A New Year, a New Hobby

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have a passion for visiting and photographing Buddhist temples and one of the promises I made to myself in the New Year was to make the effort to visit at least one new temple a week whilst in South Korea.

"Wishes" outside Cheonwangnum
“Wishes” outside Cheonwangnum

One temple I had never previously ventured to visit is called Beomeosa범어사 or the “Fish of the Buddhist Scripture Temple”. Even though I chuckle at the seemingly bizarre translation of these temple names, I am sure there is great meaning to those Buddhists who call this particular temple their home (p.s. I never found any evidence linking fish to Buddhist scripture during my first visit!)

Beomeosa is one of the largest temple complexes in all of Korea and the largest to be found in Korea’s second city Busan, it therefore seemed strange that I had never visited this complex before, so the decision was made and off I headed with camera in hand. More information surrounding the history of this temple can be found on Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures webpage.

Even though I visit many temples, I never really tire of exploring these fascinating places; no two temples are the same, some are large and very busy while others quite small and mostly deserted. I must admit that I prefer the quiet more eccentric places, although the larger complexes do offer more interaction between the people and the place.

Guardians of the Temple
Guardians of the Temple

Even though the size and shape of every temple is different, all have principal buildings that represent stages within the Buddhist faith; the Iljuman Gate is the first gate and entrance to the temple complex, next comes Cheonwangmun gate home of the four Heavenly Kings and guardians of the temple complex. The Beomjonggak is a pavilion that houses the temples instruments and finally we find the Daeungjeon the central deity of the complex. Depending on the size and importance of the temple, other buildings can be included at the site, each of which are exquisitely decorated and dedicated to various Buddha’s and Bodhisattva’s (female Buddha’s).

What I look for during my visits is something a little different, okay so it is nice to take standard images of the buildings and their contents, however I am always on the look out for something a little different; a different angle to capture a meaningful gesture or evidence to show the way of life for those dedicated to the temple; basically I am looking for a temple sense of place. For all that I enjoy the peace and quiet associated with smaller temple complexes, I often find it is easier to blend into the background when these places of worship are busy and filled with a mixture of devotees as well as tourists, which I found myself amongst on this cold morning in February.

There were a few things that stood out for me at Beomeosa; firstly as the temple is constantly being extended there are a mixture of buildings both old dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries and the new Cheonwangnum gate built in 2012, although this new construction was commissioned due to an arson attack back in 2010. Another feature I enjoyed photographing was a large house sized boulder in the upper courtyard of the complex, it isn’t until you stand underneath this rock that you can appreciate its form and size and the ancient graffiti included on the face adds to a photographers dream for capturing something different.

Large rock with ancient graffiti
Large rock with ancient graffiti

Beomeosa is certainly a temple worth exploring further, I have been told that both spring and autumn are good times to visit, so later in the year I will head there again to see what new angles I can find. More photos from my day can be found here.

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