Mihwangsa Temple – 미황사 (Haenam, Jeollanam-do)


The amazing view of the sea from Mihwangsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Mihwangsa Temple, which means Beautiful Gold Temple, in English, after the creation myth of the temple, was first constructed in 749. It’s the southernmost temple on the Korean peninsula. It’s located on the west side of Mt. Dalsasan, which stands at 489 metres in height, and is known as the Mt. Geumgangsan of the Southern Sea.

Mihwangsa Temple probably has one of the most interesting creation myths that surrounds a temple in all of Korea. Sometime during the Silla Dynasty, a stone ship arrived at a port off the coast of Mt. Dalmasan. On board the ship stood a man adorned in gold. He was standing with an oar in his hands. On shore, people heard a beautiful hymn extolling the virtues of the Buddha coming from the ship. However, when people went to see where it was coming from, the stone ship quickly receded from the shore. But just as soon as people gave up, the ship would return to its former position in the sea. This went on for several days until the great monk Euijo-hwasang, along with two monks and hundreds of residents, offered up prayers to the ship. Finally on board the ship, they found 80 copies of the Avatamsaka Sutra, 7 copies of the Lotus Sutra, statues of Birojana-bul, Munsu-bosal, 40 saints, and 66 Nahan statues, and 53 great enlightened masters, as well as some altar paintings. But most magical of all was a large golden box that they opened. Inside was a black rock that they broke open. A tiny black cow emerged that quickly became a large cow. Later that night, Euijo-hwasang had a dream about the golden robed man from the stone ship. He said he was the king of Wujeon-guk, India. The shape of Mt. Dalmasan was an auspicious place to build a temple for ten thousand Buddhas. So he asked Euijo to place all the sutras and statues on the back on the cow. And wherever it ended up laying, Euijo should build a temple. The next day, Euijo followed the instructions in the dream. The cow finally fell while attempting to cross Mt. Dalmasan. So the temple gets its name from the beautiful music from the stone ship and the golden robe from the man on this ship.

You first make your way towards Mihwangsa Temple past the stately Iljumun Gate and the currently being constructed Cheonwangmun Gate. You’ll finally crest the mountain where the temple courtyard rests upon. You’ll have to pass through a pavilion to gain entrance to the temple grounds. First, have a look to your left to see a white statue of the Dharma, as well as the temple’s bell pavilion.

Finally emerging on the other side of the pavilion, you’ll be greeted by the main hall. The main hall was first constructed in 1601 and there are no paintings adorning this natural wood exterior. As for the interior, and sitting in the centre of the main altar, is Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The ceiling is decorated with Sanskrit lettering.

To the left of the main hall, and on the same terrace, stands the Myeongbu-jeon. Inside this hall sits Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Jijang-bosal is surrounded by a fiery nimbus and ten seated statues of the Kings of the Underworld. They are fronted by a couple dozen attendants.

Behind both the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon are two more halls on the upper terrace. The one to the right is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Interestingly, there is a stone lantern out in front of this hall with several hundred tiny stones left by temple travelers. As for the interior, and hanging on the main altar, are three paintings dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Dokseong (The Recluse). All are beautiful in their age and uniqueness. Perhaps the most interesting is the well populated Chilseong mural that is exceptionally long in length.

The other hall along the upper terrace is the Nahan-jeon. The most interesting aspect to this hall, besides its age, are the faint painted outlines of the Nahan that back the statues of the Historical Disciples of the Buddha. The hall itself dates back to around 1597. And it’s from this hall that you can the most amazing views of the sea out in front of you and the peaks of Mt. Dalmasan behind you.

HOW TO GET THERE: You can get to Mihwangsa Temple from the Haenam Bus Terminal. First, though, you’ll have to get there from wherever it is you live in Korea. Then, you can catch a bus that heads towards Wando. The buses leave every ten to sixty minutes starting at 5:50 in the morning until 21:10 at night. You’ll need to get off at the Weolsongri stop, and the ride should last about 60 minutes. From here, you’ll need to grab a taxi for the remaining ten minute drive to Mihwangsa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Mihwangsa Temple not only has one of the best creation myth stories in Korea, it also has some of the most spectacular scenic views of both the sea and the surrounding mountains. And when you toss into the mix the ancient main hall and the Nahan-jeon, as well as the unique shaman paintings, you have more than enough reason to visit the southernmost temple on the Korean peninsula.


 The currently being constructed Cheonwangmun Gate.


 The pavilion you’ll pass through to get to the Mihwangsa Temple courtyard.


 The temple’s bell pavilion.


 The main hall with the peaks of Mt. Dalmasan off in the distance.


 A look inside the main hall at the beautiful main altar.


 To the left of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon and the interior of this hall. Joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld sits Jijang-bosal.


 A scenic view at the upper terrace at Mihwangsa Temple.


 A look up at the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


 Inside is this older looking painting of Sanshin.


 To the right of the Samseong-gak is the Nahan-jeon.


 A look at the bronze coloured statue of the Buddha, who is joined by his 16 disciples.


 The amazing view from the Nahan-jeon.


 Next to the Nahan-jeon were these figurines left behind by visitors to Mihwangsa Temple.


 Then it was time to go.