Singwangsa Temple is located on the southern coast, on the western side, of Geoje, Gyeongsangnam-do. Specifically, Singwangsa Temple is situated on the western portion of Mt. Baekamsan (494.6 m). According to the temple website, the location of Singwangsa Temple has long been regarded as a sacred place for the worship of Buddhism.
Singwangsa Temple dates back to the 1930’s, when a farmer, while digging a pond, discovered the Oryang Stone Buddha Statue. This stone Buddha statue dates back to either Later Silla (668-935 A.D.) or the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). This statue was designated Gyeongsangnam-do Tangible Cultural Heritage #48 in 1972.
More recently, Singwangsa Temple underwent extensive building during the 1980’s and 1990’s. During the 1980’s, the Iljumun Gate, the Nokyawon Shrine, the Sanshin-gak Hall, the subterranean Cheonbul-jeon Hall, and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall were built. During the 1990’s, the temple further expanded with the addition of the Beomjong-gak (Belll Pavilion) and the Nahan-jeon Hall. And in 2012, the Daeung-jeon Hall was built at Singwangsa Temple.
You first approach Singwangsa Temple up a set of side-winding back roads, until you eventually see the temple’s Iljumun Gate and a collection of stupas. In a bend in the road, you’ll finally arrive at the temple parking lot. Just over a grassy knoll, and past a collection of beautiful cedar trees, you’ll see the large Daeung-jeon Hall straight ahead of you.
The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are decorated with fading Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). In addition to this artwork, there is some beautiful latticework of dragons swirling around in their wooden frames with Gwimyeon (Monster Masks) at the base of the front doors. There are three large, dark wooden statues that take up residence inside the Daeung-jeon Hall on the main altar. The triad is centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is then flanked on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayeorae-bul (The Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). This triad was first made in the late 1980’s, and they are meant to represent the idea of Samsara. These three central statues are then joined by four standing statues on the main altar. Starting from the left, they are Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power), Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom), and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This collection stands between 135 to 150 centimetres in height. The interior of the massive Daeung-jeon Hall is cavernous.
Just out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and to the right, is the Beomjong-gak (Bell Pavilion). Surrounding the pavilion, and on strings, are folded letters left behind by people with their hopes and dreams written on them. As for the Beomjong-gak Pavilion, there’s a large Brahma Bell that takes up residence inside it. This bell dates back to 1990.
One of the highlights to Singwangsa Temple, and to the right of the Beomjong-gak Pavilion, is a shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. Past a mature collection of trees, and through an opening, you’ll come to a two-story island with a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal standing on the second story. This six metre tall statue of the Bodhisattva of Compassion stands with a bottle of ambrosia in her left hand. This bottle is turned downwards. And populating the pond that Gwanseeum-bosal stands commandingly over top of are a collection of beautiful Koi. The statue and shrine of Gwanseeum-bosal date back to 1994.
Just to the immediate right of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and up a set of stairs, you’ll arrive in the upper courtyard at Singwangsa Temple. You’ll see a glass shrine dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) in this area. It’s just past this shrine, and up a hedgerow, you’ll come to the subterranean shrine hall at the temple. This is the Cheonbul-jeon Hall. Inside this temple shrine hall are eight bronze coloured plaques that depict various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at the entry. Passing by these, you’ll next enter the large inner cave chamber. Seated in the centre of the chamber is the historic Oryang Stone Buddha Statue. This statue is joined on all sides by a thousand golden Buddha statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
Up past the Cheonbul-jeon Hall, and another set of stairs, you’ll come to a shaman shrine hall dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars). Besides being large in size, they are rather plain in design.
Just behind the Cheonbul-jeon Hall, and to the left of the Sanshin/Chilseong-gak Hall, you’ll come to another clearing. This time in the centre of this clearing is a beautiful stone sculpture dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). This statue stands four metres in height; and like the Gwanseeum-bosal statue at Sinwangsa Temple, this statue also dates back to 1994. Joining the seated image of Mireuk-bul in this part of the temple grounds is the Nahan-jeon Hall. There are five hundred stone statues dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha) inside this temple shrine hall. These statues are between 30 to 33 centimetres in height, and they were first sculpted in the late 1990’s. These statues are then fronted by sixteen larger statues dedicated to the Nahan, and they stand 50 centimetres in height. The central image that sits on the main altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall is a stone statue of Seokgamoni-bul.
To the rear of the Nahan-jeon Hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, which is unadorned around its exterior walls all but for the basic dancheong colours. Taking up residence inside this shrine hall is another stone statue; this time, dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This statue is joined on either side by a stone statue of Mudokgwi-wang (The King of Ghosts Who Purifies People’s Minds) and Domyeong-jonja. Also joining this stone statue of Jijang-bosal is another of the Bodhisattva of the Afterlife. This statue is backed by a mural of Jijang-bosal and the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld).
How To Get There
Because Singwangsa Temple is actually located closer to the neighbouring city of Tongyeong, you’ll need to get to the Tongyeong Intercity Bus Terminal first. And from the Tongyeong Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take a taxi because there’s no bus that goes directly to Singwangsa Temple. The taxi will take about 25 minutes and cost you about 14,000 won.
Overall Rating: 8/10
While it costs a fair bit to drive from Geoje-do Island from Busan, especially when you use the underwater Gadeok Tunnel, Singwangsa Temple certainly didn’t disappoint. The temple is filled with shrine halls including the underground Cheonbul-jeon Hall. In addition to the beautiful artwork that populates these shrine halls, have a look for the island shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). With all this, you’ll have more than enough reason to visit the rather special Singwangsa Temple in the island city of Geoje, Gyeongsangnam-do.