Mahasa Temple – 마하사 (Yeonje-gu, Busan)

The Daeung-jeon Hall (left) and Samseong-gak Hall (right) at Mahasa Temple in Yeonje-gu, Busan.

Temple History

Mahasa Temple is located in the valley fold beneath the peaks of Mt. Hwangnyeongsan (427 m) and Mt. Geumryeonsan (413.6 m) in Yeonje-gu, Busan. “Maha” is a Sanskrit word that means “great” in English. So Mahasa Temple literally means “Great Temple” in English. And according to the Sangryangmun, which was found in the Daeung-jeon Hall and the Nahan-jeon Hall during renovation work conducted at the temple in 1965, Mahasa Temple was first established in the 5th century by the famed monk Ado-hwasang.

Mahasa Temple was later destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-1598). The Daeung-jeon Hall and the Nahan-jeon Hall were rebuilt in 1717. Large-scale renovations were carried out at Mahasa Temple between 1965 to 1970. At this time, the Daeung-jeon Hall, the Nahan-jeon Hall, and the Yosachae (monks’ dorms) were repaired and rebuilt. Later, and between 1995 to 1996, the Samseong-gak Hall was built.

Mahasa Temple is also home to Busan Metropolitan City Tangible Cultural Property #54. This is a painting of a Hyeonwang-do from 1792. The painting depicts one of the Ten Kings of the Underworld (Siwang), who is met three days after a person’s death.

The Hyeonwang-do from 1792 at Mahasa Temple. (Picture courtesy of Naver).

Temple Layout

You first approach Mahasa Temple up a twisting road that runs through a gauntlet of old houses, until it suddenly opens up and you’re close to the temple grounds. The road suddenly ends in a dead-end, and you’ll be greeted by a sometimes waterless waterfall. The temple sign at the entry will point you towards a set of wooden stairs that lead to Mahasa Temple.

Finally having mounted the stairs, you can look back through a lush forest to enjoy the views of Busan off in the distance. To your right is a two-in-one temple structure. The first story acts as the Cheonwangmun Gate, and the second story is the Jong-ru Pavilion. A statue of a baby Buddha keeps the Cheonwangmun Gate company. And the Cheonwangmun Gate is beautifully painted with guardians around its exterior, while the interior is occupied by four rather unique blue paintings of the Four Heavenly Kings.

Having passed through the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be welcomed on the other side by a row of rather ugly buildings. The only saving grace in this area are the paintings of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). It isn’t until you pass through this corridor of buildings, and under one of the temple buildings, that you emerge on the other side and enter into the main temple courtyard.

The main temple courtyard is lined with a perimeter of administrative buildings. Slightly to the left is the Daeung-jeon Hall and the Nahan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the main hall are adorned with some beautiful Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals). Also, and on each of the buildings corners, up near the eaves, are uniquely carved wooden elephant statues. The building wall to the Daeung-jeon Hall run up against the neighbouring Mt. Hwangyeongsan. Additionally, the two dragon heads that protrude out from the eaves of the shrine hall near the signboard for the Daeung-jeon Hall have long, flowing whiskers. And the front floral latticework is beautiful, as well.

As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, you’ll find, rather uniquely, two sets of triads. The first, and the smaller one, is the Seokjo Seokgayeorae Samjonjae, which has been a Busan Metropolitan City Tangible Cultural Property since 2003. The triad dates back to the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and the central image is that of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This central image is then joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). All three smaller sized statues are housed inside a glass case and backed by three larger main altar statues. This backing triad is centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). The pillars support the weight of the datjib (canopy) above the heads of the six main altar statues, and they are entwined with paintings of dragons. To the left of the main altar is a golden Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) relief. And to the right of the main altar is an equally stunning golden relief dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). The rest of the interior is filled with rows of smaller images of Seokgamoni-bul.

To the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Nahan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls have paintings dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciple of the Buddha). As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul. He’s joined on either side by sixteen white statues of the Nahan, as well as a set of paintings depicting the Nahan.

The only other shrine hall that visitors can explore at Mahasa Temple is the Samseong-gak Hall that’s located up a large, steep set of stairs. Before climbing these stairs, you’ll notice a five-story stone pagoda to the left of the stairs. As for the Samseong-gak Hall, the exterior walls are adorned with Sinseon (Taoist Immortal) paintings. Stepping inside the Samseong-gak Hall, you’ll find a triad of paintings dedicated to the shaman deities of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

How To Get There

To get to Mahasa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Mulmangol subway stop, which is stop #304 on the Busan subway system. From there, you can take a taxi to the temple for about 5,000 won (one way) over a 1.6 km distance. You can take a taxi or simply walk the distance with a map to Mahasa Temple.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

Mahasa Temple is scenically located in the heart of Busan but removed from the noise and congestion of the city. The interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall, the crowning Samseong-gak Hall, and the historic temple painting are all beautiful highlights at Mahasa Temple. So if you’re in the area, and you’re up for a little adventure, then Mahasa Temple near Dongnae is the place for you.

The view at Mahasa Temple of Busan.
The entry to Mahasa Temple.
One of the paintings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate of two of the Four Heavenly Kings.
A collection of Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) that line the entry to the temple courtyard.
The Daeung-jeon Hall at Mahasa Temple.
A look up at the dancheong and dragon that adorn the Daeung-jeon Hall.
Another look up at the dancheong colours with one of the adorning elephant statues.
The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
The view from the Daeung-jeon Hall towards the Nahan-jeon Hall.
The main altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
The roof tiles for the Nahan-jeon Hall.
The elevated Samseong-gak Hall.
With a painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) inside.
One last look around the temple courtyard at Mahasa Temple.

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