Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
Daewonsa Temple is located in northern Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do. More specifically, it’s located southeast of the diminutive Mt. Obongsan (177.7 m) near Chilpo Beach. Before the modern Daewonsa Temple was built, the site was occupied by a much older temple, which according to local legend, was dismantled during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) in 1510. The former temple was dismantled at this point because the land was needed to house the Japanese military. As for the present temple, Daewonsa Temple, it was first constructed in 1945 just after Japanese colonization (1910-1945) of the peninsula came to an end.
As you first approach the temple grounds over the Gohyeon-cheon Stream and the Chilpo-gyo Bridge that spans its depths, the first thing to greet you on the temple grounds are a pair of Geumgang-yeoksa (Vajra Warriors). These two metre tall statues intimidatingly welcome you to the grounds. Past these, and near the temple parking lot, you’ll see an elevated outdoor shrine. Perched on the elevated shrine is a stout three-story stone pagoda. In front of this elevated pagoda is a jovial stone statue dedicated to Podae-hwasang (The Hempen Bag).
To the left of these are a collection of temple shrine halls. You’ll notice that Daewonsa Temple has both an upper and lower courtyard. But even more pronounced than this division is the one hundred metre long blue dragon that snakes its way from the lower courtyard up to the upper courtyard. The head of the dragon rests in the lower courtyard, while the rest of its blue body winds its way through the mountainside and up towards the upper courtyard. Approaching from the south, you can see the wide-open mouth of the dragon. Crossing a small bridge that spans a lotus pond, you can now enter through the dragon’s mouth. This dragon used to have a red medicine ball that formerly acted as its tonsils, but it seems to have been removed.
The blue colour of the dragon symbolizes protection. Not only are dragons thought to be guardians and protectors, but they are also thought to be bearers of good fortune and spiritual clarity because their loud voices clear away any and all delusions of corrupting thoughts. Through the mouth, and down a corridor, you’ll enter into the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall at Daewonsa Temple. Resting on the main altar inside the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall, which is inside the belly of the one hundred metre long blue dragon, is a triad centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). To the right and left of the main altar triad are hundreds of little golden statuettes dedicated to the Buddha of Cosmic Energy. To the immediate right of the main triad statues is a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). And to the immediate left of the main altar triad is a shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). So quite literally, and not just metaphorically, the blue dragon is protecting the dharma (doctrine/teachings) in its body.
Exiting out the front doors to the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall, and out of the dragon, you’ll notice three structures in the lower courtyard. The first of the three is the Chilseong-gak Hall to your left. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall is a rather simple mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Next to this is the Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion). This houses the rather diminutive Brahma Bell at Daewonsa Temple. And to the far right of the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall is the Sanshin-gak Hall. Housed inside this shaman shrine hall is one of the most unique paintings dedicated to the Mountain Spirit in all of Korea. With a winged helmet, a mixture of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) motifs, as well as Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) intermingling with dongja (attendants), this hybrid style of painting is completely unheard of, so enjoy!
Back to the head of the dragon, and up a steep incline, is the temple’s upper courtyard. Housed in the upper courtyard is the temple’s newly built Daeung-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are adorned with the Zodiac Generals. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, is a triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). To the left of this triad is a shrine dedicated to Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). And to the right is a shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. Adorning the remaining walls is another Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) and a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
Just outside the Daeung-jeon Hall, and to the right, you’ll notice a row of stone statues. Once more, this triad is centred by Birojana-bul. Interestingly, and at the side of the dragon’s tail, there’s a door with a Gwimyeon (Monster Mask) on it. It’s through this door that you can walk through the remainder of the dragon’s body. Housed inside the dragon’s body are various murals and shrines.
How To Get There
From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #510. After thirty-four stops, or about fifty minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Chilpo 1-ri stop. From this stop, you’ll need to walk five hundred metres, or eight minutes, towards Daewonsa Temple.
Overall Rating: 8/10
This modern temple is definitely a one-off. And while it can have a bit of an amusement park feel to it, once you know the symbolism behind the dragon, Daewonsa Temple starts to make a lot more sense. Not only can you see paintings and shrines throughout the entire length of the interior of the blue dragon’s body, but you can also see the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall in its belly. In addition to this unique temple shrine hall, there’s the highly original Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural, as well. There are other more traditional things to see at Daewonsa Temple like the Chilseong-gak Hall and the Daeung-jeon Hall; but let’s be honest, you’ve probably traveled all this way to see the eccentricities of the temple.