Most probably built to rival the Buddhist Borobudur temple 19 km away is the 9th century Hindu Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta. Prambanan, dedicated to the Hindu gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Archaeologists believe that Prambanan was first built between 840 and 850 under the orders of King Rakai Pikatan and expanded by later kings. King Rakai Pikatan belonged to the Hindu Sanjaya dynasty who was a fierce rival of the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty (who built Borobudur temple), fighting over power in the Medang kingdom in central Java. The temple served as the royal temple of the Kingdom of Mataram where religious ceremonies and sacrifices were conducted here. Just like Borobudur, Prambanan was completely abandoned since 950 probably due to the move of the political center to eastern Java as well as the frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions from Mount Merapi. The temple was swallowed by the jungle and only rediscovered by the Dutch in 1733. We came here hoping to photograph the sun setting behind the temples. Unfortunately, it was a very cloudy day and no sunset to speak of at all. Prambanan is a very popular and usually teeming with visitors so we arrived early, probably a bit too early, to set up our photographic equipment.
There were once 240 temples standing here at Prambanan. Today, only the main temples in the inner holiest zone have been reconstructed. The temple complex is made up of 6 temples in an elevated courtyard surrounded by 224 minor temples much smaller in size. These much smaller temples are called pervara temples, of which only 2 have been reconstructed. The other 222 are now scattered stones. The highlight of Prambanan is the three larger temples with the central one dedicated to Shiva and Brahman’s and Vishnu’s temples lying to the south and north respectively. In front of the three larger temples are three smaller temples dedicated to the vehicle and protector of the gods: Garuda (the mythical winged creature), Hamsa (the swan), and Nandi (the bull). The Temple of Shiva is the largest temple here with a main spire of 47 meters high. Its walls are finely decorated with carvings of scenes from the Indian epic The Ramayana which tells the story of how Rama’s wife Sita was abducted and how the monkey god helped to release her. In the inner sanctuary is a large statue of a four-armed Shiva, the god of destruction, standing on a lotus pedestal which is traditionally a symbol of Buddhism. Some archaeologists suggest that the statue of Shiva was modelled after King Belitung. In the southern chamber is Agastya who is an avatar of Shiva as a divine teacher giving prophecies and presents. In the western chamber is a statue of Shiva’s son, Ganesha. In the northern chamber is Shiva’s consort, Durga. Legend has it that the image was actually that of a Javanese princess (also known as the Slender Virgin) who was turned to stone by a man she refused to marry. The scenes of The Ramayana continue on the walls of the Temple of Brahma. There is a mouth doorway leading to an inner chamber with a four-headed statue of Brahma, the god of creation. The Temple of Vishnu is decorated with carvings depicting the story of Lord Krishna in the Mahabharata epic with a statue of a four-armed Vishnu, the god of preservation, standing in the inner sanctuary.
My favorite thing to do when traveling is to visit the local villages and their people. The next post will be a compilation of the many faces of the Cental Javanese people. Stay tuned!
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