Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The famous female Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) that resides at Daewonsa Temple in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

 Hello Again Everyone!!

Having seen the other major temples in the Jirisan National Park area; namely, Hwaeomsa Temple and Ssangyesa Temple, the last remaining major temple I had yet to see was Daewonsa Temple along the eastern borders of Jirisan National Park. And fortunately for me, I was able to remedy this over my summer vacation.

Daewonsa Temple (대원사) dates back to 548 A.D., when it was first constructed by Monk Yeongi. During the years, it’s been burnt to the ground a couple times. The first time, like a lot of temples in Korea, was during the Imjin War from 1592-98. The second fire occurred in 1948 during the Yeosu and Suncheon Revolt. Eventually, it was rebuilt in 1955 by Monk Beobil. Now, next to Unmunsa Temple, Sudeoksa Temple, and Seoknamsa Temple, it’s one of the major convents for nuns in Korea.

The road that leads up to Daewonsa Temple is one of the most picturesque that you’ll find at any Buddhist temple in Korea with the wandering and cascading stream that flows all the way up to the temple. Interestingly, it’s said that sometime in the past that a dragon resided in this stream for one hundred years. You’ll finally arrive at the temple and be greeted by a large front facade.

Walking up a wide set of stairs, you’ll be greeted by a twin pair of lions just before you enter the entrance gate at Daewonsa Temple. This appears to have once been where the Cheonwang (The Heavenly Kings) resided, but now it’s the temple’s gift shop. As for the second floor of this two storied structure, it’s the temple’s conference area. To the right of this entrance gate is a compact, yet colourfully painted, bell pavilion. As you pass through this gate, but before you enter the temple courtyard, look at the gate’s door handles. These bronze door handles are extremely refined and masterfully executed.

Finally standing in the temple courtyard, you’ll see a multitude of temple buildings. To your immediate right are the nuns’ dorms. And to your immediate left is the temple kitchen, halls, and whatever else a nun in Korea might need. Straight ahead is the large sized main hall that rests on an elevated terrace above you. Sitting on the main altar is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the left wall, inside this colourfully painted main hall, are two murals. The first, on the far left, is the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural and on the right is the Dokseong (The Recluse) mural. And on the right side of the main hall is an extremely simplistic guardian mural, which seems to be in stark contrast to the rest of the splendour inside of this hall. And on the back side of the main hall is a stunning red mural with Seokgamoni-bul sitting in the centre of this well populated mural. Surrounding the exterior walls of the main hall are quickly fading Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.

To the right of this hall is a vacant lot where the former Samseong-gak stood. Up the embankment, and unfortunately off-limits to the general public, is a nine-tier pagoda that dates back to the origins of the temple.

To the left of the main hall is the Gwaneum-jeon. This hall is beautifully adorned with various murals, including a white-clad Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) wrapped around its exterior walls. As for the main altar inside this hall, is a serenely seated statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. She sits inside a semi-enclosed altar with a white shrouded mural of herself at her back. To the left is a much more beautiful guardian mural than the one that sits inside the main hall. And behind the altar, and accessible through a backdoor entrance, is a multi-armed and eyed mural of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Next to the Gwaneum-jeon are two more buildings off-limits to the general public. The first is a teaching hall for the novice nuns at the temple and the other is the temple stay building at Daewonsa Temple. The final shrine hall on the lower courtyard is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Sitting on the main altar is a green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) with a golden staff in his hands. And he’s joined in this colourful, yet compact hall, by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

One of the true highlights to this temple sits on the upper terrace of the temple. As though it’s crowning the temple heights, and just before the temple fades away into the neighbouring forest, is the San shin-gak. What’s truly unique about this shaman shrine hall, and like a couple other temples in the Mt. Jirisan area, is that Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) is female. Sitting in front of the San shin mural is a female Sanshin statue with a white tiger at her side. As for the mural itself, the female San shin looks graceful in her appearance.

Admission to the temple is free.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Busan, you can get a bus from the Seoubu Bus Terminal in Sasang, subway stop #227, directly to Daewonsa Temple. This bus only leaves once a day at 2:10 p.m., and the ride lasts three and a half hours. This bus costs 12,300 won. This will get you to the temple rather late, so you’d probably have to stay the night and explore it the following day. Another way you can get to Daewonsa Temple, which won’t take you two days to travel and explore, is by travelling to Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal from the Seobu Bus Terminal in Busan. The first bus from Busan departs at 5:40 a.m., and they leave every 15 to 20 minutes afterwards until 8:30 p.m. The bus ride takes you about 90 minutes, and it costs 7,300 won one way. From the Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll then have to catch a connecting bus to Daewonsa Temple. The bus to Daewonsa Temple leaves every hour, and it runs from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. In total, the bus ride from Jinju to Daewonsa Temple lasts about 70 to 80 minutes (depending on traffic). The trip, one way, should cost you about 5,000 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Daewonsa Temple is an active nunnery with a large population of nuns, so be on your best behaviour. In saying that, the definitive highlight to this temple is the female San shin that sits inside the San shin-gak. The other highlights are the nine-tier pagoda and the murals that reside inside both the main hall and the Gwaneum-jeon. Make sure you take your time and have a look around the main altars to see a pair of beautiful, and large sized, murals in both the main hall and the Gwaneum-jeon Hall, respectively.

The entrance gate/giftshop/conference hall at Daewonsa Temple.
The beautiful main hall at the temple.
Just one from the collection of paintings from the Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals.
A rather unique dragon’s head adorning the main hall walls.
The altar inside the main hall. Sitting in the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is flanked by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).
The Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural inside the main hall.
The painting on the backside of the main altar. Have a look because it’s rather impressive.
A look across the front of the main hall at all the neighbouring shrine halls.
The beautiful pink tree that was in bloom in front of the neighbouring nuns’ quarters.
 A look inside the Gwaneeum-jeon Hall at the main altar. Inside is this rather impressive main altar with a stunning painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).
To the left of the main altar is this equally stunning guardian mural.
Once more, there’s this amazing mural behind the main altar inside the Gwaneeum-jeon of the multi-armed and headed Gwanseeum-bosal.
Adorning the exterior walls of the Gwaneeum-jeon is this white-clad painting of Gwanseeum-bosal.
A look at the Myeonbu-jeon Judgment Hall at the temple.
The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Judgment Hall.
Some of the off-limit buildings at the temple strictly for the nuns practicing at the temple.
The view from the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
A look up at the very unique San shin-gak.
A look inside the San shin-gak at the female statue and painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit).
A closer look at the female San shin’s face.
The beautiful view of the temple grounds from the San shin-gak with the ancient nine-tier pagoda in the centre of it all.
A rose was in bloom, so I thought I would play a bit with the camera.

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