Seongjusa Temple – 성주사 (Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The hundreds of stone statues inside the Seolbeop-jeon at Seongjusa Temple in Changwon, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seongjusa Temple, in English, is a combination of two words. In English, “Seong” means “holy,” while “Ju” means “live.” So together it means Holy Live Temple. It was named like this because it’s believed that a holy man lived here. During King Heungdeok’s reign from 826 to 836 A.D., the monk Muyeom was the king’s advisor. Because King Heungdeok was able to defeat the Japanese due to the monk Muyeom’s mystic powers, the king gave monk Muyeom a temple and land. This temple became known as Seongjusa Temple. Unfortunately, the temple was destroyed during the Imjin War. The temple was later rebuilt and expanded between 1674 and 1834. The temple is also called Ungsinsa Temple, or Bear Saint Temple, in English, because of a legend that surrounds the temple. The legend states that a bear appeared and helped move all the wood required to rebuild the temple in its current location. That’s why you can see at least three different murals at the temple of bears helping rebuild Seongjusa Temple. Seongjusa Temple is located on the north-west foot of Mt. Bulmosan.

You can first approach the temple up a beautiful forested path. It’s not that long, perhaps a couple hundred metres in length. Also during this walk, you can see a small stupa field and some ancient graffiti adorning the faces of several rocks. As you emerge on the other side of the trail, you’ll be welcomed to the temple by a smaller sized bell pavilion to your left. The bronze bell that’s housed inside this pavilion is equally small in size. Just to the right of this pavilion, and slightly up the hill, is a five-tier stone pagoda that’s framed by a twin pair of stone lanterns. Framing this entire scene is a pond and water fountain that shoots water several metres in the air.

Just to the right of the pond and water fountain is the main entrance to the temple. Uniquely, it seems as though they’ve filled-in the area where you were formerly able to enter Seongjusa Temple under the Boje-ru Pavilion. Now, you pass to the right of the Boje-ru to gain admittance to the spacious temple courtyard.

Straight ahead are three smaller sized halls. In the centre of the three is the Daeung-jeon, main hall. The exterior walls are largely unadorned all but for a couple paintings dedicated to the saintly bear that helped raze the wood for the re-building of the temple. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This slightly atypical statue is joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha).

To the left of the main hall is one of the most unique Samseong-gak shaman shrine halls that I have seen in Korea. Immediately when you step into this hall, you’ll be greeted by an older looking mural of Dokseong (The Recluse). This older painting of Dokseong has a pig-like face with a stout nose. He’s joined to the left by two rather traditional paintings of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). What truly sets this hall apart are the murals that adorn the interior walls. Yongwang (The Dragon King), saints, Heng and Ha, and dragons, adorn every square inch. As for the exterior walls, there are ferocious guardians, while quickly fading, scaring away any evil spirits.

To the right of the main hall is a newly constructed Nahan-jeon. This plain appearing hall looks to have replaced the older Jijang-jeon. The exterior walls have yet to be painted with dancheong colours or Buddhist style paintings. However, inside this hall, and resting on the main altar, is a statue centred by Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined by some rather traditional looking Nahan statues. But the real highlight to this temple building are the masterful paintings of the Nahan that back the statues of themselves.

The other hall in the main temple courtyard is the Seolbeop-jeon. Housed inside this long hall are rows upon rows of granite statues of the Buddha. In the middle of them is Amita-bul. He’s fronted by a triad of statues centred by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion).

Just to the right of the Seolbeop-jeon, and in a courtyard of its own, is the Myeongbu-jeon. This hall houses a large statue of a green-haired Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). He’s joined on all sides by equally large-sized statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. The most interesting thing about this hall is the ancient Gamno-do painting that hangs on the far right wall. It’s Local Tangible Cultural Asset #336. The exterior walls of this hall are adorned with beautiful murals like the Dragon Ship of Wisdom and a peculiar Gamno-do painting that has murder, drinking, and a car accident painted on it.

Above the Myeongbu-jeon sits another new building. This is a plain-looking hall that houses a stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. The standing stone statue of this Bodhisattva is Local Tangible Cultural Asset #335. And rather strangely, there are a pair of large sized floats to the right of this hall; perhaps, for Buddha’s birthday.

HOW TO GET THERE: There are two ways to get to Seongjusa Temple. The first is to take a taxi from the Changwon Intercity Bus Terminal. The drive should take about 20 minutes, depending on traffic, and cost about 10,000 won. The other way, if you’re travelling by train, is to go to the Seongjusa Train Station. From there, you can get a taxi to the temple. It’ll take about 13 minutes and set you back about 4,500 won.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. This temple actually surprised me in how good it was. I wasn’t expecting much, for no particular reason, and it exceeded my expectations. The artwork inside both the Samseong-gak and the Myeongbu-jeon are second to none. And the unique painting of the bears around various halls at the temple, as well as the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal are two more highlights to this temple. There seems to be a lot of newer construction going on at the temple, so have a look and be prepared to be impressed.


The beautiful little trail that leads up to the temple.


The compact bell pavilion.


And the equally diminutive bell housed inside it.


The Boje-ru Pavilion from a distance.


A little closer with the five story pagoda in the foreground.


The spouting water fountain with the beautiful Boje-ru Pavilion as a backdrop.


As you first enter the Seongjusa Temple courtyard.


A better look at all the buildings with the main hall front and centre.


A better look at the beautiful Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.


Probably one of the most unique paintings of Dokseong that I’ve laid my eyes on.


Yongwang, the Dragon King, who adorns one of the interior walls of the Samseong-gak.


One of the bear paintings that adorns the main hall.


The plain looking Nahan-jeon.


A look inside the Nahan-jeon.


A closer look at one of the masterful Nahan paintings inside the Nahan-jeon.


The main altar inside the Seolbeop-jeon.


The Myeongbu-jeon in the lower courtyard.


The peculiar Gamno-do painting that adorns the Myeongbu-jeon’s back wall.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon with Jijang-bosal front and centre.


Just five of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


The pond next to the Myeongbu-jeon.


The front door to the newly built hall that houses the standing stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.


And the stone statue in question.


 The bear and elephant floats for Buddha’s birthday?