Also known as Seongnamsa, and translated means Southern [Seok] Rock [nam] Temple [sa], Seoknamsa is, as far as I know, the only temple in my local area that is resided over by Buddhist Nuns. This may not be apparent if you do not visit South Korean temples that often, but when looking around this stunning complex there are little feminine touches that make this a special place to visit.
Nestled into the base of Mt. Gajisan, the tallest peak in our local alpine network, once passing through the Iljuman Gate, access to Seoknamsa is via a tree-laden path that follows an often-bubbling stream for about one kilometre. This is a lovely walk to undertake and readies ones karma for entry into the temple grounds. Also found along this trail are various small offerings, or as I like to think of them ‘wishes’ where travellers place an assortment of rocks in honour of loved ones or in remembrance.
Once inside the temple complex is relatively small compared so some, housing no more than a dozen buildings each of which is exquisitely decorated in ceremonial Dancheong Patterns,
however these decorations are of subtle shades rather than the normal bold colours usually found in Buddhist temples and this I feel is one of the feminine influences brought to Seoknamsa by the Buddhist nuns.
As with other temples I have visited the courtyard is peppered with buildings I am both familiar and unfamiliar with; every temple complex contains the Daeung-jeon (the main Buddha or ‘great hero’ hall) and the Geukrak-jeon (the paradise hall) and in Seoknamsa we also find jeon’s (halls) dedicated to the Buddha of the Western Paradise, Amita-Bul and the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Gwanseum-bosal.
There are also effigies in the form of multi-storeyed pagodas and stupta’s, each of which holds relevance in both the Buddhist faith and South Korean history.
It is whilst walking around these grounds that further evidence of the nuns can be felt; potted plants and small gestures of beauty are commonplace and the heady smell of sweet incense is ever present during your visit.
Even though you walk the same path when leaving the temple, it is not until your return to civilisation that the river valley comes into its own; perhaps this is because of heightened senses gained during the calming visit to the complex or perhaps ones attention is seeking something new to behold. Whatever it is, it is certainly worth taking some time to investigate the area outside of the temple walls where pools of crystal clear water cascade underneath bridges and along the valley bed towards the city beyond.
I hope that my images help you gain an insight into the serenity of Seoknamsa and further information surrounding the history of this temple can be found at Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures website. More of my images can be found here.