Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The dragon’s head at Daewonsa Temple in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Without a doubt, Daewonsa Temple in northern Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is one of the strangest and most unique temple’s you’ll visit in all of Korea. Located on the south side of Mt. Obongsan and just north of Chilpo Beach, you’ll find Daewonsa Temple.

You first approach the temple over the Chilpo Bridge and the stream that flows into the East Sea. Uniquely, Daewonsa Temple is divided into an upper and lower courtyard with the older portion of the temple in the lower courtyard. But it’s the snaking hundred metre long blue dragon that flows from the base of the temple up to its main hall heights that sets the temple apart. Approaching from the south, you can see the wide-open mouth of the dragon with a red exercise ball as the dragon’s tonsils. Across the bridge, and the pond that it spans, you’ll have to push your way past the dragon’s tonsils to enter the dragon. A little further ahead, you’ll find a door that gains you entrance to the temple’s lower main hall. As you enter the main hall, you’ll be welcomed by row upon row of various Buddhas. Next to these golden rows of Buddhas is a large shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Resting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). And to the right of the main altar is a simplistic guardian mural.

There are a couple other shrine halls in the lower courtyard like the Chilseong-gak, the bell pavilion, as well as the Sanshin-gak. But it’s in the Sanshin-gak that you’re in for the greatest surprise. Housed inside the shaman shrine hall is one of the most original murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). With a winged helmet, a mix of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin motifs, as well as Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal intermingling with donja (attendants), this style of painting is completely unheard of, so enjoy!

Back at the head of the dragon, and up a steep incline, is the temple’s upper main hall. Surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds, the upper main hall is adorned with the Zodiac generals around its exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the cavernous main hall, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined to the right and left by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And to the left and right of this triad, and resting on their own altar, are Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal. Adorning the remaining walls is a guardian mural and a Chilseong mural.

Just outside the upper courtyard’s main hall are a row of granite statues. Once more, the triad is centred by Birojana-bul. Interestingly, and at the base of the dragon’s tail, there’s a door with a Nathwi on it. It’s through this door that you can walk through the remainder of the dragon’s body. Housed inside the dragon’s body are various shamanic murals.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #510. After 34 stops, or about 50 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Chilpo 1-ri stop. From the stop, you’ll need to walk 500 metres, or 8 minutes, towards Daewonsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just because it is so different than all the rest, and it has a slight amusement park feel to it, Daewonsa Temple rates as highly as it does. Not only can you see paintings throughout the entire length of the dragon’s body, but you can also gain entrance to the lower courtyard’s main hall. In addition to this outlandish, yet strangely appropriate dragon, is the highly original Sanshin mural located just to the north of the side-winding blue dragon. There are quite a few customary things to explore at Daewonsa Temple, but it’s these to oddities that make the temple stand out.

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The welcoming Podae-hwasang  at Daewonsa Temple.

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The unique dragon’s head at the temple.

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A closer look at the blue dragon.

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In the jaws of the dragon with the red exercise ball as tonsils.

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The entry to the lower courtyard’s main hall.

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The welcoming rows of miniature Buddha statues.

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The main altar inside the lower courtyard’s main hall.

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A look from the exterior at the older main hall at Daewonsa Temple.

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To the right of the older main hall is this amazing Sanshin mural.

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The side-winding blue body of the dragon as you make your way up to the upper courtyard’s main hall.

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A look at the newly built Daeung-jeon.

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The main altar inside the newly built Daeung-jeon.

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The Dragon Ship of Wisdom with Jijang-bosal at the helm.

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The neighbouring statues with Birojana-bul to the far right.

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And the entrance to the dragon’s body.

Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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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.

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