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Yongwang-dang –The Dragon King Hall: 용왕당

The Yongwang-dang Hall at Haegwangsa Temple in Gijang, Busan.

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Another shaman deity that you can find inside a Samseong-gak Hall or a Yongwang-dang Hall is Yongwang, or “The Dragon King,” in English. Of the four shaman deities commonly found at a Korean Buddhist temple, Yongwang is usually the least common to find. Yongwang comes from Chinese Taoism with Hindu and shaman influences. Traditionally, Yongwang is the deity of lakes, rivers, ponds, waters, seas, stream, or pretty much anything to do with water.

Yongwang, The Dragon King, at Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

There’s a belief that there’s a world beneath the sea. And in this world, Yongwang rules in his Dragon Palace called “Yonggung,” in Korean. As a shaman deity at a Korean Buddhist temple, Yongwang is known for procuring descendants, national security, health, rain, good fortune, and prosperity.

The Dragon King at Daeilam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Yongwang is a royal-looking figure with fierce bulging eyes that sometimes pop out of their sockets. He’s also older in age, like Sanshin, with a white angry-looking beard, eyebrows, and moustache. He wears a royal robe with a crown, and he sometimes sits upon a throne. An easy way to identify Yongwang is that he’s always with a dragon. Sometimes these dragons fly all around him, and sometimes he’s flying one. And if he is in fact riding a dragon, this act symbolizes his dominance over the dragon. Sometimes, but rarely, you’ll find Yongwang in the presence of an unknown female figure. She too is also dressed in royal clothes with a small crown. What’s unclear is if she’s another Yongwang or if she’s Yongwang’s wife.

The Dragon King inside the Yongwang-dang Hall at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
A Yongwang relief at Hyuhyuam Hermitage in Yangyang, Gangwon-do.
The cartoonish-looking Yongwang at Gyeongunsa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do.

There are wonderful examples of Yongwang in Korea like at Cheonbulsa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do; Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Gijang, Busan; Gwanryongsa Temple in Changnyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do; Hyuhyuam Hermitage in Yangyang, Gangwon-do; Gyeongunsa Temple in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do; and Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

However, the best example of a Yongwang-dang Hall in Korea can be found at Haegwangsa Temple in eastern Busan. The Yongwang-dang Hall actually sits atop a rocky outcropping in the East Sea near the banks of Gijang, Busan. The waves crash up against the lighthouse-like abode of the Yongwang-dang Hall; while inside the hall, an orange cloaked Yongwang (The Dragon King) sits on his throne with his back to the East Sea as worshipers can look out the rectangular window (reminiscent of the Daeung-jeon Hall at Tongdosa Temple). But instead of the Buddha, people look out onto the sea through this window as they pray to the Dragon King perhaps for health or good fortune.

The most impressive Yongwang-dang Hall in Korea at Haegwangsa Temple in eastern Busan.
The Dragon King inside the Yongwang-dang Hall at Haegwangsa Temple.

So the next time you’re at a Korean Buddhist temple, have a careful look for Yongwang. Of the four popular shaman deities at Korean Buddhist temples, Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), Yongwang (The Dragon King) is the hardest to find. But if the temple is near the sea, or even a stream or a river, you’ll usually find The Dragon King.

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