Girimsa Temple – 기림사 (Gyeongju)

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Just some of the three thousand ceramic Buddhas in Samchunbul-jeon hall at Girimsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Coupled with Manbulsa Temple and Golgulsa Temple, Girimsa Temple was another temple I had long wanted to visit in my four and a half years of living in Korea. So after Golgulsa Temple, and just up the road, we decided to visit Girimsa Temple. In fact, Girimsa Temple is just a mere 3.6 kilometres away from Golgulsa Temple and on the same country road.

Girimsa Temple (기림사) literarily means “prayer forest.” It’s derived from Jetavana Monastery in India where the enlightened Buddha lived and taught. And Jetavana Monastery in Korean translates as Giwonjeongsa. The temple was originally called Imjeongsa Temple and was constructed by the Indian monk Gwangyu in the early Silla Dynasty. In 643, the temple was renovated and expanded during the flourishing reign of Queen Seondeok. It was during this period that the temple changed its name to Girimsa Temple by Wonhyo. Under his guidance it became one of the largest and most important temples in all of the Silla temples. During the Imjin War of 1592, Girimsa Temple acted as a command headquarters for warrior monks. And towards the end of the Joseon Dynasty, it became one of the thirty-one most important temples in the country. Girimsa Temple was the largest temple in Gyeongju until 1945, even larger than the now world famous Bulguksa Temple. In fact, when Bulguksa Temple was first built in 751, it was as a branch of Girimsa Temple. Now, the roles have been reversed, and GirimsaTemple is now a branch of Bulguksa Temple.

When we arrived at this temple with such a long and interesting history, a gang of ajummas were taking down all the paper lanterns from the Buddha’s Birthday festivities.  The temple was a bit out of sorts, but all the buildings were still accessible, and the beauty of the temple could still be seen through it all. Passing through the beautifully decorated first gate, you’ll make your way up a winding path for about 400 metres beside a rolling stream, until the forest recedes and you can see the temple compound. There are two ways in which you can go: You can either head left towards the newer, elevated, courtyard; or you can head right towards the lower elevated older courtyard. We headed towards the older courtyard, where most of the buildings date back to the late 1600’s and throughout the 1700’s. As you walk through the rather unimpressive guardian gate, you’ll come to a cluster of these brown weather worn temple buildings. To the immediate right is a cute water fountain. Continuing along, you’ll first pass by the long Jinnam-ru lecture hall. Veering right, as you pass by this hall, you’ll enter the main courtyard at the temple. The most impressive feature to this temple is the Daejeokgwang-jeon main worship hall. This hall sits directly across the courtyard. This hall dates back to 643. It was then renovated in 1629. Inside the hall are three huge and uniquely designed Buddha statues. In the centre is the Vairocana Buddha with the Seokgomani Buddha and Bodhisattva Nosana on either side of this central figure. These Buddha statues are made of gilt clay. In this building, as in all of the buildings at Girimsa Temple, there are no pictures allowed. To the right of the main hall is Yaksa-jeon hall. Inside this smallish hall is the Buddha of Medicine. Directly in front of this hall, and under the towering Bodhi tree, are 16 foundation stones that mark the site of a former wooden pagoda that use to reside at the temple. This wooden pagoda dated back to 660 A.D. The other building in this courtyard, other than the monk dorm, is Ungjin-jeon hall. Inside this hall there are nearly 500 cramped wooden Nahan figures each unique in their design.

On the newer, and elevated, courtyard are brightly painted halls. On the northern side of the compound you’ll first encounter the Gwaneum-jeon hall dedicated to its namesake: Gwanseheum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Without a doubt, this statue is one of the most beautiful and intricate statues in all of Korea of this Goddess. Further along this courtyard, you’ll come across Samcheonbul-jeon (“Three Thousand Buddhas Hall) with Seokgomani Buddha (The Historical Buddha) as its centre piece. On either side of the Seokgomani Buddha are two bodhisattvas. But the most impressive feature of this hall is the hundreds of seated green ceramic Buddha figures. Again, no pictures are allowed! Still continuing straight ahead, and on another elevated part of the temple, is the Myeongbu-jeon, the Judgment Hall, at the temple. On the far side of the courtyard is a newer looking bell pavilion.

Usually, I don’t visit the museums at temples, but I knew that the museum at Girimsa Temple had a couple really interesting pieces. The most important piece is a one metre tall gilt lacquer statue of Gwanseeum-bosal that dates back to 1501. At its core is sculpted paper and silk, with layers of lacquer and gold leaf adorning its exterior. There are also numerous paintings of head monks throughout the ages that are of note as well.

HOW TO GET THERE: Much like Golgulsa Temple, you’ll first have to get to Gyeongju. From Gyeongju, you can take either bus 100 or 150 that goes towards Gampo. Get off at the Andong-ri intersection. You can either wait for the infrequent bus number 130, or you can walk the 40 minute hike. Or if you’re going to Golgulsa Temple, just walk the 3.6 kilometres from Golgulsa Temple to Girimsa Temple. Both temples are situated on the same winding Korean country road. And to get into Girimsa Temple it costs 3,000 Won.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. While not nearly as impressive as Golgulsa Temple, Girimsa Temple has a charm and history that make it an important temple to be seen. The most impressive features of this temple are the amazing multi-armed and multi-faced Gwanseeum-bosal statue, the Daejeokgwang-jeon main worship hall that dates back to 643, and the gold-leafed Goddess of Mercy in the temple museum. This, coupled with GolgulsaTemple, can make for a nice day trip to Gyeongju!

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The first gate that welcomes you to Girimsa Temple.
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The path that leads to the temple.
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The second gate at the temple. This gate contains the four guardians of the temple.
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One of the guardians at Girimsa Temple.
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A view of the beautiful bell pavilion on the upper/newer courtyard.
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The long Jinnam-ru lecture hall at the temple.
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A view of the main hall, Daejeokgwang-jeon. This hall dates back to 643. And out in front are two members of the ajumma posse.
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Inside the main hall. These are two of the more unique centre pieces at any of the temples I’ve ever visited.
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A view of the hall next to the main hall. Yaksa-jeon is dedicated to the God of Medicine.
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Inside Yaksa-jeon is the Medicine God.
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And finally, in the older courtyard, is Ungjin-jeon hall with some more of the ajumma posse.
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The well weathered 3 tiered pagoda in front of Ungjin-jeon hall.
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The 500 Nahan figures inside Ungjin-jeon hall.
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The path that leads up to the upper/newer courtyard at Girimsa Temple.
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Perhaps the most beautiful statue of Gwanseeum-bosal in all of Korea.
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A view of Samchunbul-jeon hall (Literally, “3,000 Buddhas Hall”).
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Along the exterior of the hall are paintings depicting the Buddha’s life.
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Another of the beautiful paintings.
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Inside Samcheonbul-jeon are 3,000 Buddha’s, as well as the Historical Buddha as the centre piece of the altar in the hall.
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A look at just a hundred of the thousand green ceramic Buddha statues.
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A beautiful Japanese Maple keeping the Judgment Hall at Girimsa Temple company.
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The beautiful bell pavilion at Girimsa Temple.
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The drum inside the bell pavilion.
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The museum that houses so much of Girimsa’s treasure.
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And the priceless gold Bodhisattva of Mercy.