Colonial Korea: Gwanryongsa Temple – 관룡사 (Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The early Joseon Dynasty era Yaksa-jeon Hall at Gwanryongsa Temple in 1933.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just south of the 753 metre peak of Mt. Gwanryongsan in the scenic city of Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do lies the historic Gwanryongsa Temple. The name of the temple harkens back to the famed monk, Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.). One day while Wonhyo-daesa was praying with one of his disciples, Songpa, during a one hundred day prayer session, they saw nine dragons appear from a neighbouring pond and soar up to the sky around the peaks of Mt. Hwawangsan. With this in mind, “Gwan” means “see” in Chinese characters, while “ryong” means “dragon.” So the name of the temple, Gwanryongsa Temple, literally means “See Dragon Temple,” in English.

While Gwanryongsa Temple was considered one of the eight most important temples of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.E to 935 A.D), the exact date of the temples creation is unknown; however, this hasn’t prevented scholars from speculating. One foundation myth states that Gwanryongsa Temple was first established in 349 A.D., while another states that the temple was first built in 583 A.D. by Jeungbeop-guksa.

In total, Gwanryongsa Temple houses six Korean Treasures. Of special note is the Yaksa-jeon Hall, which dates back to the early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the Stone Seated Buddha at Yongseondae Cliff that dates back to the Unified Silla Dynasty (668 A.D. to 935 A.D.), as well as the large mural of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the back side of the Daeung-jeon Hall’s main altar.


The Woneum-ru Pavilion from 1933.


The Daeung-jeon main hall in 1933.


Inside the Daeung-jeon main hall at Gwanryongsa Temple.


Another look around the interior of the Daeung-jeon main hall.


A look towards the large canopy that hangs over the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.


A look at the historic Yaksa-jeon Hall, which also just so happens to be Gwanryongsa Temple’s oldest building.


Another look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall in 1933.


The Woneum-ru Pavilion in 2012.


A scenic mountainside look at the Daeung-jeon Hall in 2012.


A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar’s colourful canopy.


The backside of the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall of Gwanseeum-bosal.


Approaching the Yaksa-jeon Hall.


A better look at the Yaksa-jeon Hall in 2012.

Gwanryongsa Temple – 관룡사 (Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The photogenic front facade of Gwanryongsa Temple in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do. 

Hello Again Everyone!!

As I continue to explore Gyeongsangnam-do Province, another city on the list was Changnyeong. While a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of larger cities in the area, Changnyeong certainly didn’t disappoint with its beauty.

Gwanryongsa Temple (관룡사) refers to Gwan, which means to “see” in Chinese characters, while ryong means “dragon.” This harkens back to when Wonhyo-daesa was praying on the neighbouring Mt. Hwawang with his 1,000 followers. On the last day of his 100 days of prayer, he saw nine dragons spring forth from wells and fly around the peaks of Mt. Hwawang. As a result, this temple is famous for being one of eight locations that Wonhyo preached Hwaemgyeong to his followers. Interestingly, the temple has two foundation stories. The first states that the temple was first built in 349. The other foundation story states that it was first built in 583 by Jeungbeopguksa.

As you pass the entrance gate to Hwawangsan Park, and make your way up through the gorgeous cherry blossoms, you’ll see a pair of granite guardian spirit poles in a farmer’s field. This set of guardian spirit poles date back to sometime during the Joseon Dynasty, and there are perhaps only about one hundred of these original guardian spirit poles still in existence. The one on the left is male, while the one on the right is female. They are both fiercely baring their canine teeth. The exact meaning behind their existence is unknown, there are at least three different theories that try to explain them. The first is that they were boundary markers for the Gwanryongsa Temple land, so that people wouldn’t hunt or fish on Buddhist land; the second states that they were meant to ward off evil spirits; while the third theory states that they were used to help counteract any possible geomantic weakness on the land. Whatever the reason that they were first built, keep a sharp eye open for these extremely rare, and original, granite guardian spirit poles.

Finally, having made your way up the beautiful cherry blossom road, you’ll be greeted by the beautiful face of the temple’s front facade. The most noticeable aspect of this front facade is the protruding bell pavilion that houses a nice looking bell and an ancient looking Dharma drum. To the right of this protruding bell pavilion is the stone entrance way; and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to watch your head. To the right of this entrance way, and greeting you to the temple, are four stele.

Having finally passed by all that Gwanryongsa Temple has to greet you with, you’ll pass through the Cheonwangmun entrance gate. Unfortunately, there’s no paintings or statues dedicated to these four Heavenly Kings. Passing through this gate, you’ll finally enter into the well populated temple courtyard. To your immediate right is the monks’ dorm, while straight ahead is an older looking meeting hall for monks. Between these two buildings is the temple’s main hall. The main hall is largely unadorned on the exterior, all but for some beautiful floral patterns up on the eaves of the hall, and it dates back to 1618 after the original main hall was burnt down to the ground during the Imjin War of 1592. However, this hall, framed by the neighbouring Hwawang mountain range, makes for a postcard-like picture. As for the interior of the main hall, and sitting on the main altar, is a central Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s flanked by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to his right and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to his left. This hall also has a beautiful floral ceiling that dates back at least a hundred years. On the far right wall is the main hall’s guardian painting. And on the far left wall is a painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined by a neighbouring, and equally older looking, mural of Amita-bul. But the most amazing feature of this hall is the 5 metre tall older looking painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on the wall behind the main altar. It is both highly original and amazing!

To the immediate left of the main hall is a compact Myeongbu-jeon hall dedicated to Jijang-bosal. He’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld, as well as by helpers and guardians. Uniquely, each of the Ten Kings individually have their Korean name written on paper next to each individual statue. Slightly in front of the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall, and to the left, is the Yaksa-jeon Hall dedicated to Yaksayore-bul. This building was the only hall not to be burnt to the ground by the Japanese during the Imjin War, and it is estimated to date back to the 15 century. The exterior is adorned with some gorgeously old floral patterns. Inside this hall is a statue of Yaksayore that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. And while the pedestal dates back to 772, the statue itself was made at a different date during the Goryeo Period. But with that being said, it’s estimated that it was also built some time during the 8th century. This hall is filled with beautiful scenes from nature, as well as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas filling the trim between the ceiling and the walls of this hall.

To the right of the main hall are three equally interesting buildings. Just behind the temple watering hole, is a hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). The painting of Yongwang, while stunning, is also one of the fiercest of this king that I’ve seen in Korea. And the painting of Chilseong is both beautiful and old. To the left of this shrine hall is an extremely compact shrine hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit) and Dokseong (The Recluse). The older looking painting of San shin is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen in Korea. The third and finally hall is the Nahan-jeon, which is dedicated to the disciples of Seokgamoni-bul. Much like the Myeongbu-jeon hall, all of the Nahan have their Korean names placed in front of each of their statues. And sitting on the altar is a statue of the past, present, and future Buddha and Bodhisattvas (Jaehwagara-bosal, Seokgamoni-bul, and Mireuk-bosal).

Surrounding the temple are some unique items. First, there are numerous stone stupas housing the remains of the prominent monks at the temple. And if you still have enough energy after seeing all that the temple has to offer, you can make your way up, and to the left of the temple compound, to Yongseon-dae. Sitting on this rock outcropping, roughly 500 metres up the mountainside, is a statue of Buddha from the Unified Silla period. It looks a bit like a lesser version of the same statue at Seokguram Hermitage in Gyeongju. The only difference between the two, besides craftsmanship, is that this statue is exposed to the elements non-stop.

HOW TO GET THERE: Depending on where you’re coming from, you can arrive at Gwanryongsa Temple in a couple ways. If you’re coming from Seoul, you can take a bus that leaves five times a day to Changnyeong. And if you’re leaving from Daegu, Busan, or Miryang, you can take a bus that heads to the city of Youngsan. The bus to Youngsan specifically says Youngsan-haeng (영산행) on it. During this bus ride to Youngsan, you’ll have to get off at Gyeseong. And from Gyeseong, you can either take a local bus or a taxi. Again, I would suggest a taxi after such a long bus ride. You simply have to tell the taxi driver “Gwanryongsa” and they’ll know the rest.

View 관룡사 in a larger map

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. Gwanryongsa Temple, if you couldn’t already tell, has a lot to offer the Korean temple adventurer. From the guardian spirit poles, to the 5 metre tall Gwanseeum-bosal mural in the main hall, to the 15th century Yaksa-jeon, to the 8th century stone statue of Yaksayore inside of this hall, to all the shaman paintings, and finally to the stone Buddha statue on the neighbouring cliff side, this temple has it all and so much more. While it’s a bit out of the way, it’s most definitely worth the effort to find this off-the-beaten-trail temple.

The beautiful cherry blossoms were in full bloom all along the road that leads up to the temple.
And next to the road is this neighbouring stream, mountains, and cherry blossoms.
The two guardian spirit poles that first greet you at Gwanryongsa Temple.
A better look at the male guardian spirit poles on the left.
A look up at the bell pavilion that protrudes forth from the front facade of Gwanryongsa Temple.
And the ancient looking Dharma drum that resides inside of the bell pavilion.
The stone archway that greets you to the temple grounds.
A beautiful look at the main hall and surrounding Hwawangsan mountains in the background.
And sitting on the altar is this triad of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. In the centre is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), and he’s flanked by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) to the right and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to the left.
The gorgeous Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) behind the main altar.
The Myeongbu-jeon hall to the left of the main hall.
Inside sits a stately Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the ten accompanying Kings of the Underworld.
The oldest building at the temple is the Yaksa-jeon. It dates back to the 15th century.
At the rear of this hall is this fading floral mural.
And inside of the Yaksa-jeon hall is a stone statue of Yaksyore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The statue dates back to the 8th century.
On the left side of the interior wall inside of the Yaksa-jeon is this older looking mural of a hummingbird.
A nice little picture of one of the dragon zodiac statue next to the watering hole at the temple.
The shrine hall dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
Without a doubt, the Yongwang mural is perhaps one of the fiercest and best looking in all of Korea.
The diminutive shaman shrine hall dedicated to San shin (The Mountain Spirit) on the left and Dokseong (The Recluse) on the right.
The San shin painting inside of this shrine hall is one of the more unique ones I’ve seen.
The altar inside of the Nahan-jeon hall with Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) in the centre. He’s flanked by Jaehwagara-bosal (The Past Bodhisattva) to his left and Mireuk-bosal (The Future Bodhisattva) to the right.
An older looking budo that dates back to the early Joseon Period (1392-1910).