Daeheungsa Temple – 대흥사 (Haenam, Jeollanam-do)


 One of the beautiful paths that winds its way through Daeheungsa Temple in Haenam, Jeollanam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Daeheungsa Temple, which is also known as its former name of Daedunsa Temple, is situated in Duryunsan Provincial Park near Haenam, Jeollanam-do. The temple is thought to be one of the oldest in Korea. It’s believed that the temple was founded by the monk Ado in 514; however, there are no exact records that verify this date. Originally, the temple was called Handeumjeol, after the original name of the neighbouring Mt. Handeumsan. This name was changed to Daedumsa Temple with the usage of Chinese characters. The name was changed once more to its present name of Daeheungsa Temple. It wasn’t until 1592 that the little known temple came to prominence. The warrior monk Seosan-daesa organized and trained a guerilla army of 5,000 monks to resist the invading Japanese forces during the Imjin War. During the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, the name of the temple changed to Daedunsa Temple. It was only in 1993 that the temple reverted back to Daeheungsa Temple. So sometimes, even still, you’ll hear Daeheungsa Temple be referred to as Daedunsa Temple.

You first approach the temple up a long and beautiful path from the provincial park entrance. After arriving at the temple and crossing a couple granite bridges, the first thing to greet you at Daeheungsa Temple is the Haetalmun Gate, which means The Gate of Deliverance, in English. With no other gate at the temple, this is a rather atypical arrangement. Inside this gate are housed guardians as well as the youthful Munsu-bosal (who rides a blue lion) and Boyhun-bosal (who rides a white elephant).

Emerging on the other side, you can either head straight towards the Cheonbul-jeon hall, hang left towards the main hall, or turn right towards the Pyochungsa shrine. For the sake of this article, and following the path I took during my trip, I headed left towards the main hall. In this direction, you’ll pass by a beautiful white highlighted bell pavilion with a medium sized bronze bell inside it. Keeping to the left, you’ll cross over another granite bridge and through a pavilion. Finally, the main hall, the Daeungbo-jeon, lies straight ahead of you. This hall was first built in 1667, but was later destroyed in a fire in 1899. The exterior walls are decorated with the Palsang-do murals, as well as other Buddhist motif paintings. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, you’ll find large statues of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Yaksayore-bul (The Buddha of Medicine), and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). On the far left wall hangs a handful of paintings such as a painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) as well as a guardian mural.

To the left of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall that houses Jijang-bosal. To the right of the main hall, and perhaps the most unique building at the temple, is the Eungjin-jeon. This hall is divided into two sections. The one on the left houses the 16 Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Uniquely, there’s no statue of Seokgamoni-bul inside. And through a narrow wooden entrance to the far right, you’ll enter the shaman hall that houses two of the most amazing paintings of Dokseong (The Recluse) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) that you’ll see at any Korean temple. Just to the right of this hall, and on a lower terrace, stands a 4.3 metre tall pagoda that dates back to the Silla Dynasty.

Heading back towards the Haetalmun Gate, and entering through a pavilion that lies straight ahead, you’ll enter the rather small sized (at least in comparison to the North Court) South Court. The only building housed inside this courtyard is the Cheonbul-jeon. The exterior walls are adorned with some beautiful Ox-Herding murals. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul. He’s surrounded by 1,000 white stone sculptures of the Buddha. Each Buddha is sporting a yellow cape, and it makes for quite the sight.

To the right of the South Court are a collection of even more temple halls. To the left of a beautiful pond and garden is the Gwanseeum-jeon. Under an angelic light sits Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This statue is joined by a handful of paintings that depict the Buddha’s life, as well as a colourful painting that’s dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, and backs the bronze statue on the main altar inside this hall.

Continuing to the right, and little further up the path, lies the Pyochungsa shrine. Behind a large red and blue yin-yang painting that adorns the shrines door, you’ll find two shrine halls behind a pavilion. The first of the set is the shrine hall dedicated to the warrior monks of Seosan, Sammyeong, and Choyeong who resisted the Japanese during the Imjin War. There images reside inside this hall. This hall dates back to 1788. Next to this hall, and to the right, is a stele dedicated to Seosan. The only other hall in this area is the Josa-jeon to the left of the Pyochungsa shrine. This hall is dedicated to prominent monks that formally resided at the temple.

Admission to the temple is 2,500 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Daeheungsa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Haenam Intercity Bus Terminal from wherever it is you live in Korea. From the Haenam Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch a bus that goes to Daeheungsa Temple (but it also may be referred to as Daedunsa Temple). The bus runs every 30 minutes starting at 6:50 in the morning and running until 19:40 at night. The bus ride will last about 20 minutes and the fare should set you back 1,000 won.

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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Daeheungsa Temple has a lot for the temple adventurer to see from the beautiful main hall, to the Cheonbul-jeon, and the Pyochungsa shrine. Also, the yellow caped Buddhas inside the Cheonbul-jeon and the uniquely painted shaman deities have a lot to keep you busy. One drawback is that most of the temple halls are newly built. But with over 10 halls to visit, this takes little away from Daeheungsa Temple.


 One of the granite bridges that leads you towards the large temple grounds.


 The Haetalmun Gate which is uniquely the only gate at Daeheungsa Temple.


 The youthful Bohyun-bosal atop his white elephant.


 The path that leads towards the North Court, and the main hall, at the temple.


 The pavilion that grants you entry to the North Court.


 The impressive Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Daeheungsa Temple.


 The Haetae sculpture that adorns the right side of the main hall.


 The main altar inside the Daeungbo-jeon.


 The Chilseong mural, which is one of several beautiful murals that adorns the interior to the main hall.


 The unique Eungjin-jeon that is two halls in one.


 Inside the Eungjin-jeon, and to the left, is the Buddha-less interior. Instead, only statues of the Nahan remain.


 And to the right hang two amazing murals dedicated to Sanshin and Dokseong


 The Silla-era three story granite pagoda outside the Eungjin-jeon.


 The temple’s bell pavilion that you pass to get to the South Court.


 A better look at the beautiful bronze bell.


 The only building to be housed inside the South Court: The Cheonbul-jeon.


 A look inside the Cheonbul-jeon at the triad of statues on the main altar as well as the yellow caped Buddhas that surround them.


 Just outside the South Court is the Gwaneeum-jeon.


 Inside this hall sits the solitary statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. She’s joined by some masterful paintings from the Buddha’s life.


The gate that greets you at the Pyochungsa shrine.


 A look at the Josa-jeon.


 A look at the Pyochungsa shrine to the left.


A look inside the Pyochungsa shrine at three paintings dedicated to the warrior monks.

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.