Visiting Bongam Temple during Buddha’s Birthday holiday

An up-close view of the Rock-carved Seated Maitreya Buddha of Bongamsa Temple / Courtesy of Dale Quarrington

Around this time of year, celebrations for Buddha’s Birthday are in full swing across Korea. And for most, this includes visiting a temple, enjoying a lantern festival or perhaps even enjoying some temple food.But for me, it’s a time to enjoy sites that are typically off-limits to the general public except on Buddha’s Birthday. Last year, it was entering Seokguram Grotto in Gyeongju — and this year, it was enjoying the temple grounds at Bongam Temple. It’s always pretty exciting to explore what is usually off-limits the rest of the year.

Bongam Temple is located to the south of Mount Huiyang (996.4 meters) in northwestern Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province. The temple was first founded in 879 by the monk Jijeung (824-882). Bongam Temple was the main temple of the Huiyangsan School, which was one of the nine original branches of Korean Seon Buddhism. These radical Seon sects were established at the end of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.–935 A.D.) and the start of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

It’s believed that the temple got its name in 881 from King Heongang of Silla (r. 875-886). “Bongam” originally came from a story about how at the time of the temple’s construction, there was a cliff named Gyeam, which means “Rooster’s Cliff” in English. This cliff is located in the Baegundae Valley, which is part of Mount Huiyang. According to the story, a rooster crowed every dawn helping to inform people of the time of day. This rooster was considered to be a phoenix, so the temple was named Bongam Temple, which 스포츠토토존 means “Phoenix Cliff/Rock Temple” in English.

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