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Yogyakarta Day 3: Friday, August 4, 2017

Stairs and moon

Stairway at Ratu Boko, a palace or monastery on a hill overlooking the area of Prambanan near Yogyakarta.

We had some time before nightfall and the start of the Ramayana Ballet, so our ticket purchase also included a tour of the hilltop palace of Ratu Boko. Haru and I drove away from Prambanan through rice fields and wound our way up on to a hill nearby as the afternoon was shading toward evening.

Evening rice field

A rice field in late evening as we drove to the hillside palace of Ratu Boko.

Haru waited in the parking lot while I climbed the stairs on to a plateau overlooking the plains around Yogyakarta and Prambanan. The rice paddies below made for excellent photos. There was a grassy area with bougainvillea and chickens as I walked toward the main stairway and gate.

New rice from hilltop

Rice fields as seen from the hilltop at Ratu Boko.

This complex was built sometime in the 9th Century CE based on inscriptions found here. There are also artifacts showing it included both Buddhist Sailendra and Hindu Mataram influences. No one knows exactly what it was used for – was it a palace? A monastery? A vacation spa? A fort? Maybe all of these at one time or another.

Outer gate

Stairways and paths lead through gates and a large grassy hilltop dotted with the ruins of temples and palaces at Ratu Boko.

Local legend say this was the palace of King Boko of the popular tale of Loro Janggrang. According to the story, Prince Bandung Bondowoso was a powerful man who fell in love with the daughter of King Boko. She did not love him, especially since he had killed her father in battle before falling in love with her. But he insisted, and she finally agreed on one condition: that he would build 1000 temples in one night. He agreed, and enlisted the aid of demons and giants to build 999 temples (which is the legend of how Pramabanan came to be). Fearing that he would succeed in her impossible request, she woke up her servants and told them to start pounding rice. The noise woke up the roosters, who started to crow. Fearing that morning was coming, the demons and giants fled back to the underworld and the final temple was never built. In a rage, the Prince Bandung cursed the princess and she was turned into stone, the actual statue of Durga in the Shiva temple at Prambanan. Loro Janggrang literally means “slender maiden,” the maiden of stone.

Ruined walls of stone

Ruined walls of stone at Ratu Boko.

There is a main double gateway at the top of the stairway that leads to an upper plateau with the ruins of temples, pools, and crematoriums. I wandered around the site and took photos, then walked back on a pathway to some ancient stairs and artificial caves used for meditation. It was peaceful there as the sun moved behind clouds on the horizon to the west. I captured some airplanes taking off from the Yogyakarta airport against the sunset.

Sunset at Ratu Boko

The sun setting behind the western mountains beyond Yogyakarta, as seen from the hilltop of Ratu Boko.

I took more photos of the rice paddies below the hill on my way back to the car. It was almost dark as we drove back down the hill and returned to Prambanan for the Ramayana Ballet.

Valley below

A view south from the hilltop palace of Ratu Boko.

Variable color bougainvillea

Variegated bougainvillea blossoms on the plateau leading to the Ratu Boko complex.

Worn with time

Worn with time, this stairway is at least 1100 years old.

New and old stairs

Pathways to the hilltop chambers behind the main plaza at Ratu Boko.

Ruins of Ratu Boko

Ruins of Ratu Boko.

Ratu Boko gate toward sunset

Sunset through the main gate at the Ratu Boko palace complex.

Jet against sunset

A jet taking off from the Yogyakarta airport, framed against the sunset at Ratu Boko.

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Yogyakarta Day 2: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mendot temple with banyan tree

Mendut Temple with giant banyan tree. This smaller temple for the Sailendra royal family was built on a direct line between Borobudur and Mt. Merapi.

On my second day in Yogyakarta, Indonesia I took tours to the Buddhist sites of Borobudur, Pawon, and Mendut.

Borobudur isn’t the only temple in this region. The Sailendra Dynasty also built smaller family shrines and temples for the royal family, including two that we visited after seeing Borobudur. The first was nearby and is called the Pawon Temple (Candi Pawon). It is under renovation and is small but nicely designed. Other than some relief sculptures, there wasn’t much to see.

Candi Pawon

Candi Pawon, a small temple under renovation near Borobudur.

There were some souvenir stands around this temple, so I looked through them and found a nice small brass model of a stupa. You can take the top off and see the Buddha inside. I also bought some wooden wayang puppets with a base to hold them, and hope that they can be kept safe while traveling.

Wayang puppets

Puppets on sale at the gift shop at Pawon Temple. I bought some wooden puppets and a bronze Buddha stupa.

We traveled another short distance to the Mendut temple. All three temples are in a line, all pointing toward Mt. Merapi. The Mendut Temple was more interesting – a large cubic monument with statues of the Buddha inside and nicely carved reliefs around the outside. What was most impressive was a huge banyan tree next to it with multiple root streamers descending from its branches and a gigantic trunk. It was probably the single largest tree I’ve seen, even bigger in sheer size than a redwood tree. All of this was situated in a green parkland with beautiful lawns.

Giant banyan

Giant banyan tree at Mendut Temple, one of the largest trees I’ve ever seen. People were swinging on the hanging roots like Tarzan. For a sense of scale, look at the people underneath it.

Mendut was built in the early 9th Century and is the oldest of the three aligned temples (with Pawon and Borobudur). According to one inscription, it was built during the reign of King Indra of the Sailendra Dynasty. Lost for hundreds of years in the jungle, it was rediscovered in 1836 and restored between 1897 and 1925. The large statue of a seated Buddha in the central chamber is flanked by other lesser Buddhas, including Avalokitesvara, who is known as Gwan Yin Pu Sa in China.

Mendut temple

Mendut Temple, front view. You climb up the stairs to the central chamber, which is relatively small.

On the way back to the car, a lady insisted that I buy souvenirs and was the most irritatingly persistent person I met in Indonesia. I decided to buy another stupa, this time made of stone, to give as a present. I guess her persistence was rewarded. My driver told me that I could go inside of the monastery that is part of the Mendut temple, so I did.

Buddha of Mendut

A seated Buddha statue inside the chamber of Mendut Temple near Yogyakarta, built in the 9th Century by the Sailendra Kingdom.

It is a modern monastery, no more than a hundred years old at most. The grounds were quiet and peaceful, with several small temples with various statues of the many forms of the Buddha. There were winged angels, a temple with a pathway through it shaped like a giant Buddha head with elephants supporting it, a giant bell and gong, some grotesque figures that seemed to be laughing at each other (“What are you laughing at??”). Some of the Buddhas were sitting in lotus position, some reclining. Some were coated in gold leaf, some white, and some carved from gray volcanic stone. I spent more time there than I should have, but it was very enjoyable and I was about the only person around – the monks were back in the living areas behind the monastery. It was all very photogenic.

Buddha consort panel

Relief panel of Avalokitesvara, the female Buddha of Boundless Mercy, carved on the outer walls of Mendut Temple.

I can’t say I am an expert at how Buddhism is practiced here, whether Mahayana or Theravada. From my previous research and classes, southeast Asia and Indonesia practice the Theravada school, which is closer to the original teachings of Siddhartha in following the Dharma, or Path to Enlightenment, as compared to the form of Buddhism practiced in China and other parts of Asia that emphasizes reaching Enlightenment (Nirvana) through the intervention of boddhisatvas. But sources I’ve read said that Borodudur and Mendut are Mahayana Buddhist sites. It is complicated by the fact that Buddhism has almost died out on Java except for this monastery. Yet people do travel here for festivals, walking from Mendut to Pawon to Borobudur and circumambulating through Borobudur on their way to Enlightenment.

I climbed back into the car and we drove off to find lunch on our way to Mount Merapi.

Gardens of Mendot

The gardens and lawns at Mendut Temple, which are beautifully maintained and serene.

Guardian

Guardian of Mendut Monastery.

Gong

Giant gong bell at Mendut Monastery. It would have been amazing to hear this ring.

Buddha head temple with elephants

Buddha head pathway with elephants.

Golden Buddhas in temple

Buddhas inside a temple at Mendut Monastery.

Gold Buddha in stupa

Golden Buddha at Mendut Monastery. I don’t know why I’m suddenly reminded of Indiana Jones . . .

Standing Buddha-red temple

The Mendut Buddhist Monastery near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

White seated buddha

White Buddha statue at the Mendut monastery near Yogyakarta.

Seated Buddha with bronze head

Inside the Buddhist monastery at Mendut.

What are you laughing at

What are you laughing at? I’m not sure what these statues are supposed to be doing, but they seem to be having a good time doing it.

 

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