Colonial Korea: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)


Songgwangsa Temple in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do in 1933

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple is one of the three Korean jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Unlike the other two temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels.

Songgwangsa Temple is located in scenic Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. The name of the temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English, and Songgwangsa Temple was established in the 1190s. Much like Bulguksa Temple a few hundred years earlier, Songgwangsa Temple was created on the former grounds of a temple; in this case, it was Gilsangsa Temple. Gilsangsa Temple was first built in 867 A.D. Gilsangsa Temple was built by the Seon master, Hyerin. In total, some thirty to forty monks lived at the temple at this time.

From the mid to late 12th century, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned as a functioning temple. It wasn’t until 1190, and over the course of a nine year period, that the famed monk Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210), rebuilt the temple. Not only did he rebuild Gilsangsa Temple, but he also renamed it Songgwangsa Temple. It was not long after his renaming of the temple that Songgwangsa Temple became important as a centre for Korean Buddhism.

Like so many other temples throughout Korea’s turbulent past, Songgwangsa Temple also suffered. During the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as the more recent Korean War (1950-53), Songgwangsa Temple suffered varying degrees of damage.

But with this devastation and destruction goes periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was then largely rebuilt in the 17th century after the Imjin War. And even more recently, Songgwangsa Temple was renovated in 1988. It was during this time that fourteen of the temple buildings were refurbished. And even as recently as 2013, Songgwangsa Temple’s Cheonwangmun Gate received a complete renovation.

Throughout its storied past, Songgwangsa Temple has produced some sixteen national preceptors. Also, in 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, which Korean Buddhism is a part of. In total, Songgwangsa Temple houses four National Treasures and twenty-one additional Treasures.

Songgwangsa - Iljumun

The Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in 1933.

Songgwangsa5 - Jogyemun

The Jogyemun Gate in 1933.


The stupa field at Songgwangsa Temple.


The front entrance of the temple in 1933.


People swimming in the stream that flows down from Mt. Jogyesan.

Songgwangsa6 - Cheonwangmun

The Cheonwangmun Gate.

Songgwangsa7 - Cheonwangmun

A closer look at the intricate artwork that adorns the Cheonwangmun Gate.

Songgwangsa1 - bell pavilion

The temple’s bell pavilion in 1933.

Songgwangsa2 - main hall

The Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

Songgwangsa8 - main hall

Another look at the main hall from 1933.

Songgwangsa9 - main hall

A closer look at the amazing artistry on the main hall.

Songgwangsa10 - main hall

A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.

Songgwangsa11 - main hall

A look around the main hall.

Songgwangsa18 - josajeon

The Guksa-jeon from 1933, which also just so happens to be National Treasure #56.

Songgwangsa19 - josajeon

A closer look at the shrine hall’s artistry.

Songgwangsa20 - guksadang

The shrine hall dates back to 1369 and houses 16 paintings of the 16 national preceptors.

Songgwangsa40 - eungjin

The Eungjin-jeon Hall at Songgwangsa Temple as it appeared in 1933.

Songgwangsa41- eungjin

And a look inside the Eungjin-jeon Hall.


The Jogyemun Gate in 2007.


A look at the front entry at Songgwangsa Temple in 2007.


The stream that flows down to Songgwangsa Temple from Mt. Jogyesan in 2007.


The Daeungbo-jeon main hall in 2013.


And a look inside the main hall in 2013.

Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)


A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, not to be confused with the more famous temple by the same name in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do, was first constructed in 867 A.D. by the monk Bojo-jejing. Originally, the temple was called Baekryongsa Temple, but the temple was eventually renamed by the famed monk Jinul (1158-1210) during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was largely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98), but was later rebuilt in 1620. It was completely restored to its former glory when King Injo (r. 1623-49) designated the temple as a special place for praying for the welfare of the nation as well as for the safe return of his two sons that had been taken hostage by the Qing Dynasty. King Injo was to call Songgwangsa Temple the “great temple of Zen Buddhism.” Interestingly, it’s believed that the main hall, Nahan-jeon, and/or the Jijang-jeon perspire in times of national crisis as well as to one’s prayers. In total, the temple houses three designated Korean Treasures.

Because of its former large size and prominence, the Iljumun Gate that stands at the temple entry was previously located three kilometers away. In more recent times, in 1944, the Iljumun Gate was relocated. In its current location, the uniquely designed gate welcomes any and all visitors to Songgwangsa Temple.

The next gate to welcome you, which is perfectly aligned with the Iljumun Gate, is the Geumgangmun Gate (or Diamond Gate). Passing through this gate, you’ll notice two warriors known as Geumgang-yeoksa housed inside, as well as the child-like Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

Just beyond this gate is the largest of the three introductory gates at Songgwangsa Temple. This gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate and it houses Treasure #1255 inside, which is a bit misleading because there are four statues that comprise the designated Treasure. Housed inside this hall are the Four Heavenly Kings that were first made in 1624. Built from clay, they are the oldest of their kind in Korea.

Finally emerging on the other side of the impressive temple gates, you’ll be welcomed by the temple’s bell pavilion slightly to the left. The bell pavilion is Treasure #1244, and it’s the only cross-shaped two-story bell pavilion ever built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). To the right of the bell pavilion, and past the jovial Podae-hwasang statue, are the Jijang-jeon and the Geukrak-jeon. Inside the Jijang-jeon is a large green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and he’s joined by ten equally large-sized statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Rather plainly, Amita-bul sits alongside Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul) on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

But it’s the Daeung-jeon main hall, with the pyramids of colourful paper lanterns out in front of it that’s the highlight to Songgwangsa Temple. Designated Treasure #1243, the main hall dates back to 1636, when it was rebuilt by National Preceptor Byeogam-guksa. Housed inside this massive main hall are three equally massive clay statues that date back to 1641. Seated in the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The ceiling of this hall is beautifully adorned with floating Biseon. The exterior walls are uniquely painted with various large-sized guardian murals.

To the immediate left of the main hall is the rather long Gwaneum-jeon. On the far right wall of the hall is a intricately sculpted statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who is backed by an equally elaborate mural of herself.

To the rear of the main hall are three additional shrine halls that visitors can explore, as well as a large statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Next to this simple, yet elegant statue of the Buddha of Medicine is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. All three paintings housed inside this hall are expertly rendered, but it’s the central painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) that stands out for its originality and complexity.

To the right of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is the Nahan-jeon, which was first constructed in 1656. Seokgamoni-bul is surrounded, uniquely, by the sixteen Nahan, as well as the expanded 500 Nahan. The sixteen are more expressive and large in size, but the smaller ones are beautiful, as well. To the far right sits the temple’s Yaksa-jeon.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the neighbouring city of Jeonju, you can take Local Bus #806, #814, or #838 and get off at Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The three gates that welcome you to Songgwangsa Temple are really second-to-none in Korea. With their Treasures, as well as beautiful symmetry, they are something not to pass up. Then when you add into the mix all that the Daeung-jeon has to offer in both paintings, as well as historic statues, and you should find your way over to Wanju, Jeollabuk-do to explore Songgwangsa Temple.


A look through the Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.


And a look at the Geumgangmun Gate.


One of the Vajra warriors inside the Geumgangmun Gate.


The child-like Munsu-bosal inside the gate, as well.


Finally, the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.


A look inside at the historic Heavenly Kings.


The treasured bell pavilion at Songgwangsa Temple.


The jovial Podae-hwasang with the Geukrak-jeon in the background.


A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at the main altar.


A look towards the neighbouring Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.


Some of the temple’s artwork.


The temple’s amazing main hall.


Some of the stone masonry outside the Daeung-jeon.


A look inside the main hall at the massive 17th century altar pieces.


A long view of the Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.


The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon with the Bodhisattva of Compassion seated all by herself.


The stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul.


The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Songgwangsa Temple.


The intricate painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).


And a look towards the mountains and the Nahan-jeon.

Now and Then: Songgwangsa Temple


Songwangsa 1928

The front facade to Songgwangsa Temple from 1928.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple is located in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do on the western slopes of Mt. Jogyesan. Songgwangsa Temple means “Spreading Pine Temple,” in English. It  was first established in the 1190s. However, Songgwangsa Temple was built on the grounds of a former temple, Gilsangsa Temple, which was built in 867 A.D. The original Gilsangsa Temple was constructed by Seon master, Hyerin. Not only did he help construct the temple, but he also lived there with thirty to forty fellow monks, as well. With that said, very little is known about Hyerin, and some scholars believe he might simply be a legendary figure.

For some fifty years, Gilsangsa Temple remained abandoned in the mid-to-late 12th century. It wasn’t until the 1190, and over a nine year period, that the famed monk, Jinul, or Bojo-guksa (1158-1210) reconstructed the temple. The temple was renamed Songgwangsa Temple at this point, and it was not long after that it became an important centre for Korean Buddhism.

Songgwangsa Temple, like numerous other temples throughout the Korean peninsula, has had a turbulent past. It suffered damage both during the Imjin War (1592-98), as well as during the Korean War (1950-53).

However, coupled with this devastation, the temple has gone through periods of growth and expansion like during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Also, the temple was largely rebuilt in the 17th century after its destruction during the Imjin War. More recent renovations took place in 1988. During this time, fourteen buildings at the temple were refurbished.

In total, Songgwangsa Temple has produced 16 national preceptors. In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism. Also, it was made an international meditation centre at this time. Historically, it’s one of the three jewel temples alongside Tongdosa Temple and Haeinsa Temple. Songgwangsa Temple represents the “seung,” or monk aspect of the three jewels with its large monk population, which still exists to the present day. In total, the temple houses four national treasures and a couple dozen treasures.

Songgwangsa 1940

An overview of Songgwangsa Temple from 1940.

Songgwangsa 1920

The welcoming Iljumun Gate from 1920.

Songgwangsa 1960

The picturesque front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.

Songwangsa2 1920

The Cheonwangmun Gate from 1920.

Songgwangsa Main Hall 1930

And the former main hall from 1930.


The present day Iljumun Gate.


The beautiful front facade at Songgwangsa Temple.


The massive main hall constructed in 1988.

Updated: Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)


The beautiful arched bridge at Songgwangsa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple, which means Spreading Pine Temple, in English, sits on the western slope of Mt. Jogyesan, in Jogyesan Provincial Park. Songgwangsa Temple was first constructed at the end of the Silla Dynasty in the late 1100’s.  Bojo Guksa (1158-1210), otherwise known as Jinul, built the temple as a centre for furthering Buddhism studies. As one of the three treasure temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the seung (monk). In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, and it was also made an international meditation centre.

You first approach the temple up a long winding path that intersects some beautiful pine and cedar trees. This 15 minute walk that neighbours the Sinpyeong stream will take you past a beautiful wooden bridge and an artificial pond that is cloaked in colourful paper lanterns. You’ll know that you’re getting closer to the temple grounds when you come across a field of budos dedicated to former monks at Songgwangsa Temple.

Just to the left of the ancient Bulimun Gate is one of the most picturesque entrances to a Korean Buddhist temple in all of Korea. Protruding out of the Sinpyeong stream is a temple building, as well as the Woohwa-gak pavilion that spans the width of the stream. The mirror-like surface of the stream coupled with the dragon-based bridge make for quite the photo-op.

Having passed through the Woohwa-gak pavilion, you’ll make your way through the Cheonwangmun Gate with the Four Heavenly Kings inside. These recently refurbished statues make for quite the welcoming committee at the temple. It’s only after circumnavigating the Jonggo-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion on the second story, that you finally enter the main temple courtyard at Songgwangsa Temple.

Straight ahead is the beautiful Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple. This massive main hall is beautifully packed with Buddhist artistry both inside and out. The wooden latticework is second-to-none, as are the various Buddhist themed murals like the one dedicated to Wonhyo’s awakening. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are seven golden statues. Sitting in the centre of the set is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of this triad is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And to the left sit Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

The other buildings you can enjoy to the right of the main hall, and open to the public, are the Jijang-jeon, Yeongsan-jeon, and the Yaksa-jeon. Both the Yeongsan-jeon and the Yaksa-jeon are extremely small in size. While the Yaksa-jeon is dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine, the Yeongsan-jeon is a hall dedicated to eight paintings from the Buddha’s life. As for the Jijang-jeon, this cavernously wide hall houses a green-haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal, as well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld. As for the murals that adorn this hall’s exterior walls, they are amazing in their masterful beauty.

As for the buildings to the left of the main hall, there’s the beautiful Seungbo-jeon, which is the very embodiment of the “seung” aspect that Songgwangsa Temple stands for as a treasure temple. The exterior walls are beautifully adorned with some amazing renderings of the Ox-Herding murals. Sitting inside this hall are row upon row of smaller sized golden monk statues. As for the main altar inside this hall, there sits a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).

In total, and rather remarkably, there have been some 16 national masters that had once studied at Songgwangsa Temple. In fact, the first of these, Jinul, has a budo dedicated to him behind the Gwaneeum-jeon. This budo dates back to 1213, and you get a commanding view of the more than 50 buildings at Songgwangsa Temple. As for the Gwaneeum-jeon hall itself, it’s beautifully surrounded on all sides by lush gardens. Sitting inside this hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal sitting all alone on the main altar. She is surrounded on all sides by beautiful murals, as well as a dragon altar that completely engulfs her.

Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE:  From Suncheon, there is city bus #111 or an intercity bus from Suncheon to Songgwangsa Temple. Both are roughly 3,000 won. Also, from Jeonju, you can take local bus #806, #814 or #838 to Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING:  9/10. Songgwangsa Temple is beautifully situated in the mountain folds of Mt. Jogyesan. Its beautiful entry that spans the Sinpyeong stream with its dragon-based bridge is a feat of Buddhist artistry. With its numerous halls like the massive Daeungbo-jeon and Seungbo-jeon, Songgwangsa Temple has a little of everything for everyone.

The beautiful trail that leads to Songgwangsa Temple.
The Bulimun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.
The gorgeous covered arch bridge and stream that flows down from the Jogye-San Mountains.
As I promised, one of the greatest views within a temple grounds.
A look under the dragon-based bridge.
A view from inside the bridge.
And a view outside.
One of the four guardians of Songgwangsa Temple that you have to pass to get to the temple’s courtyard.
The Jonggo-ru Pavilion.
The main hall at Songgwangsa Temple.
Wonhyo’s enlightenment.
A look inside the Daeungbo-jeon at the main altar.
The amazing view behind the main hall.
A look inside the Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.
A look inside the Seungbo-jeon Hall.
The Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.
A look inside the Gwaneum-jeon.
The stairway that leads up to Jinul’s stupa.