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Published: September 22nd 2005
Prambanan sanctuary complex
Without question the greatest Hindu monument in Indonesia
When you travel by air from Bali to Yogyakarta in Central Java, you will inevitably see the massive Hindu temple complex of Prambanan
. If you travel by road from an easterly direction, you cannot miss it - Prambanan is only 100 metres from the road. Whichever way you first see this massive complex, its towering temple structures are awe-inspiring, and its beauty, breathtaking. Prambanan is located in Central Java, roughly 20 kilometres from Yogyakarta, the renowned cultural centre of Java.
Built during the Sanjaya Dynasty in the 9th century, the central area has three main temples according to the Hindu Trinity - 'Vishnu' facing to the North, 'Shiva' in the centre, and 'Brahma' to the South. Facing each of these temples is a smaller shrine for their vehicles. The vehicle of Shiva (the Destroyer) is Nandi the bull, the vehicle of Vishnu (the God creator) is the Garuda eagle, and, Brahma (the Guardian god) has a vehicle of the swan, Angsa. Each temple has its own smaller courtyard. The main temple Vishnu, situated in the inner courtyard, is actually surrounded by smaller temples called Pewara temples. These temples were apparently built, and given as gifts to the king in a
Klaudia in admiration
We were really happy to see such familiar forms again and duly admired these Hindu temples
manner of submission. Walking from the carpark along the main path, the grounds and lawn are immaculately kept, and scattered here and there are piles of square stone blocks - smaller temples yet to be reconstructed. Walls of varying height can be seen around the complex, even though most are in disarray. It isn't difficult to imagine just how magnificent this complex was in the 9th Century. There are well over 250 smaller temples in the Prambanan complex spread out on the Prambanan plain. All the temples are within walking distance and easily accessible. Candi Shiva
, the main temple, is 47 meters in height, and has 20 sides. It has remarkable stone relief panels on all its 20 sides depicting the story of the Ramayana. Basically the story of the Ramayana depicts how the wife of Prince Rama, Sita, is abducted by an ogre king. Prince Rama, accompanied by the monkey king Hanuman and his army of monkey soldiers, attack the ogre king in the forest and rescue Sita. Steep steps lead up to the entrance of the Shiva temple, and once inside, chambers are located in each side of the temple. In the eastern chamber is a magnificent
The Prambanan complex is unique in as far as it contains temples dedicated to different Hindu Gods at the same place
statue of the four-armed God Shiva. The western chamber has a magnificent statue of Ganesha, Siva’s elephant-headed son. As we walked from chamber to chamber, the dim light filtering through, we couldn't help but be moved by the beauty and serenity of the place, at peace within ourselves. Anyway, Klaudia had more leisure exploring the wonderful site, Stephan is somehow under constant stress about the pictures.
The locals often refer to the Shiva temple as Candi Lorojonggrang and if you enter from the north, then there is a statue of the princess Roro Jonggrang. There is a quaint legend associated with this: Roro Jonggrang, who was the daughter of King Boko was actually cursed into a statue. According to legend, an extremely powerful man by the name of Bandung Bondowoso desired to wed Roro Jonggrang. However, she did not love him, and decided to set Bandung Bondowoso a task to deter his desire to wed her. Roro Jongggrang declared she would only marry him if he could build a thousand temples in one night. Bandung Bondowoso was a powerful man with supernatural powers and saw no difficulty in the task set. When he had almost completed Roro Jonggrang's request,
Figure at the bottom of a stairway
The stairways leading up to the four main candi were flanked by fierce looking mystical animals
she panicked and ordered all the women from the villages to the east to burn piles of hay causing light, and make plenty of noise by pounding rice as if the day's work had begun. These actions caused the situation surrounding the area to be as if the sun was rising. As the cocks began to crow, being fooled also, the supernatural beings assisting Bandung Bondowoso fled in terror of the pending sunlight. When Bandung Bodowoso realised he had been tricked, he flew into a rage and cursed Roro Jonggrang into a stone statue, finishing his task proudly.
The temples of Brahma and Vishnu
are smaller in height compared to Shiva. The relief panels
depicting the story of the Ramayana on the outer walls of the Shiva temple, are completed and the story ends as seen on the relief panels around the walls of the Brahma temple. We were fascinated by the actual story, and as you go from panel to panel, it seems as though you are actually reliving it. Thank God we had spent some time in India and started to recognise certain figures. On the balustrades of the Vishnu temple, the story depicted is that of
Gargoyles at Candi Vishnu
Just look at the sheer size of these temples!
Lord Krisna. One of the finest Indonesian sculptures is to be found in a smaller shrine, Nandi. A figure of a bull kneeling on all fours, looking extremely powerful, is located inside a chamber within. From these temples and smaller shrines, there are various others worth exploring spread out over the plain. It would take more than a full day to appreciate and 'take in' the beauty of the complex on the Prambanan plain. It is advisable to arrive at Prambanan before the hordes of tourist buses, before 10am. The best time to appreciate the Prambanan complex is at dawn and at dusk, but since we are not early birds we chose the latter alternative. The sun rising (we suppose so) and setting is a photographer's delight, and an explorer's dream.
An interesting aspect of the Prambanan Plain, is that there are several other shrines and temples nearby - and all dedicated to Buddha. 1 km to the north of Prambanan is located the large Buddhist temple of Sewu
being the Javanese word for thousand. The fact that this temple was built near Prambanan Temple, which is a Hindu temple, indicated that the Hindus and Buddhists lived in
Candi surrounding the main temples
One of the 120 smaller temples, this one has been reconstructed while most of them lie in pieces, what is clearly visible to the temple's right
harmony. This is the second largest Buddhist temple complex in Java after Borobudur, including several other small temples. Restoration is professionally underway to reach its original form. The Sewu Temple represents a mandala, manifesting the universe in the centre temple, surrounded by four rings of 250 smaller temples of Gods. We found it to be an interesting complex seldom visited by tourists, actually the place was deserted when we came there.
For us it was a wonderful experience to visit this site quite late, there were not many tourists around and the magnificent temples exuded a special atmosphere. But we also had practical reason to be there in the late afternoon, we wanted to attend a performance of the famous Ramayana Ballet
. The Ramayana Ballet is performed outdoor every year, between the months of May to October; it is a magnificent show with a backdrop setting of the main three temples, artistically illuminated after nightfall. The stage is close to the complex, nevertheless you have to walk quite far since the compound is really huge. As already mentioned, we did not take part in any of the innumerable Prambanan tours on offer but had gone there by public transport.
Candi Siva with Candi Brahma
Candi Siva is the tallest temple, towering over 43 metres, to its right is the smalller Candi Brahma, and in the background Candi Apti
We as well intended to purchase the tickets independantly, which turned out not to be any cheaper than the ones offered in the packages, but never mind, we would not miss this spectacle for such a prosaic reason. As everywhere in Indonesia, the number of tourists was quite small, the dancers and the orchestra actually outnumbered them! What is a pity for the organisers is a pleasure for the photographers (Stephan included of course), who could move around rather freely for the best shots. Astonishingly, the epic Ramayana about the life of a Hindu god (recognised as a further incarnation of Vishnu) , is present all over Asia and not restricted to the Hindu areas. For the past two thousand years the Ramayana has been among the most important literary and oral texts of South Asia! This epic tells Rama's life from his childhood onwards, but the Ballet reduces the very long tale to Rama's mariage to Sita and the following dificulties. We decided against giving our dear readers a synopsis, but have tried to rebuild the story in the pictures taken, hopefully it is clear enough and you can enjoy it as we did.
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