The temple courtyard that houses the Gunwi Grotto in Gunwi, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
You first approach the temple grounds from the left (south). You’ll be welcomed by an intimidatingly large sized visitors’ and study centre that seemed unused and unoccupied after crossing a bridge with a small stream that runs under the bridge. Just to the right, and behind a shrine hall that you can’t enter, are both the temple’s bell pavilion and a biseok dedicated to a deceased monk from the temple. Further behind these structures are the long monks’ quarters that are strictly off-limits.
Just a little further right, once more, and you’ll come to another biseok, as well as a statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) that sits in front of a shallow artificial pond. The statue of this Buddha is well preserved considering it dates back to the 9th century.
Just past the bamboo grove that surrounds the statue of Birojana-bul is the main temple courtyard. Immediately, you’ll notice the hole in the sheer mountain face that houses the triad of Buddhist statues. This grotto, the Gunwi Grotto, predates the much more famous Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju by 100 years. The cave hovers twenty metres above the ground. And the dimensions of the naturally occurring cave measure 4.25 metres by 4.3 metres. Inside this cave are three statues. In the centre sits Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in a lotus posture. He’s joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Unfortunately, you can’t climb the stairs to get a closer look at these amazing statues; however, you can still get a pretty good look at them from a relatively close distance. The Gunwi Grotto is National Treasure #109.
Just before this grotto, and to the left, is the temple’s main hall. Out in front of the hall are a pair of statues of a child-like Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Surrounding the exterior walls of this hall are some masterful Shimu-do, Ox-Herding, murals. Inside this hall, and resting in the centre of the main altar is a statue of Birojana-bul. On the far left wall of the main hall is the guardian mural, and the interior walls to this hall are lined with paintings of various Bodhisattvas like Gwanseeum-bosal, Munsu-bosal, and Bohyun-bosal.
Out in front of the main hall, as you make your way towards the Samseong-gak that rests behind the main hall on the mountain, is one of the more peculiar pagodas that you’ll see in Korea. It’s a one story pagoda made of white bricks that dates back to Unified Silla Period (668 A.D. – 935 A.D.). As for the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, it rests precariously on the face of the mountain. Inside, there are three rather ordinary-looking paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to the Gunwi Grotto, you’ll need to get a bus from the Gunwi Bus Terminal that heads towards Mt. Palgongsan. Just make sure with the bus driver that the bus crosses path with the grotto. Buses from the terminal start at 8:25 a.m. in the morning and run throughout the day until 7:10 p.m.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. This temple is a bit of a tough one to rate. It doesn’t have many temple halls, but what it does have is pretty good. Add into the mix the grotto, and Gunwi Grotto becomes pretty special. But the difficulty of getting to this temple takes a bit away from its overall rating. Either way, if you have an opportunity to see the Gunwi Grotto, I recommend you make the trip, especially if you’re in or visiting the Daegu area.
The stream that flows next to the temple grounds.
The massive study hall at Gunwi Grotto.
One of the biseok that welcomes you to the temple grounds.
The bell pavilion that’s well hidden in front of the monks’ dorms.
The ancient statue of Birojana-bul at Gunwi Grotto.
The beautiful main hall at Gunwi Grotto.
A statue of Munsu-bosal beneath a pine tree.
One of the masterful Shimu-do murals that’s painted on the main hall’s walls.
The triad of statues that take up residence on the main altar inside the main hall.
The wooden guardian relief inside the main hall.
The strange looking one-tier white brick pagoda in the temple courtyard.
A look up at the naturally occurring grotto.
A closer look at the triad of ancient statues housed inside the Gunwi Grotto.
A look up at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at the temple.
The paintings inside Samseong-gak.