Updated: Hwaeomsa Temple – 화엄사 (Gurye, Jeollanam-do)

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The beautiful Three-Story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions at Hwaeomsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hwaeomsa Temple, which means “Flower Garland Sutra,” in English, was first founded by Yeon-gi Josa in 544 C.E. The temple was continuously expanded until its total destruction during the Imjin War of 1592. Fortunately for us, it was rebuilt three decades later. And today, it’s one of Korea’s largest and most well respected temples. In total, the temple houses four national treasures.

You first make your way up to the temple along the Hwaeomsa Temple Valley, which neighbours the stunning Masan River. When you finally do arrive at the temple, you’ll be greeted by the two-pillared Bulimun Gate. Stepping through this gate, you’ll next be greeted by Geumgangmun Gate and the Cheonwangmun Gate. Both typify the splendour of these Korean entry gates.

After skirting the Boje-ru Pavilion to the right, you’ll finally enter the temple courtyard. To the far left stand both the Jong-gak, bell pavilion, that has fierce lions surrounding all four corners of the pavilion. It’s joined to the left by the Yeongsan-jeon, which houses eight stunning murals dedicated to the Buddha’s life. In this courtyard, and just before you mount the stares that lead up to the main hall, are two ancient pagodas: Seo-ocheung Pagoda (west-five-story pagoda) and Dongocheung Pagoda (east-five-story pagoda).

Finally climbing the stairs, you’ll come face to face with the main hall at Hwaeomsa Temple, the Daeung-jeon. The weather-worn main hall houses a large triad of statues on the main altar. In the centre sits Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He is joined on either side by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) to the left and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha) to the right. These three Buddhas form the different incarnations of the Buddha. The interior to this hall, including the canopy that hangs above the triad of statues on the main altar, is highly elaborate in both its colour and craftsmanship.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon, which houses a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Jijang-bosal is accompanied by ten seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as masterful representations of these kings in painted form. To the left of the main hall, and between the Daeung-jeon and the massive Gakhwang-jeon, are the Wontong-jeon and the Nahan-jeon. The Wontong-jeon houses Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The Nahan-jeon houses both paintings and statues dedicated to the Historical Disciples of the Buddha (The Nahan). And the final shrine hall of the set is the Samseong-gak, which displays a collection of shaman murals dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

But it’s the Gakhwang-jeon hall that truly stands out architecturally at Hwaeomsa Temple. The two-storied hall dates back to 1699, and it’s one of the largest historic halls in all of Korea. Housed inside this cavernous hall are a set of seven statues along the main hall. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside this hall. The massive 6.4 metre tall stone lantern out in front of this hall is designated National Treasure #12.

Another highlight to this temple lies just to the left of the Gakhwang-jeon hall and up a steep set 108 uneven stairs on the hillside. At the top of these stairs lays the Sasaja Samcheung (or the Three-Story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions, in English). This most magnificent, and highly original, pagoda is designated National Treasure #35 for very obvious reasons. The five metre tall granite pagoda has three-tiers on top and four lion-shaped supports at its base. Each lion represents the four primary human emotions: love, sorrow, anger, and joy. At the centre of these lions stands a human figure with hands held to his chest. There are numerous other designs etched onto this pagoda, so take your time and enjoy the intricacies of this pagoda. And just in front of this pagoda is the equally unique stone lantern with a squatting figure at the centre of its base. Some have suggested that this is the founder of the temple kneeling in obedience to his mother.

Admission to the temple is 3,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Gurye Bus Terminal, you can take a direct bus bound for Hwaeomsa Temple. This bus leaves every ten to twenty minutes, and the first bus leaves at 8 a.m. The final bus to the temple leaves at 8:10 p.m. From where the bus lets you off, it’s another 15 to 20 minutes to Hwaeomsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10.  For its historical significance alone, Hwaeomsa Temple rates highly amongst Korean temples. But if you add the giant splendor that is Gakhwang-jeon, and the temple rates that much higher. And to top it all off, on the hill stands two of the most uniquely designed pagodas and lanterns in all of Korea.  So if you couldn’t tell already, I highly, highly recommend a visit to Hwaeomsa Temple for both its cultural significance and artistic beauty!

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Part of the Hwaeomsa Temple Valley.
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The beautiful mountains that surround Hwaeomsa Temple.
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The Bulimun Gate that first welcomes you to the temple.
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A look inside the Geumgangmun Gate.
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 A look towards the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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A look inside the Cheonwangmun Gate at just one of the Heavenly Kings.
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Both the Jong-gak and Boje-ru Pavilion.
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A look towards the main hall and the Nahan-jeon.
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Inside the Daeung-jeon during morning prayers.
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The elaborate interior to the Myeongbu-jeon.
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A look at the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon.
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The Chilseong mural inside the Samseong-gak.
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And a look at Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), as well, inside the Samseong-gak.
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A look towards the massive, and historic, Gakhwang-jeon.
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The massive 6.4 metre tall stone lantern that is National Treasure #12.
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A look inside the cavernous Gakhwang-jeon.
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One more look before climbing the 108 stairs.
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The awe-inspiring Three-story Stone Pagoda with Four Lions.
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A closer look inside the base of the pagoda.
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And finally, playful tiling adorning the roof of the monks’ living quarters.

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