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Exactly when the beautiful Prambanan Temple Compound was build is hard to say, as there is no formal written records of the construction of Prambanan. Prambanan Temple is believed to have been built in the 9th century during Ancient Java’s greatest empire, The Mataram Sultanate.
During this time, power of central Java shifted between different families. The construction of Prambanan was probably built to mark the return of the Sanjaya dynasty after almost a century of under control by the rival Sailendra.
During this era, it was not uncommon for the different dynasties to raise monuments and temples in their name - not only as a way to display their dominance - but also to fortify their religion in the area. This is the reason why so many temples in the area which dates back to this period.
As Prambanan is a Hindu Temple, it hardly comes as a surprise that the Sanjaya’s were Hindus. The Sailendra’s however, were Buddhists, and the ones responsible for many of the Buddhist temples in the area, the most famous one being Borobudur. Many see Prambanan as Sanjaya’s response to Sailendra’s mighty Borobudur.
Two of a kind
While both dynasties main temples seem quite similar, there are some distinct differences between Prambanan and Borobudur.. The difference between Prambanan and Borobudur. in not only that they worship different religions, but there is also a distinct architectural difference between the two. Travelers visiting both temples will be able to see the difference. Prambanan consists more of sharp sculpted towers in contrast to the vast horizontal bulk of Buddhist Borobudur.
Decline and destruction
The Sanjaya dynasty controlled the island around 100 years until the Isyana dynasty took over in the 10th century. They moved the court to East Java, for which reason is still unknown. This marked the beginning of the Prambanan Temple’s decline, as it soon became abandoned and began to deteriorate.
Disaster struck the Prambanan Temple in the mid 16th century, when a major earthquake caused many of the temples to collapse and left the area in ruins.
Prambanan Temple was unknown to the world until the beginning of the 19th century, when a surveyor stumbled upon the temple by chance during Britain’s short-lived rule of the Dutch East Indies.
Even though a full survey of the ruins was commissioned, they remained neglected for decades. The British and Dutch looted the ruins and took sculptures as garden ornaments while native villagers used foundation stone as construction material.
The looting later ceased and restoration of the area began in 1918. The restoration team had a policy that at least 75% of the original masonry needed to be available in order to restore a temple. As much material were stolen and reused at remote construction sites, only the foundations of most of the smaller temples are now visible with no plans for their reconstruction.
Why visit Prambanan ?
Prambanan is the largest Hindu Temple in whole Indonesia. This temple, locally referred to as Loro Jonggrang Temple, is one of the many magnificent temples in the area. These temples are the remains of the powerful civilizations that lived on the Java Island. Prambanan is known for its sheer size and beauty and is a must see for anyone visiting the region as it has a lot to offer.
Prambanan is dominated by three larger structures. The three main temples are called Trimurti – “the three forms”. It is a Hindu concept which includes three gods; Brahma the Creator, Vishnuthe Keeper and Shiva the Destroyer.
Temple of Shiva
The largest temple in the center is dedicated to Shiva. It consists of five chambers; one large and four smaller ones. Inside the large main chamber stands a large three meters statue depicting Shiva and in the smaller chambers statues of Hindu gods related to Shiva.
The northern chamber holds a statue of Durga; the slender Virgin. She is one of the main characters in the folktale “Loro Jonggrang” that has given the temple its local name. In the folktale she refuses to become married and as a penalty she gets turned into stone.
Temple of Vishnu
The north temple is dedicated to Vishnu the Keeper. This temple consists of one main chamber which houses a statue of Vishnu. On the balustrades in Vishnu temple, visitors can find series of magnificent bas-relief depicting Krishnayana; the story of lord Krishna.
Temple of Brahma
The south temple is dedicated to Brahma the Creator and is also made up of one large main chamber with a statue of Brahma. The bas-reliefs along the balustrades on the gallery around both Brahma and Shiva temple depict the Hindu legend of Ramayana. They illustrate how Rama, is abducted by Ravana. The monkey king Hanuman brings his army to help Rama and rescue Sita.
In front of each of the three main temples stands a smaller shrine. These shrines are dedicated to the mounts of the respective gods; the bull Nandi for Shiva, the swan Hamsa for Brahma and the eagle Garuda for Vishnu.
In front of the temple dedicated to Shiva’s mount stands statue of Nandi the bull. Visitors can also see a statue of Chandrathe god of moon and Surya the god of sun, both standing in carriages drawn by horses. The other shrines probably also had a statue of their respective mount, but were most likely stolen during the Dutch occupancy.
In the main temple area, visitors can also find some smaller shrines surrounding the main temples. The purposes of these shrines still rather unknown, but they were likely places of worship for the Brahmins and their disciples.
Prambanan Temple Compound consists of in total 237 temples, either big or small and in different conditions. Surrounding the main temple area are 224 small identical temples, though many of them lie in ruins.
These are called “Candi Perwara” – the Guardian Temples. Some believe that the temples represent the Mataram caste system, as the temples are arranged in four rows, and that each row was designed to be used by one caste only. Others believe they were quite simply a place for meditation.
Surrounding the whole Prambanan Temple Compound is the outer zone which is believed to have housed a park, living quarters and other supportive buildings. As these buildings are believed to have been built in organic material, nothing is left of them today.
One thing to keep an extra eye on is the open air theatre, located just west of Prambanan temple, across the small river. The theatre has ballet performances of the great Hindu legend of Ramayana during some parts of the year. This act, performed during full moon, set against an illuminated Prambanan, is said to be quite spell-binding.
Today, the Prambanan Temple Compound is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has become one of Indonesia’s key tourist attractions and a major landmark in the area. Even so, Prambanan is often overshadowed by the nearby Borobudur. The reality is that most people find Prambanan just as awe inspiring as its bigger brother and I’m sure you will like it as well.
Prambanan is located on Java, Indonesia. The temple is situated around 18 km east of Yogyakarta city, on the boundary between Yogyakarta and Central Java province. Prambanan is located in between the temple sites Kraton Ratu Boko and , Sewu Temple. For the exact location of Prambanan, check out the location Map to the right.
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our Indonesia map.
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