The amazingly decorative main hall at Yongmunsa Temple in Namhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Another temple I had long wanted to visit in the Namhae area was Yongmunsa Temple. And the wait was well worth it to this ancient temple.
Yongmunsa Temple (용문사), which means Dragon Gate Temple in English, was first built by Wonhyo-daesa in a round-about-way. While the exact date of the temple’s creation is unknown, there is a lot about it that we do know. First, it’s believed that Wonhyo-daesa built Bogwangsa Temple on Mt. Geumsan during the Silla Period. This temple was later moved to its present location on Mt. Hogusan and renamed Yongmunsa Temple. Yongmunsa Temple was burnt to the ground, like a lot of famous temples of its time, during the Imjin War from 1592 to 1598. Monks from this temple served to defend Korea from the invading Japanese, and as a result, it’s been designated a temple of national defence and preserved by the present Korean government.
Down a long road that roams through houses and fields, you’ll come to the first sign of the temple: two guardian spirit poles. While these two guardian spirit poles are new in design, they are excellently executed with playful and devilish looks. Further up the road, you’ll finally arrive at the temple. To the far right is the temple parking lot, which also houses a large, and newly built, shrine to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
If you continue to walk straight, you’ll cross a beautiful bridge, and then enter one of the older Cheonwang-muns in all of Korea. And while the Four Heavenly Kings inside the hall have seen better days, as made evident by one of the kings dropping their lute and another dropping their staff, these subtleties point to the impertinence of time that is so central to the Buddhist faith.
Around the corner of the large conference hall, you’ll enter the temple courtyard. The temple grounds are well maintained. When you first enter, and to your immediate right, are the monks’ dorms. And across the courtyard, and straight ahead, are the monks’ facilities like the temple kitchen and dining area. To the right of that building, and in a row, is another off-limit building. And to the left, and in a bit of a secluded courtyard, is the temple’s bell pavilion. Interestingly, the rawhide drum has been struck so many times that the leather surface has a hole in it.
The crowning achievement to Yongmunsa Temple, by far, is the main hall. The exterior paintings that surround the hall are simplistic Shimu-do murals. And up in the eaves are some of the best examples of wooden dragon heads in all of Korea. They are large, colourful, and masterfully executed. As for the interior of the main hall, the ceiling decorations are reminiscent of the main hall at Eunhaesa in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. There are various creatures like dragons suspended from the ceiling. As for the main altar itself, it’s occupied by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre. He’s flanked by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva that is the Power and Wisdom of Amita). To the far right is a beautiful mural that dates back to 1897, and it depicts the Vulture Peak Assembly. To the far left is a guardian mural that also dates back to 1897. These are two of the oldest murals of these types that I’ve seen inside a temple hall and not inside a museum. Amazing stuff!
To the right of the main hall is a Myeongbu-jeon that dates back to 1662. Sitting on the main altar is a green haired Jijang-bosal, who is perched on a red silk pillow adorned with numerous dragon heads. Jijang-bosal is surrounded by ten large statues, both seated and standing, of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Interestingly, and a bit hidden away around the corner of the Myeongbu-jeon, is a courtyard and tiny shrine hall that houses the Stone Buddha of Yongmunsa statue. This white crowned statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) dates back to Goryeo Period (918-1392) and was buried in the ground to protect it from destruction at the hands of the Japanese during the invading Imjin War from 1592 to 1598.
To the far left of the main hall, and up the embankment, are two buildings. The first is the Nahan-jeon which houses the 16 disciples of the Historical Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul, as well as the past, present, and future Buddha that sit as a triad on the main altar. Another interesting aspect to this temple is the second hall in the upper courtyard: The Chilseong-gak. Inside of this hall are not just one, but three Chilseong (The Seven Stars) paintings. All three are old in age, and masterful in design. To the left of these three paintings is the San shin (The Mountain Spirit) painting, and to the far right is the Dokseong (The Recluse) painting. All five paintings have seen better days, but are still as beautiful as ever.
HOW TO GET THERE: If you’re traveling from anywhere outside of Namhae, you will first have to travel to the Namhae Intercity Bus Terminal. From this large sized terminal, you can then catch a taxi to Yongmunsa Temple. The distance is 13.8 km and it takes about 25 minutes. The total cost of the taxi ride should be between 10,000 to 15,000 won.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. The rarity of a lot of what this temple houses allows it to rate as highly as it does. Some of the highlights, at least in hall form, are the Cheonwangmun, the Myeongbu-jeon, and especially the main hall. Added to it are the rare murals inside of the main hall and the Chilseong-gak, as well as the ancient statue of Mireuk-bul, and this temple is a must see if you’re in the Namhae area of Gyeongsangnam-do.