Posted by: borobudurtrip | May 8, 2012

Prambanan Temple


siva_prambananSituated in a picturesque plain dotted with archaeological monuments amongst rice paddies and villages, you will probably be impressed by the Hindu Prambanan temple complex before you even pull in to the park, the height and pointed architecture of the temples gives an impressive welcome.

Prambanan’s status as one of the most extraordinary pieces of South East Asian religious architecture was recognised by a UNESCO in 1991 when it named this complex a World Heritage Site.

Scale up

There are no translations available.

The sheer number of temples within the Prambanan Complex is extraordinary, the site is structured in a series of three ‘squares’ which radiate out in size.


A raised central square, has a total of 11 temples, of various sizes, the largest being the Siva (Shiva) temple which towers dramatically at close to 50 metres high. It is flanked by temples honouring the gods Vishnu and Brahma. Three smaller temples sit in front of the larger temples and each of these is dedicated to the ‘vehicles’ or transportation of the gods represented: Nandi, the bull, for Siva; Hamsa, the sacred swan, for Brahma; and the eagle Garuda for Vishnu.

The second square radiates out symmetrically and contains paths through to the central square, as well as 224 smaller temples of identical design. These temples are known as perwara temples, meaning guardian or complementary. Although most of these smaller temples are currently tumbling ruins, a few have been restored and it is not difficult to imagine the sheer magnitude of what was once here.

A third and final square was also walled at some stage, is not on the same axis as the central two, and does not contain religious artefacts. It is thought that this area would have been for those involved in ceremonies to prepare offerings, and for buildings to house resident priests and pilgrims. These buildings no longer remain as the materials used have not survived over time.

Story teller

The exteriors of the temples and the balustrade areas within the central square are dense with carvings, and in particular, the Siva temple is famous for the 62 relief depictions of the Ramayana Ballet, telling the story of King Rama and his wife Sita. The Ramanaya Ballet continues to have strong links with the temple complex, with performances held on an open air stage within the temple compounds.


The Legend of Loro Djonggrang


Within the Prambanan’s Siva temple is a series of chambers, dedicated to Ganesha, Bhatare Guru; a bearded priest, Siva himself, and importantly, Durga, who local folklore claims as the depiction of Loro Djonggrang, the slender virgin.

The folklore of Loro Djonggrang ties this site in with the Ratu Boko Palace with Ratu Boko being the father of the princess Loro Djonggrang. A prince named Bandung desperately wanted Loro Djonggang to marry him and she refused, as she he had killed her father. He insisted, and she finally agreed on one condition. He must build 1000 temples in one night. Prince Bandung summoned up spirits to help him, and close to dawn, much to the dismay of Loro Djonggrang they had completed the 999th temple. Loro Djonggrang ordered all of the servants to light a large fire, and begin pounding rice. The roosters were fooled into thinking it was dawn and began to crow, the spirits fled, and the final temple was left unbuilt. Prince Bandung was furious and turned Loro Djonggrang into stone, representing the final temple.

Getting there and getting in


Prambanan Temple Complex is located 17 km east of Yogyakarta, on the road to Solo.


cross_section_sivaThe high structures are typical of Hindu architecture, and the plan of the temple complex is a Mandala, as is Borobudur.

As a symbol of the Hindu cosmos, the temple or candi is vertically into three parts, both vertically and in plan.

Bhurloka: The base of the temples, as well as the outer square is the underworld. A place for ordinary folk, mortals, both human and animal. The place where lust and desire are commonplace. This is an unholy area.

Bhuvarloka: The central body of the temples and the middle square of the complex, represents the ‘middle world’ the place for those who have left their worldly possessions. This is where people begin to see the light of truth.

Svarloka: The top of the temples, and the innermost square represents the realm of the gods, the holiest zone, and is crowned.

During the restoration of the Siva temple a well of over 5 metres depth was found, which contained a stone casket.

Worshiping ancestors

It is understood that when a king or prominent person died, the ashes of the deceased along with various objects representing physical and spiritual symbols of the cosmos, were placed in a stone casket. This casket was placed in a shaft in the base of a temple, above it was built a statue of a god, of whom the deceased was said to be an incarnation. This statue then becomes the object of worship for those honouring and worshipping the king. Ancestor worship has been an Indonesian cultural tradition since prehistoric times, and it has been adapted into the local adaptions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Some archaeologists suggest that the idol of Shiva in the central chamber of the Prambanan’s main temple is modelled after King Balitung, of the Mataram Kingdom. One of the possible instigators of the temple building.

The casket found in the well of the Siva temple at Prambanan was sitting on a pile of charcoal, earth and animal bones. It contained a variety of objects, including, coins, jewels, precious metals and ashes. Gold sheets with inscriptions of Varuna, the god of the sea, and Parvata, the god of the mountains were also found.

Built over time

The temple complex was most likely built in stages. Estimated to have been commenced during the late 9th and early 10th Century, by either Rakai Pikatan or Balitung Maha Sambu the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom. It is suggested that it was built as a Hindu response to the Buddhist Borobudur, which was built by the concurrent Saliendra dynasty.

The temple complex was expanded in stages by successive Mataram kings, with the addition of the hundreds of ‘perwara’ temples around the central temples. Prambanan was used by the Mataram royal family for its religious ceremonies and sacrifices.

prambanan_1895 Just like Borobudur, when power moved to western Java around 930AD the Prambanan temples were left abandoned and suffered the ravages of earthquakes and nature before being rediscovered.

A large earthquake in the 16th Century led to a further collapse of the temples.

Dutchman CA Lons wrote a report on the state of the temple in 1733, with a great deal of the temple being under ground and covered with plants.

The British also surveyed the ruins after Collin Mackenzie under Sir Stamford Raffles came across the temple ruins by chance in 1811. Restoration works commenced in 1830, the main Siva temple was completed in 1953, and works continue to this day. An earthquake in 1996 did cause further damage to Prambanan and many other temples in the area. The local Hindus, often of Balinese heritage, have revived Prambanan as a religious venue, performing their ceremonies and rituals here.

Close by and within the archeological park, are the lesser known Sewu, Bubrah, and Lumbung Temples, all Buddhist, demonstrating the religious harmony experienced in Indonesia throughout the ages.