Seongdeokam Hermitage – 성덕암 (Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The golden sunshine early on a Saturday morning over the port of Masan from Seongdeokam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located just west of the Masan port, and lying on the eastern slopes of a neighbouring hill, is the unassuming Seongdeokam Hermitage in Masan, Gyeongsangnam-do. After navigating your way down some side-streets, you’ll finally be welcomed to the hermitage by a three-in-one cluster of buildings. Around the exterior walls to this multi-faceted building, at least at the entry, are various incarnations of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

It’s just to the left of this building, and taking a right in the bend in the road, that you’ll backtrack back towards the three-in-one hall. The first thing, rather uniquely, that is housed inside this building is the hermitage’s kitchen. Just a little further along, and you’ll come to a passage way that will lead you to the hermitage’s main hall. Before stepping inside the main hall, take a step out onto the terrace area that gives off amazing views of the shimmering port down below. It’s especially beautiful in the early morning.

As for the main hall, the exterior walls have remained in their natural finish. Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll find a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) sitting all alone on the main altar. He’s joined on either side, underneath their own canopies, by Gwanseeum-bosal to the left and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the right. But it’s the guardian mural and the Gamno-do mural that truly stand out. In fact, all the murals are highly unique inside the main hall. The guardian mural, for example, has a cartoonish feel to the shaman figures illustrated in the painting. As for the Gamno-do mural, which focuses on funeral rites, it, too, is highly modern in its composition with both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush appearing at the bottom of the mural.

To the rear of the complex sits the Gwaneeum-jeon. Just like the main hall, the Gwaneeum-jeon’s exterior walls remain unpainted. However, housed inside this hall, amongst the colourful, paper lotus flowers that hang from the ceiling, is a multi-armed and headed statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

The final set of halls at the hermitage that can be explored by visitors are situated to the left, rear of the more modern building complex. Just past the monks’ dorms, and housed a little further up the hill, is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall, the Sanshin-gak, and the Yongwang-dang. The largest of the three is the Samseong-gak. Housed inside this hall are a triad of paintings. Sitting in the centre hangs an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This painting is joined to the right by a more modern painting of Chilseong. To the left of these two murals is the mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). This painting is both vibrantly painted and masterfully executed.

The final two halls, which are more like shipping containers with large, heavy metal entry doors that are difficult to pry open, is the Sanshin-gak and the Yongwang-dang. Housed inside the Sanshin-gak is an atypical painting dedicated to the Mountain Spirit. Uniquely, Sanshin looks more like an elf than a dignified Mountain Spirit. But you be the judge.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the Masan Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take bus #101, or city bus #122 at the Daeshin Bookstore, which is just outside the terminal. You’ll need to take either bus for ten stops and get off at the Burim Market stop. You’ll need to walk towards the hill for ten minutes from the stop to get to Seongdeokam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10. This hermitage houses quite a few firsts for me in the 300 plus temples and hermitages I’ve visited throughout the Korean peninsula. One of those firsts is the hyper modern Gamno-do painting that is, at least in part, thematically based on 9/11. Another first is the elfish-looking Sanshin mural, as well as the bundle of halls that include the main hall and the Gwaneeum-jeon. And to help elevate this hermitage a little more are the beautiful hillside views of the Masan port down below. While not the easiest to get to or find, it’s well worth a visit to Seongdeokam Hermitage for something a little different from your typical Korean Buddhist temple.


The initial view from Seongdeokam Hermitage.


The multi-faceted building that includes the main hall and kitchen.


The view from the main hall.


The cartoonish guardian mural as you first enter the main hall.


To the left of the main altar sits Gwanseeum-bosal.


The main altar with a stout Seokgamoni-bul sitting on it.


The amazing, and modern, Gamno-do mural at Seongdeokam Hermitage.


A close-up of the 9/11 themed section of the Gamno-do mural.


A beautiful bronze bell hanging from the main hall.


An up-close of the meditative, and multi-arm and headed, Gwanseeum-bosal.


A look towards some of the shaman shrine halls.


The first is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


The central image of Chilseong.


Who is joined to the left  by Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).


The shipping container-like entry to the Sanshin-gak.


And a look inside the Sanshin-gak at the elfish Mountain Spirit.