Seonwonsa Temple is located in central Namwon, Jeollabuk-do. The temple was first established in 875 A.D. by Doseon-guksa (826-898 A.D.). Purportedly, Doseon-guksa decided to build Seonwonsa Temple after he judged the topography of Namwon. After judging the land, Doseon-guksa realized that Mt. Baekgongsan, which is the main mountain in Namwon, was spiritually weak; while neighbouring Mt. Gyoryongsan (518.9 m), which lies at the outskirts of Namwon, was much stronger. As a result, Doseon-guksa insisted that to help strengthen the spiritual energy of Mt. Baekgongsan they needed to build a temple. This temple would become Seonwonsa Temple. And since the time that Seonwonsa Temple was first established, and because the people of Namwon believed that the temple was closely related to the prosperity of the city, they protected and supported Seonwonsa Temple.
When the temple was first established, it was purportedly as large and beautiful as the neighbouring Manboksa Temple (now Manboksa-ji Temple Site) with some 30 temple buildings. However, Seonwonsa Temple, like Manboksa Temple, was destroyed by the invading Japanese in 1597 during the Imjin War (1592-1598). Later, the temple would be rebuilt in 1754. Most of the temple structures that currently occupy the temple grounds are about one hundred years in age.
In October, 2022, while visiting Seonwonsa Temple in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do, the abbot of Seonunsa Temple discovered something in the Jijang-siwang-do, which is a painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) and the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld). While praying, the abbot, Unmun, discovered that one of the crowns that one of the Siwang was wearing had the Taegukgi (Korean flag) design on it. This is a first in a Korean Buddhist painting. The painting measures only 8.3 cm wide by 4 cm high.
What’s even more interesting about this design is that the painting dates back to 1917, when it was painted from November 5th to November 17th. This would have been during Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945). The Taegukgi was banned by the Japanese from 1912. According to one expert, Song Myeong-ho, who was a former expert at the Modern Cultural Heritage Division of the Cultural Heritage Administration, he said “This is the first time that a painting of the Taegukgi has been found in a Buddhist painting.” As such, and because of the year of the painting, it’s believed that the painting was made as part of the anti-Japanese movement that would culminate in the March 1st Movement of 1919. There does seem to be a relationship between the abbot of Seonwonsa Temple at that time, Gi-seon, the monk artist who created the painting, Jin-eung, and the Korean independence reformer and poet, Han Yong-un (1897-1944), which more than likely resulted in the production of the Jijang-siwang-do at Seonwonsa Temple.
Another interesting facet of the painting is the identity of the Siwang that wears the crown with the Taegukgi on it. Of the Ten Kings of the Underworld, the Taegukgi appears on the crown of The sixth king, who is “Byeonseong – 변성” in Korean. What’s interesting about King Byeonseong is that he is in charge of the punishing those that have harmed others with knives and swords. And the same pain that they’ve inflicted on others will be their karmic punishment. The painting is a very interesting discovery.
In total, Seonwonsa Temple is home to two Korean Treasures. They are the Iron Seated Buddha of Seonwonsa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #422; and the Wooden Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Triad and Clay Ten Underworld Kings of Seonwonsa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #1852.
When you first pass through the entry gate adorned with a pair of guardian murals, you’ll notice a five-story stone pagoda directly in front of you. And to the left of the entry gate is the temple’s Jong-ru Pavilion (Bell Pavilion). Housed inside the elevated Jong-ru Pavilion are two of the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments. In this case, and at Seonwonsa Temple, you’ll find the Beomjong (Brahma Bell) and the Beopgo (Dharma Drum), which are both joined by a large golden statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
Beyond the five-story stone pagoda, you’ll find a row of three temple shrine halls. The shrine hall in the centre is the Daeung-jeon Hall. This Daeung-jeon Hall was rebuilt in 1961. The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are adorned with beautiful Shimu-do (The Ox-Herding Murals). Stepping inside the diminutive main hall, you’ll find a triad of statues resting on the main altar. In the centre is the image of Seokgamoni-bul, who is joined on either side by Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). And hanging on the far left wall is an older Sinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
To the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Yaksa-jeon Hall. The original Yaksa-jeon Hall was destroyed in the late 16th century, but it was later rebuilt in 1754. The Yaksa-jeon Hall is Jeollabuk-do Tangible Cultural Property #119. As for the exterior walls, they are adorned with peaceful landscape paintings. Stepping inside the Yaksa-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, you’ll find the Iron Seated Buddha at Seonwonsa Temple, which is Korean Treasure #442. This statue dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), and it follows the traditional design of an iron Buddha statue from this time period. The Buddha’s hair is spiky, which is meant to look like a twirling seashell-shape. And there’s a crescent-shaped boju (finial) in the middle of his head. The expression of the Buddha’s face is serious. And the robe that the Buddha wears is draped over both of his shoulders. The hands of the statue were formerly lost; but recently, a new pair has been attached. Rounding out the interior of the Yaksa-jeon Hall is a single Siwang (Ten Kings of the Underworld) painting on the far right wall and an equally older-looking Sinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) on the far left wall.
To the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall, on the other hand, is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Seonwonsa Temple was originally constructed at Wibongsa Temple and moved to its present location in 1910. The exterior walls to the Myeongbu-jeon Hall are simply adorned with the traditional dancheong colours. Stepping inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll find a green-haired image of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar. Jijang-bosal, as well as the majority of statues dedicated to the Siwang (Ten Kings of the Underworld) at Seonwonsa Temple, were first produced in 1610. These statues were made by the monk Wono and his eight assistants including Cheongheo. It was only later, and in 1646, that the statues of King Taesan (the seventh King of the Underworld) and messengers were produced by the monk sculptor Dosaek and his six assistants. Collectively, the statues of Jijang-bosal and the Siwang are Korean Treasure #1852.
To the rear of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall is a taller statue dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). This statue is joined in this area by the monks’ dorms. It’s to the rear of the Yaksa-jeon Hall that you’ll find the fourth, and final, temple shrine hall that visitors can explore at Seonwonsa Temple. The exterior walls to the Samseong-gak Hall are adorned with fading murals, as well as a pair of wood statues dedicated to the Korean folk tale “The Rabbit’s Liver.” The central image of the three shaman deities is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the right hangs a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And hanging on the far left side of the main altar is a rather unique Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) painting. In this painting, Sanshin and his accompanying tiger are separated by a plume of mist. They are nearly in an adversarial posture with a Van Gogh-esque dongja (attendant) in the top left corner of the painting.
How To Get There
To get to Seonwonsa Temple from the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take either Bus #3-164 or Bus #1-112. However, almost all buses from the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal go in the direction of Seonwonsa Temple. Also, you can simply walk to Seonwonsa Temple from the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal with a phone and a map. By bus, it’ll take you five minutes; and after one stop, you’ll need to get off at the “Jukhang stop.” If you decide to walk, on the other hand, it’ll take you just 7 minutes.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Seonwonsa Temple is located in downtown Namwon, but don’t let the urban setting fool you. Seonwonsa Temple has a lot to offer visitors despite its location. The two obvious highlights to the temple are the two Korean Treasures: the Iron Seated Buddha of Seonwonsa Temple and the Wooden Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Triad and Clay Ten Underworld Kings of Seonwonsa Temple. Outside these two Korean Treasures, other things to keep an eye out for are the shaman murals inside the Samseong-gak Hall (especially the Sanshin mural), the entry gate guardian murals, and the two older Sinjung Taenghwa murals.