Dedicated to Trimurti, the three highest gods in Hinduism
Introduction to Prambanan Temple
Prambanan Temple is situated 18km east of Yogyakarta city in Central Java. It is the largest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia and is dedicated to Trimurti, the three highest gods in Hinduism. It is known locally as the Loro Jongrang temple, after the nearby village, or the temple of the ‘Slender Virgin’. There are a total of 237 temples in this Shivaite temple complex but many are in ruin. The architecture is tall and pointed and the central building is the tallest at 47m high. It is dedicated to Shiva. Other individual temples are built around it and surrounding the central area are rows of smaller temples, all identical, on four levels.
The complex was constructed with three zones. The outer zone was a larger space marked by a rectangular wall, now destroyed. It may have been a park or a priests’ boarding school. Many of the supporting buildings were made of organic materials and all traces have disappeared. The middle zone had four rows of 224 small individual shrines. These were all identical and each row closer to the centre is slightly elevated from the last. These shrines are called ‘Candi Perwara’ and are arranged in four rows, possibly representing four castes: the priests, nobles, knights and the common people who were allowed access to worship in their respective row. However they may simply have been a general meditation place for the priests and a worship place for devotees.
The central compound is the holiest area and is a square elevated platform surrounded by a stone wall with four gates. There are 8 main shrines in this area. The three main shrines, called ‘Trimurti’ are dedicated to Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper and Shiva the Destroyer. The three shrines in front of these temples are dedicated to the vahana of each god. To the north and south side are two Candi Apit. A further 8 small shrines complete this holy area on the four corners and near the gateways.
The main Shiva Shrine has four corner rooms and a large central chamber. A three metre high statue of Shiva Mahadeva, the ‘Supreme God’ can be seen here. It has the symbols of Shiva, including the skull and crescent at the crown, the third eye on the forehead and the four hands which hold prayer beads, a feather duster and a trident. It stands on a lotus pad on a pedestal which has carved decorations of Naga serpents. The other chambers have statues of Durga, Shiva’s consort; the rishi Agastya and his son Ganesha.
On the north side of the Shiva Shrine is the Vishnu shrine and the temple to Brahma to the south. Both have just one large chamber with a temple to their respective gods in each. The bas reliefs around the balustrades of the gallery of the Shiva and Brahma temples tell the Ramayana legend, which is when Sita, wife of Rama, is abducted by Ravana. The monkey king Hanuman brings his army to help rescue Sita. The balustrades in the Vishnu temple depict the story of Lord Krishna.
Across the Opak River and still within the park site are open-air and indoor stages for the performances of the Ramayana Ballet. These centuries old cultural dances of the Javanese court have been performed every full moon night since the 1960s and are a major tourist attraction.
The Pranbanan Temple was built around 850AD and was believed to be either by Rakai Pikatan, king of the second Matarma Dynasty, or by Balitung Maha Sambu, during the Sanjaya Dynasty. The complex was expanded by successive kings with the addition of perwara temples around the main temple. Hundreds of Brahmins with their disciples may have lived in the temple compound. The court of Mataram was nearby but in the 930s it was moved to East Java, possibly after a volcanic eruption. This began the decline of the complex. It was eventually abandoned and left to deteriorate.
In 1811 Collin Mackenzie, a surveyor for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, discovered the temples by chance. A full survey was carried out but no work was done. The residents and locals began to remove the recovered sculptures for garden ornaments and used the stone for local construction.
Reconstruction of the Prambanan Temple compound began in earnest in1918 and the main building was completed in 1953. Unfortunately much of the original stonework had been removed and used elsewhere. A temple can only be rebuilt if 75% of the original stones are available. Consequently many of the smaller temple buildings will never be reconstructed and remain as just foundation walls.
In the early 1990s the government closed the local market which was near the temple, and transformed the local village and paddy fields into an archaeological park. The Temple Compound was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
During the 2006 earthquake the temple was damaged. Carvings and large pieces of debris were strewn across the area and the complex was closed to visitors for a time. Although damage was significant, the building appears to be structurally intact although even in 2009 many of the temples interiors remain off-limits for safety reasons.
The nearest airport is the Adi Sucipto Airport at Yogyakarta. The main international airport is the Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta airport. Yogyakarta is 18km west of Prambanan. Jakarta is 584km away.
Coaches services are available from Yogyakarta which is approximately 20 minutes drive away from the Prambanan Temple compound.
By car from Jakarta follow signs for Central Java, Yogyakarta and then Prambanan. It is approximately a 584km journey which takes an estimated 10 hours to drive.
- Restored Prambanan Temple
- Largest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia
- Remains of 224 smaller ‘perwara’ shrines
- Site of cultural dances on full moon nights
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