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.

Seonamsa Temple – 선암사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)


 The picturesque Seungseon-gyo Bridge that welcomes you to Seonamsa Temple in Jogyesan Provincial Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seonamsa Temple, which means “Heavenly Rock Temple,” in English, is located on the eastern slope of Mt. Jogyesan on the west end of Mt. Jogyesan Provincial Park. Legend has it that the missionary monk, Ado, built a hermitage named Biroam Hermitage in the same location as the present day Seonamsa Temple in 529 A.D. Some 350 years later, in 861 A.D., National Master Doseon-guksa built a large sized temple and called it its present name, Seonamsa Temple. Seonamsa Temple played a central role in the development of Seon Buddhism in Korea. Also, many Buddhist masters have practiced and taught at Seonamsa Temple after attaining enlightenment. During the Imjin War, which lasted from 1592-1598, several buildings at Seonamsa Temple were destroyed. More recently, since 1992, restoration plans have been enacted to restore the temple to its original 11th century form. In total, Seonamsa Temple houses 19 cultural properties in its halls and museum.

To get to Seonamsa Temple from the parking lot, you’ll have to first walk a kilometer. Along the way, you’ll come across collections of ancient stupas. You’ll know you’re just about to arrive at the temple when you see two rainbow shaped bridges to your right. The first of the two is rather nondescript; but it’s from the first that you get a great view of the beautiful Seungseon-gyo Bridge, which lies a little further up the valley. This beautiful bridge was first constructed in 1713 by monk Hoan. It was built over a six year period, and it’s one of the most beautiful you’ll see in all of Korea. If you look carefully, you can see a dragon at the base of the bridge. This is meant to chase away evil spirits. You can get some great pictures from the base of the river that runs under it, but there’s no set of stairs, so be careful.

The next site you’ll see at the temple is a pavilion, the Gangseon Pavilion, which welcomes you to the temple grounds. Just to the right, you’ll see a beautiful oval shaped pond with an island of pink flowers in its centre.

A little further up, and up a pretty good incline of a road, you’ll finally come to the Iljumun Gate at Seonamsa Temple. The current gate dates back to 1719, after the original was destroyed by fire in 1540. After having passed through the Iljumun Gate, you’ll next come to the overly commercialized percussion hall. The walls are crammed with needless knick knacks that puts a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of a visitor to the temple. To the right, between the two gates, is the temple’s rather unassuming bell pavilion.

Finally making your way past the campy percussion hall, and to the right, you’ll suddenly find yourself in the main temple courtyard with the Daeung-jeon, the main hall, front and centre. In front of the main hall are two three-storied stone pagodas. Both pagodas date back to the 9th century and are simplistic in design. They are designated National Treasure #395. Being framed by the twin pagodas is the Daeung-jeon. The exterior walls of the Daeung-jeon at Seonamsa Temple are extremely plain all but for the dancheong paint patterns. Housed inside the main hall is a solitary seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is backed by a vibrant painting on the main altar.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall, which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Sitting on the main altar inside this hall is a green haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal. He’s surrounded on all sides by ten statues and paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Through a path that leads past the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall, you’ll emerge on the other side on the upper terrace of the temple grounds. This treed and flowering area houses five shrine halls. The first, and the furthest to the right, is the beautiful and historic Palsang-jeon. The hall is believed to date back to sometime before the 18th century. There are ten Buddha statues on the main altar, centred by Seokgamoni-bul. These statues are backed by copies of the original Palsang-do paintings. The exterior walls of the interior hall are adorned with copies of the original Nahan paintings.

Next to the Palsang-jeon is the Buljo-jeon. Inside this hall are rows of both paintings and statues of the Buddha. Between these two halls, and up on a little ledge, is the Wontong-jeon, which is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This hall was first constructed in 1660, and the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside this hall is beautifully ornate.

Next to the Buljo-jeon hall is the Josa-jeon hall, which houses eight paintings of monks who helped shape Seonamsa Temple. This hall stands next to a rather original lily pond. Past the shrubbery, and out on the other side, you’ll see the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses a painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and a cartoonish looking tiger to keep him company.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to the Suncheon Jonghap Bus Terminal (순천종합버스터미널). From the bus terminal, you’ll need to take either Bus #1 or #16 to get to the Seonamsa Temple bus stop. Once you arrive, you’ll need to walk a kilometre to the trail.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just for the sheer number of cultural properties alone that can be found at Seonamsa Temple, it deserves this rating. But when you add into the mix the Seungseon-gyo Bridge, the original looking Wontong-jeon Hall, and the historic Iljumun Gate, well, you get the picture. In combination with the neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple, it can make for quite the day.


 The scenic river valley that leads up to Seonamsa Temple.


 Some of the stupas that greet you along the way.


 The view under the Seungseon-gyo Bridge up at the Gangseon Pavilion.


 A better look at the Gangseon Pavilion and ravine that runs beside it.


 The beautiful oval shaped pond that welcomes you to the temple.


 The first look up at the Iljumun Gate.


 A better look at the historic gate.


 The unassuming bell pavilion at Seonamsa Temple.


 The Daeung-jeon main hall at Seonamsa Temple with one of the 9th century stone pagodas out in front of it.


 A look inside the main hall at the solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul.


 The corridor that leads to the upper courtyard at the temple. To the left is the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall with Jijang-bosal front and centre. He’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


 One of the paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


 The somewhat forested upper courtyard at the temple.


 The first hall to the right is the Palsang-jeon.


 A look inside at the altar inside the Palsang-jeon hall.


 One of the copies of the Nahan paintings that line the walls inside the Palsang-jeon.


 The picturesque view from the Palsang-jeon out onto Mt. Jogyesan.


 The highly unique Wontong-jeon hall.


 Inside is this highly elaborate statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.


The next hall to the left is the Buljo-jeon hall.


 A look inside the Buljo-jeon at the walls of statues and paintings of the Buddha.


The next hall is the Josa-jeon.


 A look inside at just three, of the eight, paintings of historic monks that once lived at Seonamsa Temple.

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.