The art and architecture of ancient temples and the kingdoms that built them always fascinate me. So when the trip to Indonesia was hatched, the temples of Bali and the famed, massive Buddhist temple Borobudur in Central Java topped my list. Upon further reading, though, I came across an equally significant temple complex also in Central Java near Yogyakarta, which like Borobudur, was built in the 9th century. That sprawling temple complex is Prambanan, which actually houses both Hindu and Buddhist sacred grounds.
As the trip approached, we nearly skipped Prambanan in favor of Borobudur because of the entrance ticket costs, but I’m glad we didn’t because the Hindu Prambanan Temple and Buddhist Sewu Temple are among the most beautiful and impressive sacred structures I’ve seen. Further, because of the proximity between the two temples, one is left in awe that both Hindu and Buddhist communities co-existed in harmony. I also learned that the Indonesian word for temple is “candi,” or “pura” in Balinese.
My other concern was whether the kids would have a temple hopping overdose. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded as Cyan, Arwen and Amber all found the temples fascinating, and as they went in and around the temple pathways and chambers, the statues and bas reliefs told stories that lit up their fertile imaginations, and the age-old construction methods behind these towering structures and the reasons they were built became a fount of wonder. Bretha, also a fine arts graduate like me but with an architecture background, would be quick to fill in essential details.
After exploring Candi Prambanan, we biked to its lesser known but much older neighbor, the 8th-century Candi Sewu, with a quick stop just outside Candi Bubrah. The Buddhist temple Sewu had much fewer visitors, and for a time, we were the only souls walking down its serene, sacred grounds. We concluded our trip to Prambanan with a visit to the museum within the compound.
The Prambanan Temple Compounds, by the way, are listed as a World Heritage Site, and Unesco, on its website writes:
“Prambanan Temple Compounds consist of Prambanan Temple (also called Loro Jonggrang), Sewu Temple, Bubrah Temple and Lumbung Temple. Prambanan Temple itself is a complex consisting of 240 temples. All the mentioned temples form the Prambanan Archaeological Park and were built during the heyday of Sailendra’s powerful dynasty in Java in the 8th century AD. These compounds are located on the border between the two provinces of Yogyakarta and Central Java on Java Island.
“While Loro Jonggrang, dating from the 9th century, is a brilliant example of Hindu religious bas-reliefs, Sewu, with its four pairs of Dwarapala giant statues, is Indonesia’s largest Buddhist complex including the temples of Lumbung, Bubrah and Asu (Gana temple). The Hindu temples are decorated with reliefs illustrating the Indonesian version of the Ramayana epic which are masterpieces of stone carvings. These are surrounded by hundreds of shrines that have been arranged in three parts showing high levels of stone building technology and architecture from the 8th century AD in Java. With over 500 temples, Prambanan Temple Compounds represent not only an architectural and cultural treasure, but also a standing proof of past religious peaceful cohabitation.”