North Korea

Kangsosa Temple – 강서사 (Paechon, Hwanghaenam-to, North Korea)

The Seven-Story Goryeo-era Pagoda at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] in Paechon, Hwanghaenam-to, North Korea. (Picture Courtesy of the Buddhist Art of North Korea – Documentation in Gelatin Dry Plates).

Temple History

Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] is located at the foot of Mt. Baekmasan in Paechon [Baecheon], Hwanghaenam-to, North Korea. And for some of this article, it should be noted, that the spelling of North Korean places will use the North Korean style of spelling. The exact date of when Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] was established is unclear; however, it’s believed to have been first established by Doseon-guksa (826-898 A.D.) at the end of Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.). Originally the temple was known as Yonggunsa Temple [Yeonggeunsa Temple] until the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), when the name of the temple changed to its current name of Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple]. The name Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] literally means “West River Temple” in English. The reason for this name is because the temple is literally on the west side of the Yesong [Yeseong] River.

Later, it’s said that King Sejo of Joseon (r. 1455-1468) moved a Jangryuk-bul, a large Seokgamoni-bul (The Historic Buddha), to Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] from Wongaksa Temple. In 1592, and during the Imjin War (1592-1598), Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] was destroyed. It was later rebuilt only to be destroyed once more in 1651. Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] was rebuilt, once again, some four years later.

At the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, and the start of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] was expanded including the building of the Manse-ru Pavilion. It’s also from 1665, during Kangsosa Temple’s [Gangseosa Temple’s] rebuild that both the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall] and the Yosachae (monks dorms) were built. Originally, the monks dorms were used as a Nahan-jeon Hall that housed some five hundred statues of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). But more recently, it has been converted into the monks’ dorms at the temple.

Currently, there are only a handful of structures still standing at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple], which partially explains the transformation of the Nahan-jeon Hall into the Yosachae (monks’ dorms). The other structures that visitors can enjoy at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] presently is the seven-story pagoda that dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty and the temple’s foundation stone some two hundred metres east of the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall].

Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] is North Korean National Treasure #77.

Temple Layout

Kangsosa Temple is located on the west side of the Yesong [Yeseong] River. And it’s surrounded by local farms and a neighbouring forest. The temple courtyard at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] is compact. The temple grounds are home to only two temple structures: the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall] and the Yosachae (monks’ dorms). Out in front of the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall] is a seven-story stone pagoda from the Goryeo Dynasty (1392-1910). The base of this pagoda is a lotus design. And above that, around that four sides of the pagoda’s base, are guardians. Above these four guardians, and around the first story of the pagoda’s body, are four images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. And these images continue upwards throughout the height of the historic pagoda. It’s a beautiful example of Goryeo-era Buddhist artistry.

To the left of this pagoda and the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall], and out in front of the Yosachae (monks’ dorms), is another pagoda. The age of this pagoda is unknown, but it’s a five-story structure. As for the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall], it dates back to 1665. The exterior walls are painted white, and the dancheong colours up in the eaves, including the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, are now fading or chipped.

Stepping inside the rather spacious interior of the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall], you’ll find a long and wide main altar. Rather uniquely, the triad on the main altar is centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined by another image of Seokgamoni-bul to the right and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) to the left. The statue of Gwanseeum-bosal is backed by a painting of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And the central image of Seokgamoni-bul is backed by a Yeongsan Hoesang-do (The Sermon on Vulture Peak Painting). In addition to the individuality found in the form of the three separate main altar paintings, each of the main altar statues sit underneath their own datjib (canopy). The interior of the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall] is filled with dancheong murals that include images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, dragons, and Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities). As for the rest of the interior, you’ll find three hanging murals inside the main hall. The two murals to the left are dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and the rare to find Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural in North Korea. However, it does appear as though more and more of these Sanshin-do (Mountain Spirit Murals) seem to be appearing at more and more North Korean temples. And to the right of the main altar is the hanging Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

The only other structure at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] is the former Nahan-jeon Hall, which has now been converted into the temple’s Yosachae (monks’ dorms).

How To Get There

For now, in today’s political climate, you don’t. But hopefully one day soon we can. Below is a map of where to find Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] in Paechon [Baecheon], Hwanghaenam-to, North Korea.

Overall Rating: 7/10

The two main highlights to Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple] is the seven-story Goryeo-era stone pagoda out in front of the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall] and the main hall itself. While the exterior of the Taeung-jeon Hall [Daeung-jeon Hall] is rather plain, both the main altar features like the statues, paintings, and canopy, as well as the shaman murals of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) elevate this sparsely populated North Korean Buddhist temple.

Historical Pictures of Kangsosa Temple

The Daeung-jeon Hall in 1930 at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple]. (Picture courtesy of the Buddhist Art of North Korea – Documentation in Gelatin Dry Plates).
A look at the base of the seven-story Goryeo-era pagoda from 1930. (Picture courtesy of the Buddhist Art of North Korea – Documentation in Gelatin Dry Plates).
And an image of a Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deity) from around the body of the Goryeo-era pagoda. (Picture courtesy of the Buddhist Art of North Korea – Documentation in Gelatin Dry Plates).

Kangsosa Temple Now

The temple grounds at Kangsosa Temple [Gangseosa Temple]. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The Daeung-jeon Hall and seven-story pagoda in front of the main hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The dancheong adorning the Daeung-jeon Hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The seven-story pagoda in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
A closer look at the base of the pagoda. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
One of the guardians adorning the base of the pagoda. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The red canopy above the head of the central image of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). (Picture courtesy of Naver).
A look to the left of the main altar. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The image of Chilseong (The Seven Stars) inside the Daeung-jeon Hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
And the image of Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) to the left of the main altar, as well. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The view to the right of the main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) to the right of the main altar. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
The Yosachae (monks’ dorms) to the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall. (Picture courtesy of Naver).
And one of the budo (stupa) on the historic temple grounds. (Picture courtesy of Naver).

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