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Geumdangsa Temple is located in Jinan, Jeollabuk-do near the entrance of Maisan Provincial Park. In fact, just a little up the paved pathway about six hundred metres past Geumdangsa Temple, you’ll come to the famed Tapsa Temple. Both temples are housed within the park grounds of Maisan Provincial Park. Geumdangsa Temple means “Golden Hall Temple” in English, and it has two differing stories as to when it was first established.
According to one story, Geumdangsa Temple was first established in 814 A.D. by the Chinese monk Hyegam. Another story relates how in 650 A.D. the monk Muri came to the Baekje Kingdom (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.) from the Goguryeo Kingdom (37 B.C. – 668 A.D.). Of the two, and the one that the temple promotes, it’s the date of 814 A.D., so perhaps this is the more plausible of the two temple creation dates. At the time of the temple’s original construction, it was some 1.5 kilometres away from its present location. Geumdangsa Temple was moved to its present location in 1675. This was done after it was destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-1598) in 1592 during the first wave of the Japanese invasion of the war.
Geumdangsa Temple was also a place where the Goryeo (918-1392) monk Naong Hyegeun (1320-1376) practiced Buddhism. In fact, if you look closely up at the neighbouring mountainside to the west, you’ll find Naongam Hermitage, which is a secluded grotto where Naong Hyegeun once meditated. More recently, in 1894, General Jeon Bongjun’s daughter sought refuge at the temple after her father led the Peasant Revolution in 1894 against high taxation and extortion. Ultimately, this would lead to the anti-foreign campaign, mainly against the Japanese, which resulted in the execution of General Jeon Bongjun. Geumdangsa Temple also acted as a base for Korean guerrilla force in the Jinan area in opposition to Japanese Colonial rule (1910-1945).
Geumdangsa Temple is home to Korean Treasure #1266: a late 17th century Gwaebul (A Large Buddhist Banner Painting). It’s also home to a late Goryeo Dynasty/early Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) stone pagoda, which is designated Jeollabuk-do Cultural Heritage Material #122.
Admission to Geumdangsa Temple is 2,000 won because of the provincial park entry fee to Maisan Provincial Park.
When you first approach the temple grounds, you’ll be greeted by the visitors centre at Geumdangsa Temple to your right. Just a little further past this administrative building, and you’ll see a pair of mythical Haetae stone statues staring in on each other. To the far left is a golden statue of Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) to the rear of a beautiful artificial pond. Just before you reach this pond, you’ll notice a large collection of stacked stones that travelers have left behind for good luck and a safe journey.
To the right of the pond is an all-new shrine hall that houses a replica of the historic Gwaebul (A Large Buddhist Banner Painting). The original, which is Korean Treasure #1266, dates all the way back to 1692. This Gwaebul was completed by four artists. The original stands 8.7 metres in height and 4.74 metres in width. The large mural depicts Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). The face of Gwanseeum-bosal is disproportionately large compared to the rest of her body. The Bodhisattva of Compassion holds a lotus in her hands, and she is adorned in a striking gown and regal crown. Surrounding the central image are twenty additional images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in a multi-coloured fiery nimbus. In the past, this Gwaebul was brought out into the main temple courtyard and prayed to for rain. Alongside the Gwaebuls at Tongdosa Temple and Muryangsa Temple, it’s purportedly one of the most masterful paintings of its kind in Korea.
Next to this temple shrine hall, and to the right, is the Geukrak-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this shrine hall are painted with Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). As for the interior, you’ll find a triad of murals on the main altar. The one in the centre is dedicated to Amita-bul, while the accompanying two murals are dedicated to the infant incarnations of Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) riding a white elephant and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) riding a blue tiger.
Just up the embankment, and past the Geukrak-jeon Hall to the right, is the Samseong-gak Hall. Inside, you’ll find two newer paintings dedicated to the shaman deities Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). These two vibrant paintings flank an older mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Uniquely, and between the main hall and the Samseong-gak Hall, you’ll find a stone monument with a large golden tiger crawling across the top of it.
The most unique hall at Geumdangsa Temple is the Daeung-jeon Hall. This main hall was built some three hundred years ago, and it’s been topped, rather fittingly, with a fresh coat of gold paint in and around the roof. The exterior walls of the Daeung-jeon Hall are adorned with some rather simplistic Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). Inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a main altar triad centred by Seokgamoni-bul and joined on either side by Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). On the far right wall, you’ll find a collection of natural wood Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) statues, as well as a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
The final shrine hall visitors can explore at Geumdangsa Temple is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Inside this simplistically designed exterior, you’ll find a stately statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. This statue green haired statue is joined on either side by some yellow accented murals of the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld). The one in the collection of yellow accented murals to the far left depicts the Dragon Ship of Wisdom, while the mural to the far right is dedicated to Jijang-bosal.
In front of the Daeung-jeon Hall, there are a pair of pagodas. The first, which is the newer of the two and the one closer to the main hall, is a nine-story structure with smaller sized three-story pagodas surrounding it. And to the front of this newer pagoda is the Goryeo-era pagoda that stands five stories in height.
How To Get There
From the Jinan Bus Terminal you’ll need to take a bus bound for Maisan Provincial Park. These buses leave every forty minutes and first depart the terminal at 7:30 a.m. in the morning and run until 6 p.m. at night. Once you’re dropped off at the entry to Maisan Provincial Park, you’ll need to walk up the path that leads you towards Tapsa Temple. A couple hundred metres up the path, and just beyond the restaurants and stores, you’ll see Geumdangsa Temple to your left. It only takes about five minutes from where the bus lets you off to get to Geumdangsa Temple.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Surprisingly, especially for a smaller temple, there’s a fair bit to see at Geumdangsa Temple. The two main attractions are the large sized replica of the historic Gwaebul, as well as the five-story historic pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty. Other highlights are the extremely unique murals inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, the vibrant shaman murals housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall, the tiger crawling the stone monument, and the golden roofed Daeung-jeon Hall. It’s a nice little stop along the way, as you make your way up towards the better known Tapsa Temple.