Trimurti Temple Complex at Prambanan, Central Java
Ancient Hindu Complex with Temples to Siva, Brahma, Vishnu and others, one of the largest outside of India.
For the narrative reliefs on these temples, please see separate collections:
Rāma’s Story and Kṛṣṇa’s Story.
The Prambanan Complex
The largest archaeologically significant area in Indonesia is found on the Pramabanan Plain, north-west of Yogyakarta in Central Java. Here we find dozens of candis (monuments), some excavated and renovated, and a few still underground, and some of the most important artifacts of the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms that prevailed during the classical period.
Candi Sewu is located here, which is the second largest Buddhist temple in Java, after Borobudur; and the largest Hindu complex in Indonesia, Candi Prambanan (aka Loro Jonggrang) is the centrepiece of the monuments that have been found in this area.
All of this speaks to the area having been the centre of a large medieval civilisation, which had great resources and used them to produce enduring monuments, which still testify to the richness of the culture that fostered them.
What is now known as Candi Prambanan is a complex of temples at the heart of the plain, which originally contained hundreds of buildings in three courtyards. Most of these are lost now, but the main buildings in the central courtyard have been painstakingly reconstructed in modern times.
The complex seems to have been built up in stages beginning from the mid-9th century, with work continuing for a century or more after that, as new buildings were added, before being abandoned when the centre of power moved from central to eastern Java in the 11th century.
It was after this abandonment that a group of legends grew up around the ruins amongst the local people, to explain how they got there. One of the statues found in the main Śiva temple, which we now know was of Śiva’s consort Durga, was identified with a vaguely remembered local princess, Loro Jonggrang.
She was asked for in marriage by a prince who had killed her father, the king. She was unable to refuse, but set a difficult condition: her suitor must built 1,000 temples in one night. With help from the gods he managed to build 999, and these are now identified with Candi Sewu (Sewu means Thousands in Old Javanese).
Seeing him about to accomplish his task the reluctant princess ordered her maids to start pounding rice, which signalled daybreak to the gods. When they thought day was breaking they retreated from their work. The prince cursed the princess and she was turned into a stone statue.
The complex came to the attention of colonialists in the early 19th century, and some sporadic efforts were made to protect and restore the buildings, but it was only in the mid-20th century that really determined and sustained efforts made substantial progress and the buildings were brought back to something like their ancient glory.
The outer court would probably have housed many wooden buildings housing the brahmins and workers needed to maintain the temple in its day-to-day life. The middle court originally contained 224 guardian (pervara) temples, which are largely destroyed now.
Map of the Prambanan compound by Gunawan Kartapranata (cc-by-sa)
In the main central courtyard we find eight temples, of varying size and significance. The largest is the Śiva temple, and it appears that Śivagṛha (House of Śiva) may have been the original name of the complex (it is otherwise known as the Trimurti (Three Forms) temple. It has four entrances, but the main one is to the east, and it also has four shrines, to Mahādeva (at the centre); Agastya (south), Ganeṣa (west) and Durga (north).
To the south is the Brahmā temple, and to the north is the Viṣṇu temple, both of the same size as each other, but smaller than the main temple. These have only one entrance on the east, and they also have only one shrine to the main god worshipped there.
Opposite these are three temples, which some scholars believe may have been temples to their vehicles (vāhana), Nandi the bull, opposite Śiva; Haṁsa the swan, opposite Brahmā; and Garuḍa, a mythical bird, opposite Viṣṇu. The Nandi temple is certainly identified, as there was a statue of the bull found in the temple, but the other two are inferences, rather than certainties. The entrances to these temples face west.
The other two, and again, smaller temples, are the flanking (apit) temples on the north and south of the inner courtyard. It is not clear who these were dedicated to, as the inner shrines are empty, but it has been suggested they may have been dedicated to Lakṣmī, the consort of Viṣṇu, and to Sarasvatī, the consort of Brahmā.
In the Hindu pantheon the Trimurti of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva, play a leading role, and are sometimes referred to as the Hindi Trinity. They have the roles of creating (Brahmā), sustaining (Viṣṇu) and destroying (Śiva) the cosmos as it evolves and dissolves.
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The Siva temple is the tallest and largest structure in the Prambanan complex, it measures 47 metres tall and 34 metres wide. The Siva temple is encircled with galleries adorned with bas-reliefs telling the Ramayana story which are carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. The bas-reliefs of Ramayana continue on the Brahma temple galleries.
The entrance archways, makara statues, and on the inside walls the Lokapala statues are all worthy of note. Around the outside of the temple at the base are variations of Kalpataru (Lucky Tree) symbols, together with various mythological creatures like kinnara and kinnari, and also lions, geese and peacocks.
The Brahma temple, which measures 20 metres wide and 33 metres tall, stands to the south of the Siva Temple, and continues with the bas-reliefs telling the Ramayana story which are carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. In the main shrine room there is a large statue of Lord Brahma with his four heads. As with the Siva Temple, around the base of the Temple are variations of the Kalpataru (Lucky Tree) symbols.
The Visnu Temple, also measures 20 metres wide and 33 metres tall, and stands to the north of the Siva Temple. The bas-reliefs here tell the Krishnayana story. As with the others, around the base of the Temple are variations of the Kalpataru (Lucky Tree) symbols.
In front of the Trimurti Temples are temples to their respective vehicles (vahana): Siva has a Nandi Bull Temple in front of it; Brahma has his Hamsa (Goose) Temple, and Visnu has the Garuda (Mythological Bird-Man) Temple. Here example sculptures from the Nandi Temple are shown.
The Prambanan Complex
Prambanan Architectural Model, photograph by Gunakarta Gunawan Kartapranata (cc-by-sa)
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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