Colonial Korea: Ssanggyesa Temple – 쌍계사 (Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do)

Ssanggyesa - 1916 - Jingapseon Sabi

National Treasure #47, The Stele for Master Jingam at Ssanggyesa Temple in Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Ssanggyesa Temple, which means “Twin Streams Temple,” in English, was first founded in 722 A.D. The temple was first established by the monks Daebi and Sambeop, who were the disciples of the famed Uisang-daesa. After being instructed by the Jirisan Sanshin, in the form of a tiger, to create a temple in a valley where the arrowroot blossomed even during winter, the two set out to establish Ssanggyesa Temple just north of modern day Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do in the heart of Jirisan National Park.

So after returning from China, where they furthered their Buddhist training, they returned with the skull and portrait of Huineng (the Sixth Patriarch of Seon [Zen] Buddhism). They enshrined both under the main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple. It was only later that the skull was retrieved and enshrined in a stone pagoda behind the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple.

Originally called Okcheonsa Temple, the monk Jingam-seonsa (774-850 A.D.) renamed the temple in 840 A.D. to Ssanggyesa Temple. A stele, which is dedicated to Jingam-seonsa, and written by Choi Chi-won (857- ?), stands in the temple courtyard. It’s designated National Treasure #47.

During the Imjin War, all the temple buildings were completely destroyed by fire. Now, most of the temple buildings date back to the 17th century.

Ssanggyesa - Jaengsang Mokpio

A wooden totem outside Ssanggyesa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate at the temple in 1933.

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Which is joined by the Cheonwangmun Gate in 1933.

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As well as the Geumgangmun Gate in 1933.

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The Cheonghak-ru Pavilion at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

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The special Palsang-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

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A closer look at the Palsang-jeon Hall.

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The Daeung-jeon main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

Sssanggyesa1 - 1916 - Jingapseon Sabi

Another look at the Stele for Master Jingam. This picture was taken in 1916.

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And a closer look at the dragon swirling capstone to the stele.

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A closer look at the Daeung-jeon main hall.

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A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The expansive main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.

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The Guksa-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 1933.

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The Chilseong-gak at the temple.


And one of the stupas at Ssanggyesa Temple.

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The Iljumun Gate in 2012.

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The Cheonwangmun Gate in 2012.

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The Palsang-jeon Hall in 2005.

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The main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 2012.

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National Treasure #47, The Stele for Master Jingam at Ssanggyesa Temple in 2005.

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The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Ssanggyesa Temple in 2012.

Updated: Ssanggyesa Temple – 쌍계사 (Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The pink flowers that were in bloom behind the main hall at Ssanggyesa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

North of Hadong is Ssanggyesa Temple, which means “Twin Streams Temple,” in English. The temple’s origins date back to 722 A.D., when it was first called Okcheonsa Temple. Instructed in a dream by the Jirisan Sanshin, monks Daebi and Sambeop, were told to find a valley where arrowroot blossomed even during the wintertime. This is how they came to find the valley location for their new temple. In this location, after having returned from China, they buried the skull of the Sixth Zen Patriarch, Huineng. In 840 A.D., the temple was enlarged, and its name was changed to its present name of Ssanggyesa Temple by Jingam-seonsa.

You first approach Ssanggyesa Temple up a beautifully wooded forest. The first structure to greet you is the top-heavy Iljumun Gate. The next building, with the twelve zodiac generals painted on it, is the Geumgangmun Gate that houses both two child-like images of Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Amazingly, this gate dates back to 1641. The final gate of the three is the squarish Cheonwangmun Gate. This gate houses four intimidating statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, and the gate dates back to 1704.

Up a flight of stairs, you’ll next come to the Palryeong-ru Pavilion. This pavilion blocks most of the lower courtyard; however, the Beopjong-ru, bell pavilion, lies just to the left of it. And to the right stands the Nine-Story Stone Pagoda. While the pagoda only dates back to 1990, purportedly, it enshrines three sari (crystallized remains) from the Buddha. If you follow a pathway and a steep set of stairs just past the bell pavilion, you’ll come to an elevated courtyard that houses a unique collection of shrine halls including the Palsang-jeon and the Geum-dang. Inside the Palsang-jeon are eight extremely intricate murals dedicated to the Buddha, as well as solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) on the main altar. Up another flight of stairs, you’ll see the Geum-dang, which houses an ancient pagoda inside its walls.

Back at the Palryeong-ru Pavilion and looking north-east, you’ll encounter National Treasure #47. This treasure is the historic Jingam’s stele. The body of the stele was written by the famed Confucian-Daoist scholar, Goun (Choi Chi-won). The stele dates back to 886-887, and the body of the biseok describes the history of the temple. Nine dragons dance around its capstone, while a dragon-like turtle bears the burden of the ancient stone’s weight. Take the time to have a look at this remarkable artifact.

Just past this beautiful biseok lies the Daeung-jeon, main hall, at Ssanggyesa Temple. Sitting inside this large main hall are seven statues on the main altar. Sitting in the centre of the seven is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined to the right by a triad of statues centred by Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The other two figures that make up this triad are Ilgwang (The Sun Bodhiasttva) and Wolgwang (The Moon Bodhisattva). The triad to the left of the Buddha is centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). Also inside these walls are a beautiful guardian mural and a Gamno-do painting.

Directly to the left of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon, which houses some of the most intricate murals dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) in all of Korea. They are joined by a simplistic wooden collection of the 16 Nahan. And directly to the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon.

To the rear of the main hall, and newly built, is an outdoor altar similar to the one at Tongdosa Temple. Purportedly, the altar at Ssanggyesa Temple, just like Tongdosa Temple, also houses a sari from the Buddha. This shrine is joined to the left by the Hwaeom-jeon, which houses some holy texts, as well as a golden statue of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy) sitting in the centre chamber.

Just to the rear of the Hwaeom-jeon is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Housed inside this hall are some of the most unique incarnations of the three most popular shaman deities in the Korean pantheon. In the centre hangs the well-populated 49 star Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This mural is joined by the Seongmo Halmae Sanshin (The Holy-Mother Grandmother Mountain Spirit). She appears quite regal even without a crown. And the final of the three is Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

Admission to the temple is 2,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From the Hadong Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take bus bound for Ssanggyesa Temple. The bus ride should take about 20 to 25 minutes.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10.  Ssanggyesa Temple is filled with temple shrine halls to visit. It also includes an altar and a pagoda that purportedly house the Buddha’s remains, as well as a National Treasure that dates back to the 9th century. And with the temple being situated in Jirisan National Park, well, Ssanggyesa Temple quickly becomes a must for any temple adventurer.

The first gate to greet you at Ssanggyesa Temple.
The large second gate that houses the four heavenly kings that are the guardians at Ssanggyesa Temple.
A view of the lower courtyard at the temple.
A better view of the beautiful nine-tiered pagoda at Ssanggyesa Temple.
 A view of a stream, and the bridge that spans it, on the west side of the temple.
One of the temple buildings from the lower courtyard.
The colourful bell pavilion at Ssanggyesa Temple.
A memorial tablet dedicated to the national priest Jin’gam.
The view from the main hall (that was under construction at the time).
The seven altar pieces inside the main hall.
Geum-dang hall in the upper courtyard behind main hall.
Palsang-jeon hall, also in the upper courtyard, behind the main hall.
A look from the upper courtyard at the overcast sky and the rolling Jirisan Mountains.
The pink flowers that were in bloom behind Palsang-jeon and Geum-dang in the elevated courtyard behind the main hall.
Just one of the beautiful creeks that surrounds the temple grounds.