Sounds of Seoul is a series for Curly In Korea where I’ll be making short soundscapes of locations around the capital. First up is Bongeunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple in the heart of Gangnam; a surprising oasis of calm.
Please feel free to listen to the soundscape as you read.
The lanterns are rustling in the wind, the delicate paper flapping against the blue sky. Prayers and hopes are attached to many of them, holding on as everything flits about. The lanterns here are endless, rows and rows of bright colors bleeding into one another. The sun beats down through them creating a mosaic of light and shadow as temple goers and tourists alike walk up the stairs.
In the distance is the murmuring of ahjummas, taking a break from the beating sun. Worshipers bow and light incense and the chanting of the monks begins to grow louder. It’s like an ocean of sound, the warm tones filling the temple grounds.
A man stands high, affixing prayers to lanterns. I can’t help but stop and watch him awhile. Who’s wish is that? Who’s prayer? Had it fallen off or is it a new one, just written, just wished? He takes care to make sure it’s attached before moving on to the next one. I’m not the only one watching him.
It’s warm here in the main temple. The light is deep and orange, inviting one to rest, contemplate, and perhaps even sleep. Bongeunsa seems sleepy; everyone here is moving a little slower, taking their time. It’s a respite from the madness of Gangnam just outside the gates. You can’t hear the city in here. At first it’s unnerving, to feel so suddenly removed, but as the chanting swells, bells chime, and drums beat, you realize this is a comfortable feeling, not an uneasy one. It’s nice to take a break.
Walking up the stairs that lead to the extended temple grounds, you can spy the skyscrapers gleaming in all their glass and metal glory. You know the racing world of fashion and beauty is just across the street at COEX, but you can’t hear it.
Buddha stands high at the top, looking over Seoul and those who gaze up at him. I watch as parents try and teach their young children to bow, as old women gets down on their weak and feeble knees, and as a woman who looks as if she should be in a magazine rather than here pull a pillow onto the sacred area so she can properly kneel. While Christianity has made its mark in Korea because of missionaries, traditional Buddhism is still very relevant to all ages. It’s nice to see.
I smile as I make my way down. The chanting and singing from the monks continues and I sit and listen for awhile. There’s temple stays available here for foreigners and Koreans alike. I’m tempted to sign up.
The architecture of Bongeunsa is vibrant and beautiful. It’s a wonderful spot to take a break while exploring Seoul and get a taste of the traditions of Korea. You needn’t even stay long to reap the benefits, but take a moment to just sit and listen.
Address: 06087 531, Bongeunsa-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
Subway: Line 2 Samseong Stn. 100 m towards ASEM Tower from Exit 6
Line 7 Cheongdam Stn. 150 m towards Kyunggi High School from Exit 2