A view of the Nahan-jeon through the twisted red pines at Jeongchwiam Hermitage in Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Recently I checked out a few temples online that I would like to explore, and one of those temples near the top of the list was Jeongchwiam Hermitage on the outskirts of Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do. So with a full tank of gas, and a really early morning wake-up call, I headed out to the western part of Gyeongnam Province.
Shrouded in a veil of fog, and twisting and turning up a winding road, I finally arrived along the outskirts of the diminutive Jeongchwiam Hermitage (정취암). Jeongchwiam Hermitage was first established in 686 A.D. by the great master Uisang-daesa, which was during the reign of King Shinmun. And it rests on the slopes of Mt. Daeseongsan just north of Jirisan National Park.
Clouded in a haze of fog, I was first greeted at the temple by a white puppy. He was extremely playful and followed me all around the hermitage grounds. Occasionally, he would nibble at my feet and he even followed me into the main hall. He was a nice little companion to have throughout the temple grounds on a rainy and foggy day.
Approaching the temple grounds, besides the white dog that might greet you at the entrance to Jeongchwiam Hermitage, you’ll first see the kitchen and visitors centre to your left as you approach the main hall. Next to the kitchen and the visitors’ centre is the smaller sized main hall. Wrapped around the main hall are the Palsang-do set of murals that are simple, yet, beautiful in their composition. As you enter the main hall, you’ll first be greeted by a fairly modest guardian mural. Sitting in the centre of the main altar is a single statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The smaller sized main altar statue sits on a red satin pillow and it’s made of wood. And while there is no clear sign of when it was created, it is Gyeongnam Province Material Treasure #314. To the left of this smaller sized golden statue is a mural of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This beautiful mural is fronted by a statue of the same Bodhisattva, Jijang-bosal. Of note, the ceiling of the main hall is beautifully decorated with pink and golden paper lotus lanterns.
To the right of the main hall is nothing more than the monks quarters; however, out in front of the main hall, on a fog-clear day, are some beautiful views of the mountainside. Between the hermitage’s kitchen and the main hall, as the dog led, are a set of stairs that lead to a set of upper courtyard shrines and shrine halls.
The first shrine to greet you, after you’ve ascended the set of stairs, is a stone sculpture dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal as well as a collection of Buddhist themed figurines left behind by hermitage visitors. To the left of this shrine is a hall dedicated to the Nahan (The Disciples of the Historical Buddha). Around the exterior of this hall are various landscape murals and murals dedicated to the Nahan. As for the interior of the Nahan-jeon, there’s a elegant statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting alone on the main altar. He’s surrounded by equally elegant statues of the various Nahan. And the Nahan statues are backed by two separate murals dedicated to the various Nahan.
To the right of the Gwanseeum-bosal stone statue shrine, and up a set of natural rock stairs, is the crown jewel, in my humble opinion, of Jeongchwiam Hermitage. Through the opening, and next to a beautifully twisted pair of red pines, is the San shin-gak/Samseong-gak. I know, it’s a bit of a strange name for the shaman shrine hall, but they are the names of the two name plates that hang above the entrance to the single hall. If you decide to enter this hall, you’ll be greeted by the Chilseong (The Seven Stars) mural to the left and the Dokseong (The Recluse) mural hanging on the far right wall. Slightly askew, and to the right, is a window that looks out onto a shrine dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit). On top of the mountain rests a striking statue dedicated to San shin; however, it’s the painting below it that makes this hermitage truly stand out. The painting, which is also dedicated to San shin, dates back to 1833; and while I know there are a handful of older paintings dedicated to San shin, this is the oldest mural of this shaman deity that I’ve seen in person. It truly is something to behold.
The other thing that you can enjoy from this shaman shrine hall are the scenic views of the valley below and the winding road that you drove up on to get to the hermitage.
Admission to the hermitage is free.
HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Habdong Bus Terminal in Sancheong. From this bus terminal, you’ll have to take a taxi to Jeongchwiam Hermitage. The ride should cost about 10,000 won and take around 25 minutes (or 12 kilometres in distance). Just make sure your taxi driver hangs around after dropping you off; otherwise, it might be a pretty long walk back to the terminal.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. The highlights to this temple is the golden wooden statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside the main hall, and for me personally, the San shin mural that dates back to 1833. However, the sheer location of the hermitage during a foggy day, the views, and the elegance of the Nahan-jeon make this hermitage a must if you’re in the western part of Gyeongnam Province.