, the temple building stones turned to fish and drove the dragon out of the countryside and into the East Sea. That’s why now, if you knock on a stone in Sinheungsa Temple, it sounds like metal. I told you it was great!
Sinheungsa Temple can be approached up an unevenly paved country road. About a 500 metre walk off the main road will bring you to the first gate at the temple. The gate is elaborately painted and is a good indication of what awaits you just up the road. Continuing up the road, and beside the neighbouring stream, you’ll cross over a bridge decorated with a head and body of a dragon. Tying into the creation of the temple, the dragon motif is strong at this temple. Across this bridge, you’ll first notice the visitor’s centre and walled-off compound. Behind these walls are the temple grounds. The entrance gate with the four heavenly kings is to your right. But don’t rush getting inside, because outside the walls there is plenty to see, like the beautiful stream and bridges. Interestingly, just outside the beautifully adorned second gate, is a pagoda with stones piled on top of it. Through the gateway, and past the four elaborately seated kings, is a beautiful view of the historic treasure: Daegwang-jeon Hall (“Great Light Hall”). Daegwang-jeon Hall is the main hall at the temple. The construction of the temple dates back to 1657. Outside, the temple building is a well-worn brown with the beautiful exterior paintings having been washed away. However, inside the hall, there are uniquely painted pictures of the Buddha, Guardian Spirits, and floral patterns. These paintings date back to the mid-17th century.
This is the centerpiece to the temple, but there are numerous other buildings that are equally beautiful in their design. When you initially walk into the temple grounds, you’ll notice the bell pavilion to your immediate left. This bell pavilion, like the bridge you first crossed over when entering the temple, is ornately decorated with dragons both inside and outside the building’s structure. Beside the bell pavilion is the temple’s Buddhist University. Plainly painted, there is an interesting painting of two scholars playing Baduk (Korean checkers). And up the hill, to the left of the main hall, is the shrine dedicated to the mountain god, San Shin. There are some beautiful views of the neighbouring valley, and a great view of the temple complex. Strangely, to the immediate right of the main hall, is a mini-compound. At first, it almost looked like another dorm for the monks, but looks can be deceiving. With a newly built, yet to be painted, temple building with its back to you, head through the corridor to the left. As you enter though this corridor, you’ll first encounter a hall dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).Like the entire temple, this hall has beautiful paintings decorating it both on the inside and outside of it. To the right of this hall, is the Judgment Hall. This building has four paintings that scarily depict what awaits the life of a sinner. Next to Songnimsa Temple in Daegu, Sinheungsa Temple has the scariest paintings detailing the afterlife for those that have sinned. Inside the Judgment Hall are some of the most unique paintings I have seen at any temple in Korea. These paintings are so unique that I’ve never seen ones coming close to them.
HOW TO GET THERE: Outside of owning a car, or paying a huge amount to a taxi driver, Sinheungsa Temple is nearly impossible to get to. But if there’s a will there’s a way. To get to Sinheungsa Temple follow Local Road Number 1022 for 24 kilometres outside of Yangsan. And then from there, follow the Wondong/Yongpo-ri for another 5 kilometres. Good luck, and happy hunting! For more information check out Yangsan city website.
View 신흥사 in a larger map
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. I was expecting something small, like Garamsa Temple, but Sinheungsa Temple was a very pleasant surprise. Housing some 10 temple buildings that are all beautifully and elaborately decorated, Sinheungsa Temple rates as one of the best temples I have visited for their temple painting, such as the Judgment Hall, the San Shin shrine hall, the bell pavilion, and the second gate. Added to this is the historically and architecturally important Daegwang-jeon Hall, and you have a temple that is well worth the effort to find.