Unknown to many is that the history of Sewu Temple is closely associated with the locally famous legend of “Loro Jonggrang”.
The legend tells the story about two ancient and neighboring kingdoms in Java, Pengging and Boko. The two kingdoms raged war against each other and after a series of devastating battles, Pengging came out victorious. In the last battle, the Pengging Prince, filled with supernatural powers, defeated the enemy king. After his victory, the Prince requested a marriage between himself and the dead king’s daughter, whose beauty was unmatched.
The princess, known as Loro Jonggrang, refused to marry the man who killed her father. She was finally forced to give in, but presented the Prince two impossible conditions in order for the marriage to take place; first the prince must build a well named Jalatunda and second, he must construct a thousand temples in only one night.
The love struck prince agreed on the conditions and immediately started working on the well. Using his supernatural powers once again, the prince swiftly finished construction of the well in no time.
To fulfill the second condition, the prince entered into meditation and conjured a multitude of demon spirits from the earth. With their help he built the first 999 temples and started working on the final one. To force a stop to his efforts, the princess and her maidens lit a fire in the east and begin pounding rice; a traditional Javanese dawn activity. Fooled into thinking the sun is about to rise, the spirits fled back into the earth leaving the last temple unfinished.
The prince became furious when he learned of the deception and placed a curse on Loro Jonggrang which turned her into a stone statue. In this way, she herself became a feature of the final temple thus completing its construction and fulfilling the conditions for their marriage.
A popular folklore
This legend is a local popular folklore which is said to explain the origin of Central Java’s famous archaeological sites; such as of the Kraton Ratu Boko palace, the statue in northern chamber of the main Prambanan temple aswell as the Sewu temple.
The name “Candi Sewu” actually means “A thousand temples” – referring to the 1000 temples the prince was forced to build.
The Sewu temple was likely built somewhere during the 8th century. The fact that this temple was built near the Prambanan temple, which is a Hindu Temple, indicated that the Hindus and Buddhist lived in harmony during this time.
The grand scale of this temple complex suggests that Candi Sewu was a Royal Buddhist Temple and one of the most important religious centers in ancient Java.
Sewu Temple was severely damaged during the earthquake in Java in 2006. The structural damage was significant and central temple suffered the worst. Large pieces of debris were scattered over the ground and cracks between stone blocks were detected.
To prevent the central temple from collapse, metal frame structures were erected on four corners and attached to support the main temple.
Why visit Sewu ?
Sewu Temple is the second largest Buddhist temple in Central Java after Borobudur and one of the best pieces of ancient Javanese architecture in the world.
Even though Sewu Temple complex doesn’t include 1000 temples – as the legend says – it is absolutely huge. There are a total of 257 buildings in the complex, arranged in rows surrounding the main temple. This arrangement is known as a “Mandala pattern” – an expression of how Mahayana Buddhism views the universe.
Today, Sewu is somewhat overshadowed by the nearby Prambanan , but Candi Sewu is definitely one of the most interesting Javanese temples around.
Sewu is located on Java, Indonesia.. The temple is situated around 18km east of Yogyakarta city. on the boundary between Yogyakarta and Central Java province. Sewu Temple is located just to the north of its more famous big brother, Prambanan. For the exact location of Sewu, check out the location Map to the right.