Unheungsa Temple – 운흥사 (Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A look inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Unheungsa Temple in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do. The face of peace and love: Jijang-bosal. 

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Unheungsa Temple, in Goseong, Gyeongsangnam-do, is situated on the side of Mt. Waryongsan in a deep valley. It was first constructed in 676 A.D. by the famous monk, Uisang-daesa. It was also the base for the warrior monk, Samyeong, and his 6,000 monk soldiers during the Imjin War (1592-1598). A large portion of the temple was destroyed at this time. The temple was later rebuilt in 1651, and the main hall, the Daeung-jeon dates back to around this time when it was re-built in 1731. At the same time, the unique Yeongsan-jeon Hall was built, as well.

You’ll first approach Unheungsa Temple up a long valley road. This secluded road leads up to the secluded temple grounds. Presently, there is a bit of construction going on at the temple, with the front facade being renovated. Once you get past all this construction, and to the right, you’ll finally come to the compact temple courtyard.

The first building to greet you is the uniquely designed Yeongsan-jeon Hall that dates back to 1731. Presently, it seems as though this hall acts, in part, as the administrative offices to Unheungsa Temple. In addition to these duties, the hall also acts, yearly, as a place where ceremonies are held for deceased monks, as well as deceased warrior monks that fought in the Imjin War.

Once you make your way past this uniquely shaped hall, you’re instantly greeted by the large main hall at Unheungsa Temple. But before approaching the simple exterior of the Daeung-jeon, and to its immediate left, is a smaller sized hall that sits on an upper embankment. This hall is the Nahan-jeon Hall. Much like the main hall, the exterior walls of the Nahan-jeon Hall are only adorned with the Dancheong traditional paint designs. As for the interior, and sitting on the main hall, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). The altar triad are surrounded by the sixteen Nahan statues, who were the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul. While they are simple in design, they are still quite elegantly sculpted.

As for the main hall, and the real highlight to this temple, you’re in for a nice surprise once you enter it. When I visited, there was a memorial service taking place. At first, I wasn’t going to go in until one of the people attending the service invited me in. Sitting under a large ornamental canopy are three equally large statues. In the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined to the left by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), and to the right by Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine). To the left of this triad, and hanging on the wall, are three beautiful murals. The closest to the main altar is a replica of an ancient mural dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. Next to this painting is the Vulture Peak Assembly mural. The final painting in the set is the Shinjung Taenghwa guardian mural. To the right of the main altar, and perhaps the most interesting mural inside the main hall, is a funeral mural dedicated to the dead. Inside this mural, it shows the journey of the soul through the underworld. While I was there, a pair of nuns were chanting in front of it, as those attending the memorial service prayed in front of it. To the left of this unique mural is a newer, more vibrantly painted, mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This main hall is absolutely packed with both history and artistic beauty.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Much like the other halls at this temple, the exterior is only adorned with the Dancheong colours. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a solitary Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Uniquely, his hands strike a mudra, and are a void of either his customary staff or pearl. This cushioned statue is surrounded by ten large seated statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. And rather strikingly, the entrance door to this hall is protected by two fiercely carved guardian statues.

The only other hall at this temple is the Sanshin-gak. This hall is solely dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Inside this smaller sized hall, and hanging on the main altar, is a beautiful painting dedicated to this shaman deity.

For more on this temple, follow this link.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Unheungsa Temple from Busan, you’ll need to get to the Seobu Bus Terminal in Sasang, second subway line, stop #227. From here, you can purchase a ticket to Samcheonpo Intercity But Terminal. There are several buses that leave during the day, the first of which leaves at 6:00 a.m., and it should cost you 9,600 won. In total, the bus ride lasts two hours. From Samcheonpo, you can catch bus #30 to get to Unheungsa Temple. This bus goes directly to the temple. This bus says “Budu (부두) – Unheungsa (운흥사).” There is also the same numbered bus, #30, that reads  “부두-홀곡-운흥사”; this bus also goes to Unheungsa Temple, but it takes ten more minutes. In total, the direct bus #30 takes thirty minutes (and 16 stops), while the longer one will take forty minutes.

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OVERALL RATING: 7/10. This temple is ripe with both historical and artistic importance and beauty. Both the Yeongsan-jeon and the main hall date back to 1731, and the interior of the main hall is loaded with beautiful paintings including the unique funeral painting. Add to it the beautiful Sanshin painting and the large wooden carvings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld, and this extremely remote temple becomes a must for any temple adventurer.

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A look at the Yeongsan-jeon Hall, which is the first building to greet you at the temple.
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Next to it, and slightly up the embankment, is the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The main altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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Four, of the sixteen, Nahan statues inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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A look across the front facade of the main hall with the Myeongbu-jeon Hall off in the distance.
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The front doors, reserved for nuns only, at the main hall.
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The large main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
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The murals to the left of the main altar with a prayer mat in the foreground.
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One of the nuns residing over the memorial service in front of the underworld mural.
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The Sanshin-gak to the right of the main hall.
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All alone inside the Sanshin-gak sits this beautiful mural of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
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And book-ending the temple buildings is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
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Sitting on the main altar is this statue of Jijang-bosal.
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And he’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld. In this picture are just four of the ten large seated statues of the kings.

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