Daewonsa Temple – 대원사 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)
The dragon’s head at Daewonsa Temple in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Without a doubt, Daewonsa Temple in northern Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do is one of the strangest and most unique temple’s you’ll visit in all of Korea. Located on the south side of Mt. Obongsan and just north of Chilpo Beach, you’ll find Daewonsa Temple.
You first approach the temple over the Chilpo Bridge and the stream that flows into the East Sea. Uniquely, Daewonsa Temple is divided into an upper and lower courtyard with the older portion of the temple in the lower courtyard. But it’s the snaking hundred metre long blue dragon that flows from the base of the temple up to its main hall heights that sets the temple apart. Approaching from the south, you can see the wide-open mouth of the dragon with a red exercise ball as the dragon’s tonsils. Across the bridge, and the pond that it spans, you’ll have to push your way past the dragon’s tonsils to enter the dragon. A little further ahead, you’ll find a door that gains you entrance to the temple’s lower main hall. As you enter the main hall, you’ll be welcomed by row upon row of various Buddhas. Next to these golden rows of Buddhas is a large shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Resting on the main altar are a triad of statues centred by Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). And to the right of the main altar is a simplistic guardian mural.
There are a couple other shrine halls in the lower courtyard like the Chilseong-gak, the bell pavilion, as well as the Sanshin-gak. But it’s in the Sanshin-gak that you’re in for the greatest surprise. Housed inside the shaman shrine hall is one of the most original murals dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). With a winged helmet, a mix of Yongwang (The Dragon King) and Sanshin motifs, as well as Gwanseeum-bosal and Jijang-bosal intermingling with donja (attendants), this style of painting is completely unheard of, so enjoy!
Back at the head of the dragon, and up a steep incline, is the temple’s upper main hall. Surrounded by beautifully manicured grounds, the upper main hall is adorned with the Zodiac generals around its exterior walls. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar inside the cavernous main hall, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). He’s joined to the right and left by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And to the left and right of this triad, and resting on their own altar, are Daesaeji-bosal (The Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal. Adorning the remaining walls is a guardian mural and a Chilseong mural.
Just outside the upper courtyard’s main hall are a row of granite statues. Once more, the triad is centred by Birojana-bul. Interestingly, and at the base of the dragon’s tail, there’s a door with a Nathwi 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 shamanic murals.
HOW TO GET THERE: From the Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #510. After 34 stops, or about 50 minutes, you’ll need to get off at the Chilpo 1-ri stop. From the stop, you’ll need to walk 500 metres, or 8 minutes, towards Daewonsa Temple.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just because it is so different than all the rest, and it has a slight amusement park feel to it, Daewonsa Temple rates as highly as it does. Not only can you see paintings throughout the entire length of the dragon’s body, but you can also gain entrance to the lower courtyard’s main hall. In addition to this outlandish, yet strangely appropriate dragon, is the highly original Sanshin mural located just to the north of the side-winding blue dragon. There are quite a few customary things to explore at Daewonsa Temple, but it’s these to oddities that make the temple stand out.
The welcoming dharma at Daewonsa Temple.
The unique dragon’s head at the temple.
A closer look at the blue dragon.
In the jaws of the dragon with the red exercise ball as tonsils.
The entry to the lower courtyard’s main hall.
The welcoming rows of miniature Buddha statues.
The main altar inside the lower courtyard’s main hall.
A look from the exterior at the older main hall at Daewonsa Temple.
To the right of the older main hall is this amazing Sanshin mural.
The side-winding blue body of the dragon as you make your way up to the upper courtyard’s main hall.
A look at the newly built Daeung-jeon.
The main altar inside the newly built Daeung-jeon.
The Dragon Ship of Wisdom with Jijang-bosal at the helm.
The neighbouring statues with Birojana-bul to the far right.
And the entrance to the dragon’s body.