Yeongheungsa Temple is located on the northern slopes of Mt. Seondosan (380.6 m) in the historic city of Gyeongju. The temple was first founded in 535 A.D. by the wife of King Beopheung of Silla. And when King Beopheung of Silla (r. 514-540 A.D.) abdicated his throne and became a Buddhist monk, he became a Buddhist monk at Yeongheungsa Temple. In addition, his wife, Queen Kim, became a nun at Yeongheungsa Temple in her later years, as well. Then in 572 A.D., during the reign of King Jinheung of Silla (r. 540-576 A.D.), King Jinheung of Silla’s wife Queen Sado (?-614 A.D.) became a nun at Yeongheungsa Temple.
With all that history, however, it’s unclear as to when the temple fell into disrepair. All of the present buildings that now stand at Yeongheungsa Temple are modern creations. However, there is a lot of artwork throughout the temple grounds that point backwards towards its prestigious history.
When you approach Yeongheungsa Temple, the first thing to welcome you is the beautifully painted Iljumun Gate. Fronting the two pillars of this entry gate are two larger sized stone frogs. Having passed through the Iljumun Gate, you’ll enter into the main temple courtyard at Yeongheungsa Temple. To your right stands the nuns’ living quarters. And to your left stands the compact Jong-ru Pavilion. Housed inside the Jong-ru Pavilion is a large Brahma Bell, as well as a unpan (cloud plate drum).
Straight ahead lie three temple shrine halls. The first, and the one in the centre, is the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall. Surrounding the exterior walls to the main hall are murals of the Bodhidharma, King Sejo of Joseon (1455-1468), and Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.). As for the interior of the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall, you’ll find three statues on the main altar. The largest of the three, and the one resting in the centre, is an image of Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). To Birojana-bul’s left and right are images of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) and Nosana-bul (The Perfect Body Buddha). To the left of the main altar is an altar dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the right of the main altar is an altar dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). Gwanseeum-bosal is beautifully adorned with an ornate crown. And on the far right wall is a well-populated Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
To the right of the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall is a larger sized Samseong-gak Hall. To the left, and still outside this hall, you’ll find a beautiful orange tiger adorning one of the exterior walls. And to the rear of the shaman shrine hall is a pirate-looking Nahan (A Historical Disciple of the Buddha). As for inside the hall, you’ll find a female Sanshin (Mountain Spirit). Perhaps this is as a result of the royal connection to the temple. Also housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall is a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Chilseong (The Seven Stars).
To the left of the Daejeokgwang-jeon Hall, on the other hand, is a stone statue dedicated to the Buddha. And next to this statue is the temple’s Yongwang-dang Hall. Inside this shaman shrine hall, which also acts as a Josa-jeon Hall (Founders’ Hall), is a vibrant mural dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). To the right of the main altar image of Yongwang are a pair of paintings. One is dedicated to a monk, while the other is dedicated to a nun. Perhaps these are of King Beopheung of Silla and Queen Kim. As for the exterior of the Yongwang-dang Hall, you’ll find a beautiful, elaborate painting dedicated to an all-white Gwanseeum-bosal. And to the rear are two intertwined dragons.
The only other things for visitors to see at Yeongheungsa Temple is a budo to the far left of the Yongwang-dang Hall, as well as a lotus pond out in front of the Yongwang-dang Hall.
How To Get There
From the Gyeongju Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to take Bus #30 to get to Yeongheungsa Temple. After two stops, you’ll need to get off at the Seorabeol University dormitory stop – 서라벌 대학 기숙사. After being dropped off, you’ll then need to walk about a kilometre south to get to the temple. There is a large stone sign out in front of the temple that reads “영흥사.” Yeongheungsa Temple is directly off the main road.
Overall Rating: 5/10
The most distinct feature about Yeongheungsa Temple, outside of its history, are the murals that adorn the temple both inside and out. Of particular interest are the murals dedicated to what look to be King Beopheung of Silla and Queen Kim inside the Yongwang-dang Hall/Josa-dang Hall, as well as the female Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall. Also of interesting are the swirling dragons that adorn several shrine halls at Yeongheungsa Temple. And not far off is the tomb of King Beopheung of Silla that’s also housed on Mt. Seondosan, so the temple and the tomb can make for quite an interesting day trip to Gyeongju.