Sinheungsa Temple – 신흥사 (Buk-gu, Ulsan)

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Inside the main hall at Sinheungsa Temple in Ulsan.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Sinheungsa Temple was formally known as Geonheungsa Temple. It was founded in 635 A.D. by Monk Myeongrang. According to temple records, the temple helped train 100 warrior monks in 678 A.D. It was also central to the defence of Korea against the invading Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-1598). And when Ulsan fell to the Japanese, it sent 300 bags of rice and warrior monks, led by Monk Jiun, to help the Korean forces. Unfortunately, and like a lot of other famous temples and hermitages throughout Korea, it was reduced to ash. Fortunately for us, however, it was rebuilt by Yi Geup, a military commander, in 1646. It was also at this time that the temple changed its name to the name that it is now known as: Sinheungsa Temple.

You first approach Sinheungsa Temple down a very long and winding road. And if you visit during the summer months, you’ll see a lot of Korean campers taking up residence near the valley and river that flows through it.

Up a tall set of stairs, and past an ancient and towering tree, you’ll finally make your way to the front of the Cheongwangmun Gate, which also acts as an open-air pavilion on the second floor. As you pass through the entrance, you’ll be welcomed by four atypically painted murals of the Four Heavenly Kings. After being greeted by these four celestial beings, you’ll make your way out of the tunnel gate, and out into the temple courtyard. To the far right is the monks’ quarters. And next to this residence is a spring for which Sinheungsa is famous. And to the far left is an administrative office.

Straight ahead is the large sized main hall. This is a newer main hall that was constructed in 1998 to replace the old one. Around the exterior walls to this main hall are various murals dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples to the Historical Buddha). As for the interior walls, they are adorned with various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And on the far right wall is an amazing guardian wood-relief carving. It’s populated with numerous shaman deities and Dongjin-bosal (The Guardian of the Buddha’s Teachings) in the centre. As for the main altar itself, it’s occupied with a triad of atypically rendered statues with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. The main altar is backed by an equally amazing wood-relief of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Additionally, there is a massive red canopy that frames the entire altar.

To the left of the main hall is the compact Nahan-jeon Hall. This hall is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it use to be the main hall at the temple until the new one was built. This hall dates back to the late-Joseon Period. Out in front of this hall is a three-tier pagoda with large sized pebbles placed on it by travellers  As for the interior of this hall, and another interesting aspect to this hall, are the white rock statues of the various Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha) that sit on the long main altar. Eerily striking a pose, they surround a triad of statues that sit at the centre of the main altar. In the centre is a white-clad Seokgamoni-bul. The final interesting aspect to this hall are the fading murals that adorn the entire interior to this hall from the floral patterns, to Nahan, to dragon heads. This interior has it all.

Finally, the last shrine hall at this temple is the Samseong-gak shrine hall dedicated to shaman deities. It’s up a long, overgrown, set of stairs. Strangely, there was a can of mosquito spray inside one of the stone lanterns just outside the shrine hall. As you enter the shrine hall, you’ll be greeted by some more beautiful etched wood-reliefs of the three most popular Korean shaman deities: San shin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Recluse). All three are masterfully designed and colourfully painted.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Sinheungsa Temple in Ulsan, you’ll first have to get to the Hogye train station in northern Ulsan. From this train station, you’ll then have to take a taxi for twenty minutes until you arrive at the temple. The taxi ride covers 8.7 kilometres, and it’ll cost you 7500 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 6/10. While not the most impressive temple in Ulsan, there are some definite highlights to this ancient temple like the altar and the guardian etching inside the main hall. In addition, the Nahan-jeon Hall is a must see. Finally, the wood-etchings inside the Samseong-gak are inspiring.

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The long and steep set of stairs that lead up to the temple courtyard.
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The two-storied Cheonwangmun entrance gate.
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Inside of the gate are these murals that depict the Heavenly Kings (Cheonwang).
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On the second floor of the Cheonwangmun is this mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
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The main hall as you exit the Cheonwangmun Gate.
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The elaborate altar inside the main hall.
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The stunning guardian wood-etching.
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And one more look back at the main altar.
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To the left of the new main hall is the former main hall. Now, it stands as the Nahan-jeon Hall.
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The altar inside of the Nahan-jeon Hall with a white Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) at the centre.
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To the left and right of the main altar are these highly unique white stone sculptures of the various Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha).
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The over-grown path that leads up to the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.
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The view of the neighbouring valley and the temple buildings.
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The altar inside of the Samseong-gak with Chilseong (The Seven Stars) in the centre and San shin (The Mountain Spirit) to the left and Dokseong (The Recluse) to the right.
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A better look at the wood carving of Dokseong.
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And finally, after a long hot day, it was time to head home.

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