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Yogyakarta Day 3: Friday, August 5, 2017

Prambanan from distance

The Hindu Temples of Prambanan near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

After our abortive attempt to find a true chocolate factory, Haru drove me out of Kota Gede, which is a more difficult task than one might imagine. This being an ancient city, the roads were not built to accommodate modern traffic and are narrow, winding, and labyrinthine. After winding around through some small lanes we finally reconnected with the main highway out of Jogja and headed east past the airport.

Temple complex gate

Gateway to the Prambanan temple complex.

We stopped at a place where we could get a discount, and I paid 600,000 (about $50) for admittance to both Prambanan and the mountain temple of Ratu Boko. We then drove the short distance to Prambanan and parked in the large parking lot.

Temple of Shiva with tree

The largest of the temples at Prambanan is dedicated to Shiva, the Lord of Destruction and an essential part of the cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

Haru showed me to the entrance and I walked through, and I could finally see the temples peeking through the park’s trees. Some of the trees were massively tall, bigger than anything in America except redwoods and sequoias.

Corner temple

A smaller corner temple at Prambanan, this one dedicated to Garuda. Beyond the central complex lie a series of four rings of small pervara temples which are still mostly in ruins following an earthquake in 2006.

I explored the temple complex, which was built by the Hindu dynasties of Sanjaya and Mataram in the mid 9th Century. It was started with one temple to Shiva built by Rakai Pikatan, then extensively expanded by successive Mataram kings, who diverted a river to enlarge the temple complex, then built a series of smaller pervara temples ringing the main complex. Most of these are still in ruins, but a few have been restored.

Statue of Chandra

A statue to Chandra, one of the Hindu pantheon of gods. The Chandra X-Ray space telescope is named after this god.

Building Prambanan here signifies that the central Javanese kingdom had shifted from the Mahayana Buddhism of Borobudur to Hinduism. The main court and central government center were nearby, and all the important religious ceremonies took place here. As many as 200 monks or brahmins lived and worked in the complex and its surroundings. Yet within about 100 years the kingdom shifted its capital further east in Java, perhaps because of an eruption of Mt. Merapi nearby. Prambanan was slowly abandoned and fell into ruin, just as Borobudur was.

Huge temple

The central Shiva temple and flanking side temples are truly huge. These photos don’t really give an accurate sense of scale.

Local people forgot its origins, although they knew about the complex. Parts of it were used for constructing houses. An earthquake in the 16th Century further damaged the structures. A legend called the Rara Jonggrang grew up that the temple had been designed and built by demons and giants. During the British occupation of Indonesia, Colin Mackenzie, a surveyor for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, came across the ruins by accident in 1811. A complete survey was undertaken, but the site remained in ruins for decades before restoration efforts began by the Dutch in the 1930s and continue to this day. A major earthquake in 2006 damaged the buildings again, and the surrounding pervara temples are still largely in ruins.

Prambanan Map

A map of Prambanan. The pervara temples form four concentric rings around the central complex, which contains the large Shiva temple (which has separate chambers for his children and wives, including Durga and Ganesha) and two flanking temples to Vishnu and Brahma (the three major trimurti Hindu gods). Three smaller temples are dedicated to the vahana or mounts of the trimurti gods: Garuda, Hamsa, and Nandi. There are also two small temples tucked in for Lakhsmi and Sarasvati and four gates to the cardinal directions and a number of small shrines.

Prambanan centers around a large, ornate building dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. Stairways on each side of the main temple lead up to chambers housing statues of Shiva and gods or goddesses associated with him, including Durga and Ganesha. A porch rings the building. Friezes are carved into the walls of the porch showing the stories of the Hindu gods, including Haruman, the Monkey God. Many of these scenes are from the Ramayana, which I will see later tonight. It tells of the romance of Rama with Sita and his struggle to rescue her after her kidnapping by the demon king Ravana.

Durga

Durga, a consort of Shiva. Her statue is in a separate chamber on the north side of the Shiva temple. This statue is also the origin of the legend of Loro Janggrang, the “maiden of stone.” When Prince Bandung Bondowoso’s attempt to build 1000 temples in one night was foiled by King Boko’s daughter, he turned her into stone with the help of his demon army.

On either side of the Shiva temple stand two smaller but still large temples dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma. In front of these are three slightly smaller temples dedicated to the vahana (vehicle or animal mount) of each of the trimurti gods: Nandi, Garuda, and Hamsa. Still smaller temples were built at each of the four cardinal direction gates, and four more at the corners of the inner complex, as well as two even smaller shrines. Beyond all of these lie a quadruple ring of 224 small pervara temples for individuals and kings. Altogether, the complex is laid out with precise symmetry and planning like a giant mandala, the product of an advanced civilization.

Kidnapping of Sita

Friezes carved into the walls of the walkways show scenes from the Ramayana. In this case, Sita is being kidnapped by the Demon King.

I spent about an hour and a half exploring the complex and taking photos and videos from many angles. I asked several people to take my photo, something I have a hard time remembering to do. One lady was from Hamburg, Germany and spoke excellent English. She had lived for a year in Evanston, Illinois.

Arjuna and Monkey King

In order to free the kidnapped Sita, Rama and Sita’s father make an arrangement with Haruman the Monkey King.

The path to the exit (keluar) took me way out around the temple but did offer nice views framed by trees of the entire complex. On the way out, the exit takes you through a phalanx of coconut, concessions, and souvenir stalls, but I have enough of those and will have a hard time fitting what I have in my suitcases anyway.

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva, god of death and destruction, as portrayed on the walls of his temple at Prambanan, Indonesia.

This is the first Hindu temple I’ve seen. I studied Hinduism as part of a World Religions class at Brigham Young University, and know that there are three central gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Each has his consort or wife, such as Parawata (Parvati) for Shiva, Lakshmi for Vishnu, etc. There are also lesser gods, such as Ganesha the Elephant God (son of Shiva and Parvati), Saraswati the Goddess of Wisdom, and Haruman the Monkey God. Each god can have different avatars or incarnations. For example, Vishnu has ten, of which nine have already existed, including Buddha (according to Hindus, Buddha is a form of Vishnu), and Krishna. The tenth avatar of Vishnu (Kalki) is yet to come at the end of the world. As a major research paper required of all students at BYU, I researched the recurrence of Messiah figures in various religions, and was astonished at the similarities between the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, Kalki, and the Hidden Imam.

Water spout

A waterspout at the corner of a temple at Prambanan. The planning involved in just creating a water drainage system for the torrential tropical rains is amazing to me.

My impressions and feelings about Prambanan are mostly awe at the central planning and architecture needed to carry out such a coordinated project. This whole complex, like Borobudur, had to be planned in advance, cleared out of the jungle, with blocks quarried from andesite rock (the only type available locally, given this is a region of composite volcanoes). Those rocks had to be transported, shaped at the site, and fitted in place. It is a huge complex, requiring advanced construction techniques using hand tools. Even the water drainage system was carefully thought out. I have no idea how many people worked on this, or the power of the leaders who commanded it, or the devotion of the people who worked, prayed, and sacrificed here. It is a monument to faith, which I can understand, as my own people build monuments to their faith around the world in the form of our temples.

Many temples

Many temples at Prambanan.

All of this and within a century the government moved to another location and allowed this incredible site to be forgotten. The feeling of history is palpable here, as it is in places like Jerusalem and Rome that I have visited. Americans have no idea of the depth of history that surrounds so many places in the world. Now our modern civilization overlies and surrounds all of this, with a mosque just across the main road to Prambanan.

Temples and moon

The moon rising over the temple complex at Prambanan.

Indonesia sits on major trade routes between the Indian Ocean and East Asia, and its history is a long tale of cultural influences, migration, and conquest. One of my most important goals is to see how these influences and religions shape the daily life of the Indonesian people. I saw how Islam affected the lives of Nazar and his family and the students at his school. Yesterday I saw how Buddhism was practiced here, and today I saw ancient Hinduism. Tomorrow I will begin to explore Bali to see the daily actions of Hindus there.

David with Prambanan complex

David Black with the Prambanan temple complex behind.

David at Prambanan

David Black at Prambanan near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Juxtaposition

An airplane takes off from the Yogyakarta airport, juxtaposed with the temples of Prambanan. I was to see this exact view the next morning, but from the airplane looking down.

Prambanan through trees

Prambanan temples through the trees.

Wood carver and shop

On my way exiting the Prambanan complex, I had to pass through a phalanx of souvenir shops including this woodcarving shop.

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