Daesansa Temple – 대산사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

A Look Inside the Yongwang-dang Hall at Daesansa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Temple History

Daesansa Temple is located to the northeast of Mt. Cheonwangsan (619.3 m) in western Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. According to the “Woleunsan Daesansa Sajeok – 월은산 대산사 사적,” which is the only historical record about Daesansa Temple, the temple was first established in 830 A.D. by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.). But as you can tell from the time that Wonhyo-daesa actually lived, this makes the construction of the temple by Wonhyo-daesa a little suspicious.

With this in mind, when the temple was first established, it was named Yongbongsa Temple. During the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Ilyeon (1206-1289) was the head monk of Yongbongsa Temple. It was at this time that the history of Daesansa Temple was written.

During the Imjin War (1592-98), the temple was destroyed by Japanese forces in 1592. The temple would later be rebuilt through the support of the royal family. However, in 1866, the temple was destroyed, once more, when it was looted and set on fire by thieves. In 1876, the temple was rebuilt and renamed as Daesansa Temple. However, the temple would be destroyed by fire, again, in 1930. So in 1959, the temple was rebuilt for the final time and continues to grow in size up to the present day.

In addition to the history of the temple, there’s a legend that claims that during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.), a Sugwanseeum-bosal (A Three Thousand Armed Image of the Bodhisattva of Compassion) drifted in the South Sea from the Mokji Kingdom. In total, there were three. One found a home at Unmunsa Temple, the other in an unknown location, while the final was enshrined at Daesansa Temple (Yongbongsa Temple). This would make the temple great. During the Imjin War, this statue of Gwanseeum-bosal was buried in the ground to hide it from Japanese looters. However, it’s claimed that a thief did in fact find the location of the statue. But when he was digging it up, the thief started to vomit blood and died while digging it up. However, by the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), when the temple was looted and set fire to, the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal was destroyed, as well. However, there is a claim that the statue was buried in a field before it and the temple were destroyed only to be rediscovered in 2000 in a neighbouring field. According to those that found it, this statue validates the temple legend of the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal. Whatever the case may be, it’s a rather interesting story connected to the once illustrious temple.

Temple Layout

Daesansa Temple is scenically located past the Daesan-ji Lake and up a side-winding mountain road that looks down on the valley below. As you first enter the grassy temple courtyard, you’ll notice the monks’ dorms and visitors’ centre book-ending the main hall at Daesansa Temple. Out in front of the Wontong-jeon Hall is a historic two-story pagoda that was obviously much larger once judging from its stout base. Lining the top of the base stone are several Buddhist related statues left behind by visitors.

Behind this pagoda rests the Wontong-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this newly built main hall are adorned with two separate sets of murals. The first, and the much larger ones below, are dedicated to the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). And above this, and much smaller and up near the eaves of the shrine hall, you’ll find a beautiful miniature set of the Shimu-do (The Ox-Herding Murals). The entire exterior to the main hall is adorned in vibrant dancheong colours.

Stepping inside the Wontong-jeon Hall, you’ll notice a rather unique set of main altar statues. The largest of the set is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Joining this central statue to the left is a golden capped image of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), while to the right you’ll find an image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Rounding out the interior of the main hall is a collection of artwork that includes an older mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal, as well as a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

To the right and rear of the Wontong-jeon Hall are a collection of three shaman shrine halls. The first of these three, and to the far left rear, is the Sanshin-gak Hall. The all-natural wooden exterior houses a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Sanshin is joined in this mural by a dour-looking tiger. To the right of the Sanshin-gak Hall, and still to the rear of the main hall, is a somewhat larger shaman shrine hall. This shrine hall is the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall are a pair of paintings. The first of these two paintings, and hanging on the main altar to the left, is an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the right hangs a beautifully vibrant mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

The third, and final, shaman shrine hall directly to the right of the Wontong-jeon Hall is the Yongwang-dang Hall. The Yongwang-dang Hall is situated down a set of stone stairs. This shrine hall houses one of the more stunning paintings dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) that I’ve seen in my travels throughout Korea. This masterful painting is a new addition to the temple, and the former red wooden tablet that used to be housed inside the Yongwang-dang Hall now rests out in front of the Yongwang-dang Hall.

How To Get There

From the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #1 and get off at the “Nokmyeong 2-ri” stop after seven stops, or 17 minutes. From this stop, you’ll then need to take a bus that reads “Punggak Sunhwa – 풍락 순환 버스.” After six stops, or 19 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the “Oksan 2-ri” stop. From this stop, you’ll need to walk for about 30 minutes, or 2.1 km, to get to the temple. Just follow the signs as you make your climb up towards Daesansa Temple.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

The main highlight to this lesser known temple are all the shaman shrine halls and the artwork that they house inside them. For example, the painting dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) is one of the finest that you’ll see at any temple in Korea. And the dour-looking tiger in the Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) painting is a surprise, as well. Also, the entire interior and exterior of the Wontong-jeon Hall is simply stunning. Daesansa Temple also enjoys a beautiful location. So when it’s all put together, Daesansa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do makes for a nice little escape from the busyness of daily life.

The view from the heights of the temple grounds.
The Wontong-jeon Hall.
The two-story stone pagoda in front of the main hall.
A look at the main hall from the side.
One of the paintings from the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals).
One of the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals) that adorns the exterior of the Wontong-jeon Hall, as well.
A look inside the Wontong-jeon Hall during morning worship.
The Sanshin-gak Hall to the rear of the main hall.
A look at Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and his dour-looking tiger inside the Sanshin-gak Hall at Daesansa Temple.
Next to the Sanshin-gak Hall is the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak Hall.
An older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) inside the aforementioned shaman shrine hall.
Joined by this modern painting dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).
And next to the Chilseong/Dokseong-gak Hall is the compact Yongwang-dang Hall and this amazing painting dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King).

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