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Yongjusa Temple, which means “Dragon Jewel Temple,” in English, is located in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do. The temple was first established in 854 A.D. by Yeomgeo Hwasang. Originally, the temple was called Galyangsa Temple. And during the reign of King Gwanjong of Goreyo (r. 949-975 A.D.) the National Preceptor, Hyegeo Guksa, resided at the temple and prayed for the welfare of the nation. And during the 10th century, the temple was further expanded. In 1636, the temple was completely destroyed during the Qing Invasion of Joseon (Dec. 1636 to Jan. 1637). But in 1790, under the orders of King Jeongjo of Joseon (r.1776-1800), the temple was rebuilt to honour King Jeongjo’s deceased father, Crown Prince Sado (1735-1762). Crown Prince Sado was cruelly tortured to death by his father, King Yeongjo of Joseon (r.1724 -1776). To help pacify his father’s spirit, King Jeongjo built Yongjusa Temple. This was one of the few times during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), under the heavy influence of Confucian ideology, that the Joseon royal house supported Buddhism directly. It was also during this time that the temple was renamed Yongjusa Temple. The name of the temple was inspired by a dream that King Jeongjo had. Before moving his father’s tomb to the grounds of Yongjusa Temple, King Jeongjo had a dream where a dragon was ascending to the sky while holding a magic ball in its mouth.
You first enter the temple grounds through the Cheonwangmun Gate, or the “Four Heavenly Kings Gate,” in English. Housed inside this gate are four masterful examples of the Heavenly Kings. With their eye-popping intensity, they’re sure to intimidating all that pass through this gate.
Past the temple admission booth, and up a wandering pathway that passes by a beautiful collection of twisted red pines, you’ll come to the Hongsalmun Gate. With two red painted poles connected across the top beam, this gate speaks to the royal lineage at play at this temple. Typically, this style of gate is to be found at a royal tomb, which hearkens back to the temples royal origins.
Through the neighbouring Sammun Gate that’s adorned with a collection of ancient stone statues, you’ll enter into Yongjusa Temple’s outer courtyard. Housed inside this courtyard is a five story stone pagoda. Just beyond this pagoda is the Boje-ru Pavilion. It’s only after passing under the low-lying ceiling of the Boje-ru Pavilion that you gain admittance to the temple’s inner main courtyard.
Straight ahead rests the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. The main hall dates back to 1790. The exterior walls to the main hall are adorned with Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life) murals. As for the interior, it’s highly elaborate and ornate. Sitting on the main altar is a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). The main altar is backed by a beautiful altar mural. Measuring four metres in height and three metres in width, the altar mural was painted by Kim Hongdo, a famous Korean painter, as well as county magistrate. The main altar is housed under an older-looking datjib (canopy). On either side of the main altar is a mural dedicated to an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and a Gamno-do mural for the dead.
To the left of the main hall, and slightly to the rear, is the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall are a thousand white statues of the Buddha, as well as spherical golden lights that front the golden triad of statues that rest on the main altar. Behind this hall is the temple’s compact Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. All three shaman murals inside the Samseong-gak Hall are highly unique, but it’s the Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) mural that stands out the most with a big headed tiger protectively smiling next to the Mountain Spirit like a Cheshire cat.
To the right of the Samseong-gak Hall, and still to the rear of the main hall and across a bit of a field, is an elegantly designed stupa. In front of this stupa are two more shrine halls at Yongjusa Temple. The first is the Jijang-jeon Hall, which houses a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. The exterior walls to this hall depict the various stages of life. The other shrine hall is the Hoseong-jeon Hall. Housed inside this hall are the memorial tablets for Crown Prince Sado. And out in front of this hall is a uniquely designed three story pagoda that’s distinguished by its black body. In Korean writing, it speaks of filial piety.
The final thing that a visitor can enjoy at Yongjusa Temple is also National Treasure #120. The Bronze Bell of Yongjusa Temple dates back to the early part of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), but is reminiscent in style of Silla (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.). The bell has four striking points, or “dangjwa,” in Korean. And it’s adorned with beautiful Bicheon (Heavenly Deities) and a Buddha triad on the side.
Admission to the temple is 1,500 won.
HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Yongjusa Temple, you’ll first need to get to Byeongjeom Station on Line #1 on the Seoul subway system. From here, you can take any number of buses to the temple from behind the station. Any of the green buses like Bus #34, 34-1, 44, 46, 47, or 50 will go to Yongjusa Temple. From the subway station, the bus ride should take between ten to fifteen minutes.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10. There are quite a few unique features to Yongjusa Temple which starts with the intense Heavenly King statues inside the Cheonwangmun Gate. This is continued at the Hongsalmun Gate with the crowning red spires reminiscent of a royal tomb in Korea. There are a collection of beautiful murals at Yongjusa Temple which includes the shaman murals inside the Samseong-gak Hall and the altar mural inside the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. And to top it all off, there’s a bronze bell that dates back to the early Goryeo Dynasty that just so happens to be a national treasure, as well.