Candi Prambanan or Candi Rara Jonggrang is a 9th-century Hindu temple compound in Central Java, Indonesia, dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). The temple compound is located approximately 17 kilometres (11 mi) northeast of the city of Yogyakarta on the boundary between Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces.
The temple compound, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. It is characterized by its tall and pointed architecture, typical of Hindu temple architecture, and by the towering 47-metre-high (154 ft) central building inside a large complex of individual temples. Prambanan attracts many visitors from around the world.
The Prambanan temple is the largest Hindu temple of ancient Java, and the first building was completed in the mid-9th century. It was likely started by Rakai Pikatan as the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty’s answer to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty’s Borobudur and Sewu temples nearby. Historians suggest that the construction of Prambanan probably was meant to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to power in Central Java after almost a century of Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty domination. The construction of this massive Hindu temple signifies that the Medang court had shifted its patronage from Mahayana Buddhism to Shivaist Hinduism.
A temple was first built at the site around 850 CE by Rakai Pikatan and expanded extensively by King Lokapala and Balitung Maha Sambu the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom. According to the Shivagrha inscription of 856 CE, the temple was built to honor Lord Shiva, and its original name was Shiva-grha (the House of Shiva) or Shiva-laya (the Realm of Shiva). According to the Shivagrha inscription, a public water project to change the course of a river near Shivagrha Temple was undertaken during the construction of the temple. The river, identified as the Opak River, now runs north to south on the western side of the Prambanan temple compound. Historians suggest that originally the river was curved further to east and was deemed too near to the main temple. The project was done by cutting the river along a north to south axis along the outer wall of the Shivagrha Temple compound. The former river course was filled in and made level to create a wider space for the temple expansion, the space for rows of pervara (complementary) temples.
Some archaeologists propose that the statue of Shiva in the garbhagriha (central chamber) of the main temple was modelled after King Balitung, serving as a depiction of his deified self after death.
The temple compound was expanded by successive Mataram kings, such as Daksa and Tulodong, with the addition of hundreds of perwara temples around the chief temple. Prambanan served as the royal temple of the Kingdom of Mataram, with most of the state’s religious ceremonies and sacrifices being conducted there. At the height of the kingdom, scholars estimate that hundreds of brahmins with their disciples lived within the outer wall of the temple compound. The urban center and the court of Mataram were located nearby, somewhere in the Prambanan Plain.
In the 930s, the court was shifted to East Java by Mpu Sindok, who established the Isyana Dynasty. An eruption of Mount Merapi volcano, located north of Prambanan in central Java, or a power struggle probably caused the shift. That marked the beginning of the decline of the temple. It was soon abandoned and began to deteriorate.
The temples collapsed during a major earthquake in the 16th century. Although the temple ceased to be an important center of worship, the ruins scattered around the area were still recognizable and known to the local Javanese people in later times. The statues and the ruins become the theme and the inspiration for the Loro Jonggrang folktale. After the division of Mataram Sultanate in 1755, the temple ruins and the Opak River were used to demarcate the boundary between Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo) Sultanates, which was adopted as the current border between Yogyakarta and the province of Central Java.
The Javanese locals in the surrounding villages knew about the temple ruins before formal rediscovery, but they did not know about its historical background: which kingdoms ruled or which king commissioned the construction of the monuments. As a result, the locals developed tales and legends to explain the origin of temples, infused with myths of giants, and a cursed princess. They gave Prambanan and Sewu a wondorous origin; these were said in the Loro Jonggrang legend to have been created by a multitude of demons under the order of Bandung Bondowoso.
The temple attracted international attention early in the 19th century. In 1811 during Britain’s short-lived occupation of the Dutch East Indies, Colin Mackenzie, a surveyor in the service of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, came upon the temples by chance. Although Sir Thomas subsequently commissioned a full survey of the ruins, they remained neglected for decades. Dutch residents carried off sculptures as garden ornaments and native villagers used the foundation stones for construction material.
Half-hearted excavations by archaeologists in the 1880s facilitated looting. In 1918, the Dutch began reconstruction of the compound and proper restoration only in 1930. Efforts at restoration continue to this day. The reconstruction of the main Shiva temple was completed around 1953 and inaugurated by Sukarno. Since much of the original stonework has been stolen and reused at remote construction sites, restoration was hampered considerably. Given the scale of the temple complex, the government decided to rebuild shrines only if at least 75% of their original masonry was available. Most of the smaller shrines are now visible only in their foundations, with no plans for their reconstruction.
In the early 1990s the government removed the market that had sprung up near the temple and redeveloped the surrounding villages and rice paddies as an archaeological park. The park covers a large area, from Yogyakarta-Solo main road in the south, encompassing the whole Prambanan complex, the ruins of Lumbung and Bubrah temples, and as far as the Sewu temple compound in the north. In 1992 the Indonesian government created a State-owned Limited Liability Enterprise (PERSERO), named “PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur, Prambanan, dan Ratu Boko.” This enterprise is the authority for the park management of Borobudur Prambanan Ratu Boko and the surrounding region. Prambanan is one of the most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia.
The Trimurti open-air and indoor stages on the west side of the temple, across the Opak River, were built to stage the ballet of the traditional Ramayana epic. This traditional Javanese dance is the centuries-old dance of the Javanese court. Since the 1960s, it has been performed every full moon night in the Prambanan temple. Since then, Prambanan has become one of the major archaeological and cultural tourism attractions in Indonesia.
Since the reconstruction of the main temples in the 1990s, Prambanan has been reclaimed as an important religious center for Hindu rituals and ceremonies in Java. Balinese and Javanese Hindu communities in Yogyakarta and Central Java revived their practices of annually performing their sacred ceremonies in Prambanan, such as Galungan, Tawur Kesanga, and Nyepi.
The temple was damaged during the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake. Early photos suggested that although the complex was structurally intact, the damage was significant. Large pieces of debris, including carvings, were scattered over the ground. The temple was closed to visitors until the damage could be fully assessed. Eventually, the head of Yogyakarta Archaeological Conservation Agency stated that it would take months to identify the full extent of the damage. Some weeks later in 2006, the site was re-opened for visitors.
There is great interest in the site. In 2008, 856,029 Indonesian visitors and 114,951 foreign visitors visited Prambanan. On 6 January 2009 the reconstruction of Nandi temple finished. As of 2009, the interior of most of the temples remains off-limits for safety reasons.
On 14 February 2014, major tourist attractions in Yogyakarta and Central Java, including Borobudur, Prambanan, and Ratu Boko, were closed to visitors after being severely affected by the volcanic ash from the eruption of Kelud volcano in East Java, located about 200 kilometers east of Yogyakarta. The Kelud volcano erupted on 13 February 2014 with explosions heard as far away as Yogyakarta. Four years earlier, Prambanan was spared from the 2010 Merapi volcanic ash and eruption since the wind and ashfall were directed westward and affected Borobudur instead.
In 2012, the Balai Pelestarian Peninggalan Purbakala Jawa Tengah (BP3) or Central Java Heritage Preservation Authority suggested that the area in and around Prambanan should be treated as sanctuary area. The proposed area is located in Prambanan Plain measured 30 square kilometers spanned across Sleman and Klaten Regency, which includes major temples in the area such as Prambanan, Ratu Boko, Kalasan, Sari and Plaosan temples. The sanctuary area is planned to be treated in a similar fashion to the Angkor archaeological area in Cambodia, which means the government should stop or decline permits to construct any new buildings, especially multi-storied buildings, as well as BTS towers in the area. This is meant to protect this archaeologically rich area from modern day visual obstructions and the encroachments of hotels, restaurants, and any tourism-related buildings and businesses.
The Temple compound.
- 3 Trimurti temples: three main temples dedicated to Shiva, Visnu, and Brahma
- 3 Vahana temples: three temples in front of Trimurti temples dedicated to the vahana of each gods; Nandi, Garuda, and Hamsa
- 2 Apit temples: two temples located between the rows of Trimurti and Vahana temples on north and south side
- 4 Kelir temples: four small shrines located on 4 cardinal directions right beyond the 4 main gates of inner zone
- 4 Patok temples: four small shrines located on 4 corners of inner zone
- 224 Pervara temples: hundreds of temples arranged in 4 concentric square rows; numbers of temples from inner row to outer row are: 44, 52, 60, and 68
The Prambanan compound also known as Rara Jonggrang complex, named after the popular legend of Rara Jonggrang. There were once 240 temples stood in this Shivaite temple complex, either big or small. Today, all of 8 main temples and 8 small shrines in inner zone are reconstructed, but only 2 out of the original 224 pervara temples are renovated. The majority of them have deteriorated; what is left are only scattered stones. The Prambanan temple complex consists of three zones; first the outer zone, second the middle zone that contains hundreds of small temples, and third the holiest inner zone that contains eight main temples and eight small shrines.
The Hindu temple complex at Prambanan is based on a square plan that contains a total of three zone yards, each of which is surrounded by four walls pierced by four large gates. The outer zone is a large space marked by a rectangular wall. The outermost walled perimieter, which originally measured about 390 metres per side, was oriented in the northeast, southwest direction. However, except for its southern gate, not much else of this enclosure has survived down to the present. The original function is unknown; possibilities are that it was a sacred park, or priests’ boarding school (ashram). The supporting buildings for the temple complex were made from organic material; as a consequence no remains occur.
The inner zone or central compound is the holiest among the three zones. It is the square elevated platform surrounded by square stone wall with stone gates on each four cardinal points. This holiest compound is assembled of eight main shrines or candi. The three main shrines, called Trimurti (“three forms”), are dedicated to the three Gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper, and Shiva the Destroyer.
The Shiva temple is the tallest and largest structure in Prambanan Loro Jonggrang complex, it measures 47 metres tall and 34 metres wide. The main stairs located on the eastern side. The eastern gate of Shiva temple is flanked by two small shrines, dedicated to guardian gods, Mahakala and Nandhisvara. The Shiva temple encircled with galleries adorned with bas-reliefs telling the story of Ramayana carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. To follow the story accordingly, visitors must enter from the east side and began to perform pradakshina or circumambulating clockwise. The bas-reliefs of Ramayana continued to Brahma temple galleries.
The Shiva shrine located at the center and contains five chambers, four small chambers in every cardinal direction and one bigger main chamber in central part of the temple. The east chamber connect to central chamber that houses the largest temple in Prambanan, a three meter high statue of Shiva Mahadeva (the Supreme God). The statue bears Lakçana (attributes or symbol) of Shiva such as skull and sickle (crescent) at the crown, and third eye on the forehead, also four hands that holds Shiva’s symbols: a prayer beads, feather duster, and trisula (trident). Some historians believe that the depiction of Shiva as Mahadeva also meant to personify king Balitung as the reincarnation of Shiva. So, when he died, a temple was built to commemorate him as Shiva. The statue of Shiva stands on lotus pad on Yoni pedestal that bears the carving of Nāga serpents on north side of pedestal.
The other three smaller chambers contain statues of Hindu Gods related to Shiva; his consort Durga, the rishi Agastya, and Ganesha, his son. Statue of Agastya occupy the south chamber, the west chamber houses the statue of Ganesha, while the north chamber contains the statue of Durga Mahisasuramardini depicting Durga as the slayer of Bull demon. The shrine of Durga is also called the temple of Rara Jonggrang (Javanese: slender virgin), after a Javanese legend of princess Rara Jonggrang.
Brahma and Vishnu temples.
The two other main shrines are that of Vishnu on the north side of Shiva shrine, and the one of Brahma on the south. Both temple facing east and each contain only one large chamber, each dedicated to respected gods; Brahma temple contains the statue of Brahma and Vishnu temple houses the statue of Vishnu. Brahma and Vishnu temple measures 20 metres wide and 33 metres tall.
The other three shrine in front of three main temples is dedicated to vehicle (vahana) of the respective gods – the bull Nandi for Shiva, the sacred swan Hamsa for Brahma, and Vishnu’s Kite Garuda. Precisely in front of Shiva temple stands Nandi temple which contains a statue of Nandi bull, the vehicle (vahana) of Lord Shiva. Besides it, there is also other statues, the statue of Chandra the god of moon and Surya the god of sun. Chandra stands on his carriage pulled by 10 horses, and the statue of Surya also standing on a carriage pulled by 7 horses. Facing Brahma temple is the temple of Hamsa or Angsa (sacred swan). In the chamber of this temple contains no statue. But it seems likely that there was once a statue of the sacred swan, vehicle of god Brahma. In front of Vishnu temple is the temple dedicated for Garuda, however just like the Hamsa temple, Garuda temple contains no statue. Probably this temple once contains the statue of Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu. Garuda holds important role for Indonesia, as it serves as the national symbol of Indonesia, and also as the name of the airline Garuda Indonesia.
Apit temples and smaller shrines.
Between these row of main temple, on north and south side stands two Candi Apit temples. Apit in Javanese means “flank”, it refer to the two temples position that flanked the inner courtyard in north and south sides. The room inside Apit temples is now empty. It is not clear which deities these Apit temples were dedicated for. However, examining the southern Apit temple bas reliefs on outer wall, it depicts female deity, most probably Sarasvati, the Shakti (consort) of Brahma. Considering Hindu pantheon represented in Prambanan temples, it is possible that the southern Apit temple was dedicated to Sarasvati, while the northern Apit temple was dedicated to Lakshmi.
Beside these 8 main temples, there’s also 8 smaller shrines; 4 Candi Kelir on four cardinal direction of the entrance, and 4 Candi Patok on four corner of inner zone. Kelir in Javanese means “screen”, especially refer to wayang kulit fabric screen. It refer to a structure that obstruct main cardinal entry of gopura. It is similar to aling-aling in Balinese architecture. Patok in Javanese means “peg”, it refer to the shrine location at the four corners of inner compound.
The two walled perimeters that surround the remaining two yards to the interior are oriented to the four cardinal points. The second yard’s walled perimeter, which measures about 225 metres per side, surrounds a terraced area that consists of four rows containing 44, 52, 60, and 68 pervara temples. Respectively, each with a height of 14 metres and measuring 6×6 metres at the base, or 224 structures in total. The sixteen temples located at the corners of the rows face two directions; the remaining 208 structures open to only one of the four cardinal directions.
The middle zone consists of four rows of 224 individual small shrines. There are great numbers of these temples, but most of them are still in ruins and only some have been reconstructed. These concentric rows of temples were made in identical design. Each row towards the center is slightly elevated. These shrines are called “Candi Perwara” guardian or complementary temples, the additional buildings of the main temple. Some believed it was offered to the king as a sign of submission. The Perwara are arranged in four rows around the central temples, some believed it has something to do with four castes, made according to the rank of the people allowed to enter them; the row nearest to the central compound was accessible to the priests only, the other three were reserved for the nobles, the knights, and the simple people respectively. While another believed that the four rows of Perwara has nothing to do with four castes, it just simply made as meditation place for priests and as worship place for devotees.
The architecture of Prambanan temple follows the typical Hindu architecture traditions based on Vastu Shastra. The temple design incorporated mandala temple plan arrangements and also the typical high towering spires of Hindu temples. Prambanan was originally named Shivagrha and dedicated to god Shiva. The temple was designed to mimic Meru, the holy mountain the abode of Hindu gods, and the home of Shiva. The whole temple complex is a model of Hindu universe according to Hindu cosmology and the layers of Loka.
Just like Borobudur, Prambanan also recognize the hierarchy of the temple zones, spanned from the less holy to the holiest realms. Each Hindu and Buddhist concepts has their own terms, but the concept’s essentials is identical. Either the compound site plan (horizontally) or the temple structure (vertically) are consists of three zones:
- Bhurloka (in Buddhism: Kāmadhātu), the lowest realm of common mortals; humans, animals also demons. Where humans are still bound by their lust, desire and unholy way of life. The outer courtyard and the foot (base) part of each temples is symbolized the realm of bhurloka.
- Bhuvarloka (in Buddhism: Rupadhatu), the middle realm of holy people, occupied by rishis, ascetics, and lesser gods. People here begin to see the light of truth. The middle courtyard and the body of each temple symbolizes the realm of bhuvarloka.
- Svarloka (in Buddhism: Arupadhatu), the highest and holiest realm, reserved for the gods. Also known as svargaloka. The inner courtyard and the roof of each temple symbolizes the realm of svarloka. The roof of Prambanan temples are adorned and crowned with ratna (sanskrit: jewel), the shape of Prambanan ratna took the altered form of vajra that represent diamonds. In ancient Java temple architecture, ratna is the Hindu counterpart of the Buddhist stupa, and served as the temple’s pinnacle.
During the restoration, a well which contains a pripih (stone casket) was discovered under the center of the Shiva temple. The main temple has a well 5.75 m deep in which a stone casket was found on top a pile of charcoal, earth, and remains of burned animal bones. Sheets of gold leaves with the inscription Varuna (god of the sea) and Parvata (god of the mountains) were found here. The stone casket contained sheets of copper, charcoal, ashes, earth, 20 coins, jewels, glass, pieces of gold and silver leaves, seashells and 12 gold leaves (which were cut in the shapes of a turtle, Nāga serpent, padma, altar, and an egg).
Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana.
The temple is adorned with panels of narrative bas-reliefs telling the story of Hindu epic; Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana. The narrative bas-relief panels was carved along the inner balustrades wall on the gallery around the three main temples.
The narrative panels on the balustrade read from left to right. The story started from east entrance where visitors turn left and moving around the temple gallery in clockwise direction. This conforms with pradaksina, the ritual of circumambulation performed by pilgrims who move in a clockwise direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right. The story of Ramayana started on Shiva temple balustrade and continued to Brahma temple. On the balustrades in Vishnu temple there is series of bas-relief panels depict the stories of lord Krishna from Bhagavata Purana.
The bas-relief of Ramayana illustrate how Sita, the wife of Rama, is abducted by Ravana. The monkey king Hanuman brings his army to help Rama and rescue Sita. This story is also shown by the Ramayana Ballet, regularly performed at full moon at Trimurti open-air theatre in west side of the illuminated Prambanan complex.
Lokapalas, Brahmins and Devatas.
On the other side of narrative panels, the temple wall along the gallery were adorned with the statues and reliefs of devatas and brahmin sages. The figure of lokapalas, the celestial guardians of directions can be found in Shiva temple. The brahmin sage editors of veda were carved on Brahma temple wall, while in Vishnu temple the figures of a male deities devatas flanked by two apsaras.
Prambanan panel: Lion and Kalpataru.
The lower outer wall of these temples were adorned with row of small niche containing image of sinha (lion) flanked by two panels depicting bountiful kalpataru (kalpavriksha) tree. These wish-fulfilling sacred trees according to Hindu-Buddhist beliefs, is flanked on either side by kinnaras or animals, such as pairs of birds, deer, sheep, monkeys, horses, elephants etc. The pattern of lion in niche flanked by kalpataru trees is typical in Prambanan temple compound, thus it is called as “Prambanan panel”.
The Rara Jonggrang legend
The popular legend of Rara Jonggrang is what connects the site of the Ratu Boko Palace, the origin of the Durga statue in northern cell/chamber of the main shrine, and the origin of the Sewu temple temple complex nearby. The legend tells of the story about Prince Bandung Bondowoso who fell in love with Princess Rara Jonggrang, the daughter of King Boko. But the princess rejected his proposal of marriage because Bandung Bondowoso had killed King Boko and ruled her kingdom. Bandung Bondowoso insisted on the union, and finally Rara Jonggrang was forced to agree for a union in marriage, but she posed one impossible condition: Bandung must build her a thousand temples in only one night.
The Prince entered into meditation and conjured up a multitude of spirits (demons) from the earth. Helped by supernatural beings, he succeeded in building 999 temples. When the prince was about to complete the condition, the princess woke her palace maids and ordered the women of the village to begin pounding rice and set a fire in the east of the temple, attempting to make the prince and the spirits believe that the sun was about to rise. As the cocks began to crow, fooled by the light and the sounds of morning time, the supernatural helpers fled back into the ground. The prince was furious about the trick and in revenge he cursed Rara Jonggrang to stone. She became the last and the most beautiful of the thousand statues. According to the traditions, the unfinished thousandth temple created by the demons become the Sewu temple compounds nearby (Sewu means “thousands” in Javanese), and the Princess is the image of Durga in the north cell of the Shiva temple at Prambanan, which is still known as Rara Jonggrang or Slender Virgin.
Other temples around Prambanan.
North of the Lara Jongrang complex
- Lumbung. Buddhist-style, consisting of one main temple surrounded by 16 smaller ones.
- Candi Bubrah. Buddhist temple still in ruins.
- Sewu. Buddhist temple complex, older than Roro Jonggrang. A main sanctuary surrounded by many smaller temples. Well preserved guardian statues, replicas of which stand in the central courtyard at the Jogja Kraton.
- Candi Morangan. Hindu temple complex buried several meters under volcanic ashes, located northwest from Prambanan.
Candi Plaosan in Prambanan (9th century).
- Candi Plaosan. Buddhist, probably 9th century. Thought to have been built by a Hindu king for his Buddhist queen. Two main temples with reliefs of Boddhisatva and Tara. Also rows of slender stupas.
South of the Lara Jongrang complex
- Ratu Boko. Complex of fortified gates, bathing pools, and elevated walled stone enclosure, all located on top of the hill.
- Sajiwan. Buddhist temple decorated with reliefs concerning education. The base and staircase are decorated with animal fables.
- Banyunibo. A Buddhist temple with unique design of roof.
- Candi Barong. A Hindu temple complex with large stepped stone courtyard. Located on the slope of the hill.
- Ijo. A cluster of Hindu temple located near the top of Ijo hill. The main temple houses a large lingam and yoni.
- Arca Bugisan. Seven Buddha and bodhisattva statues, some collapsed, representing different poses and expressions.
West of the Lara Jongrang complex
- Kalasan. 8th-century Buddhist temple built in commemoration of the marriage of a king and his princess bride, ornamented with finely carved reliefs.
- Sari. Once a sanctuary for Buddhist priests. 8th century. Nine stupas at the top with two rooms beneath, each believed to be places for priests to meditate.
- Sambisari. 9th-century Hindu temple discovered in 1966, once buried 6.5 metres under volcanic ash. The main temple houses a linga and yoni, and the wall surround it displayed the images of Agastya, Durga, and Ganesha.
- Gebang. A small Hindu temple discovered in 1937 located near the Yogyakarta northern ring-road. The temple display the statue of Ganesha and interesting carving of faces on the roof section.
- Candi Gana. Rich in statues, bas-reliefs and sculpted stones. Frequent representations of children or dwarfs with raised hands. Located in the middle of housing complex. Under restoration since 1997.
- Candi Kedulan. Discovered in 1994 by sand diggers, 4m deep. Square base of main temple visible. Secondary temples not yet fully excavated.