Daegoksa Temple – 대곡사 (Uiseong, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Daegoksa Temple in Uiseong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Temple History

Daegoksa Temple is located to the east of Mt. Bibongsan (579.3 m) in northwestern Uiseong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. There are no specific records about when Daegoksa Temple was first founded; however, it’s generally assumed to have first been built in 1368 to honour the Indian monk Jigong (1289-1363) who traveled extensively for many years in parts of China (Yuan) and Korea (Goryeo) to help teach Buddhism. As a result, the temple was originally named Daeguksa Temple to commemorate the travels of Jigong to these two great countries. Originally, there were nine hermitages at the temple, as well.

The temple and eight of the hermitages would later be destroyed in 1592 during the Imjin War (1592-98). Only Jeokjoam Hermitage remained of the nine original hermitages. The temple would later be rebuilt in 1605 by the monk Tanu. It was at this time that the Daeung-jeon Hall was rebuilt. In 1650, the Beomjong-gak Hall was built; and in 1656, the Myeongbu-jeon Hall was built. In 1687, when the Taejeon Hall was rebuilt, the temple changed its name to its current name of Daegoksa Temple.

In 1990, the monk Beopui built the Nahan-jeon Hall, the Sanshin-gak Hall, and the Iljumun Gate at Daegoksa Temple. It’s also around this time, in November, 1989, that a discovery was made at the temple that would alter the belief in when the temple was first founded. According to the National Council on Research on the Local History of Korea, a claim was made that the temple was first founded during late Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.) to early Goryeo (918-1392). The reason for this claim is from a poem written by Lee Gyu-bo entitled “Daegoksa.” Lee wrote this poem after visiting a temple named Daegoksa Temple. This indicates that the temple existed prior to his visit in the 13th century. This is further supported by a gilt-bronze Buddha statue from late Unified Silla being discovered in a field at Daegoksa Temple in 1960.

In total, there are three Korean Treasures from Daegoksa Temple. They are the Daeung-jeon Hall, which is Korean Treasure #1831; and the “The King of Sweet Dew with Inscription of Daegoksa Temple,” which is currently located in Iksan, Jeollabuk-do at the Wongwang University Museum. The Gamno-do (Sweet Dew Mural) is Korean Treasure #1990. Also, there’s the “Bell Pavilion of Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong,” which is Korean Treasure #212.

In addition to these three Korean Treasures, there are four provincial treasures. They are the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, which is Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Heritage Material #439; the “Multi-Story Stone Pagoda of Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong,” which is Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Heritage Material #405; the “Buddhist Painting of Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva),” which is Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Heritage Material #426; and the “Portraits of Three Buddhist Monks and Three Patriarchs in Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong,” which is Gyeongsangbuk-do Cultural Heritage Material #427.

Temple Layout

As you make your way up to the temple grounds, you’ll pass by a stunning Iljumun Gate with large pillars and support brackets. It’s wonderfully adorned in dancheong colours. From the temple parking lot, if you head to the left, you’ll make your way up towards Jeokjoam Hermitage. But it’s to the right, and towards Daegoksa Temple, that we want to go.

Crossing a bridge, and past stone guardian posts to your left and right, as well as a beautiful flower garden, you’ll notice the large “Bell Pavilion of Daegoksa Temple” in the background. This Korean Treasure was first built in the 17th century to house a large Buddhist bronze bell. The bell that was originally housed in this bell pavilion is now located at Yongmunsa Temple in Yecheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. This bell pavilion is now void of bells or percussions instruments. Instead, the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments are housed inside the newly built Jong-ru Pavilion to the left.

As for this older bell pavilion, it recently underwent restoration. The pavilion has a hip-and-gable roof that supports intricate bracketing. The pillars that support the main story of the structure is made from roughly cut logs that still retain their original curves. You pass through the first floor of the structure to gain entry into the main temple courtyard at Daegoksa Temple. Housed inside the first story of this structure is an original pillar that was recently replaced for structural reasons. It’s great that they’ve maintained it because it shows the decorative paintings that once filled the historic bell pavilion. There are a flight of stairs to the right that go to the main floor of the structure, but they currently seem off-limits.

Upon entering the main temple courtyard at Daegoksa Temple, you’ll notice the “Multi-Story Stone Pagoda of Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong” in the centre of the three temple shrine halls. It’s believed that this non-traditional-looking pagoda dates back to the 11th century, and it stands 180 cm in height. The pagoda appears to have originally been thirteen stories in height. However, only twelve currently remain of the roof stones. It’s also missing its finial that once adorned the top of the pagoda. The roof stones are made of dark blue slate. The pagoda is a nice example of an early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) slate pagoda.

Backing this slate pagoda is the Daeung-jeon Hall. The current Daeung-jeon Hall was rebuilt in 1605, and it was later expanded in 1687. The exterior walls of the main hall remain unadorned. Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues underneath a bracketed datjib (canopy). This multi-layered canopy stands underneath a ceiling full of fading lotus flower paintings. As for the main altar triad, the central image is that of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). The interior of the main hall is filled with replicas of the four “Portraits of Three Buddhist Monks and Three Patriarchs in Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong.” These paintings include the triad of Buddhist monks that are Jigong (1289-1363), Naong (1320-1376), and Muhak (1327-1405) with Jigong in the centre. There are three other replica paintings that include Seosan-daesa (1520-1604), Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610), and Damsu (?-?). Also, you can find a smaller sized Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) hanging on the far left wall. The entire interior of the Daeung-jeon Hall is filled with wonderful older murals.

To the immediate left of the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find the storage area that also acts as a shrine hall with white and golden images of Buddhas on the main altar. And to the right of the main hall, you’ll find the historic Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The current Myeongbu-jeon Hall was built in 1656. The structure of the gable roof is supported by stunning wing-shaped brackets. Like the Daeung-jeon Hall, the exterior of the shrine hall is left unadorned. 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. This central image is joined on either side by newer wooden statues dedicated to the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld). And hanging on the far left wall is a replica of the “Buddhist Painting of Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva),”

To the far left of the temple grounds, you’ll find the monks dorms’ and administrative office at Daegoksa Temple. Between monks’ dorms and the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find the Nahan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this shrine hall are adorned with the Shimu-do (The Ox-Herding Murals). There is a large statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) all alone on the main altar. This central image is joined on either side by smaller images of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), as well as seated images of Jeseok-bul (Indra) and Beomcheon-bul (Brahma).

To the rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall is a beautiful flower garden. And to the far right, just before the temple gives way to being a part of the forest, is the Sanshin-gak Hall. The left exterior wall is adorned with a cartoonish, orange tiger. Stepping inside the shaman shrine hall, you’ll find a beautiful modern painting dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), who is accompanied by a wild-eyed tiger.

How To Get There

To get to Daegoksa Temple from the Uiseong Intercity Bus Terminal, it’ll take about two and a half hours. First, you’ll need to take Bus #270 for 40 stops, or one hour, and get off at the “Angyegongyong Bus Jeongryujang Bus Stop – 안계공용버스 정류장 하차.” From this bus stop, you’ll need to take Bus #783 for 17 more stops, or 38 minutes. You’ll need to get off at the “Bongjeong 1-ri Bus Stop – 봉정1리 하차.” From this bus stop, you’ll need to walk about 900 metres, or 15 minutes, to the west. Just follow the signs.

Overall Rating: 7/10

For being virtually unknown, Daegoksa Temple has quite a few highlights starting at the Daeung-jeon Hall. Both inside and out, this main hall is absolutely stunning. In addition to this unadorned structure, you can also enjoy the wonderful two-story Beomjong-gak Hall and the historic Myeongbu-jeon Hall. There is a beautiful image dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) inside the shaman shrine hall, as well as the stately presence of the Iljumun Gate at the entry of the temple grounds. And if you have the time, make sure to check out Jeokjoam Hermitage, as well.

The Iljumun Gate at Daegoksa Temple.
A look through the entry gate towards the rest of the temple grounds.
A stone guardian post and the Beomjong-gak Hall in the background.
A closer look at the Beomjong-gak Hall.
Passing under the first story of the structure.
The Daeung-jeon Hall and the slate stone pagoda.
The main altar inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
A look up at the floral ceiling and elaborate datjib (canopy).
A closer look at the main altar triad.
A replica of the “Portraits of Three Buddhist Monks and Three Patriarchs in Daegoksa Temple, Uiseong” inside the Daeung-jeon Hall.
And a replica of the painting dedicated to Samyeong-daesa (1544-1610) inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, as well.
The view after exiting the main hall.
The storage area and shrine hall to the left of the Daeung-jeon Hall.
A look inside the historic Myeongbu-jeon Hall at Daegoksa Temple.
The main altar inside the Nahan-jeon Hall.
A look towards the Sanshin-gak Hall.
The stunning Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural housed inside the shaman shrine hall.
And then it was time to head home.