'Prambanan' or 'Rara Jonggrang' (Javanese: ꦫꦫꦗꦺꦴꦁꦒꦿꦁ, romanized: Rara Jonggrang) is a 9th-century Hindu temple compound in Special Region of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, dedicated to the Trimūrti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Transformer (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 the second-largest in Southeast Asia. It is characterized by its tall and pointed architecture, typical of Hindu 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 Shaivite 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. With main prasada tower soaring up to 47 metres high, a vast walled temple complex consists of 240 structures, Shivagrha Trimurti temple was the tallest and the grandest of its time. Indeed the temple complex is the largest Hindu temple in ancient Java, with no other Javanese temples ever surpassed its scale. 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 became the theme and the inspiration for the Rara 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 wondrous origin; these were said in the Rara 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 the short-lived British 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 a 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.
On 9 to 12 November 2019, the grand Abhiṣeka sacred ceremony was performed in this temple compound. This Hindu ritual was held for the first time after 1,163 years after the Prambanan temple was founded on 856. The Abhiṣeka ceremony was meant to cleanse, sanctify and purify the temple, thus signify that the temple is not merely an archaeological and tourism site, but also restored to its original function as a focus of Hindu religious activity. Indonesian Hindus believe that this Abhiṣeka ceremony marked a turning point to re-consecrated the temple ground and restore the spiritual energy of Prambanan temple.This information does not take account of damage caused by the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake
Originally there were a total of 240 temples standing in Prambanan. The Prambanan Temple Compound consist of:
The Prambanan compound also known as Rara Jonggrang complex, named after the popular legend of Rara Jonggrang. There were once 240 temples standing in this Shivaite temple complex, either big or small. Today, all of 8 main temples and 8 small shrines in the inner zone are reconstructed, but only 3 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 perimeter, 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 a 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 Rara Jonggrang complex; it measures 47 metres tall and 34 metres wide. The main stairs are 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 is encircled with galleries adorned with bas-reliefs telling the story of Ramayana carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. To follow the story accurately, visitors must enter from the east side and began to perform pradakshina or circumambulating clockwise. The bas-reliefs of Ramayana continue to the Brahma temple galleries.
The Shiva shrine is located at the center and contains five chambers, four small chambers in every cardinal direction and one bigger main chamber in the central part of the temple. The east chamber connects to the central chamber that houses the largest temple in Prambanan, a three-metre 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: prayer beads, feather duster, and trisula (trident). Some historians believe that the depiction of Shiva as Mahadeva was 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 a lotus pad on a Yoni pedestal that bears the carving of Nāga serpents on the north side of the pedestal.
The other three smaller chambers contain statues of Hindu Gods related to Shiva: his consort Durga, the rishi Agastya, and Ganesha, his son. A statue of Agastya occupies 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 the 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.
The two other main shrines are those of Vishnu on the north side of the Shiva shrine, and the one of Brahma on the south. Both temples face 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 shrines in front of the three main temples are dedicated to the vehicles (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 the Shiva temple is the Nandi temple, which contains a statue of the Nandi bull. Next to it, there are also other statues, the statue of Chandra the god of the moon and Surya the god of the sun. Chandra stands on his carriage pulled by 10 horses, the statue of Surya also stands on a carriage pulled by 7 horses. Facing the Brahma temple is the temple of Hamsa or Angsa. The chamber of this temple contains no statue, but it seems likely that there was once a statue of the sacred swan. In front of the Vishnu temple is the temple dedicated to Garuda. However, just like the Hamsa temple, the Garuda temple contains no statue, but probably once contained the statue of Garuda. Garuda holds an important role for Indonesia, as it serves as the national symbol of Indonesia, and also as the name of the airline Garuda Indonesia.
Between these rows of the main temple, on the north and south side, stand two Candi Apit temples. Apit in Javanese means "flank". It refers to the position of the two temples that flanked the inner courtyard on the north and south sides. The room inside the Apit temples is now empty. It is not clear to which deities these Apit temples were dedicated. However, examining the southern Apit temple bas-reliefs on the outer wall, a female deity is depicted, most probably Sarasvati, the Shakti (consort) of Brahma. Considering the 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 are also 8 smaller shrines; 4 Candi Kelir on four cardinal directions of the entrance, and 4 Candi Patok on four corners of the inner zone. Kelir in Javanese means "screen", especially referring to wayang kulit, fabric screen. It refers to a structure that obstructs the main cardinal entry of gopura. It is similar to aling-aling in Balinese architecture. Patok in Javanese means "peg". It refers to the shrine location at the four corners of the 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 has a height of 14 metres and measures 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 an 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 by regional rulers and nobles to the king as a sign of submission. The Perwara are arranged in four rows around the central temples. Some believed it had 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 had nothing to do with four castes, it was just simply made as a meditation place for priests and as a 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 the 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 the Hindu universe according to Hindu cosmology and the layers of Loka.
Just like Borobudur, Prambanan also recognizes the hierarchy of the temple zones, spanned from the less holy to the holiest realms. Each Hindu and Buddhist concept has its own terms, but the concepts are essentially identical. Either the compound site plan (horizontally) or the temple structure (vertically) consists of three zones:
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).
The temple is adorned with panels of narrative bas-reliefs telling the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana. The narrative bas-relief panels were 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 starts from the east entrance where visitors turn left and move around the temple gallery in a 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 starts on Shiva temple balustrade and continues to Brahma temple. On the balustrades in Vishnu temple there is series of bas-relief panels depicting 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 on the west side of the illuminated Prambanan complex.
On the other side of the narrative panels, the temple wall along the gallery was adorned with statues and reliefs of devatas and brahmin sages. The figures 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 male deities devatas are flanked by two apsaras.
The lower outer wall of these temples was adorned with a row of small niches containing an image of sinha (a lion) flanked by two panels depicting bountiful kalpataru (kalpavriksha) trees. These wish-fulfilling sacred trees, according to Hindu-Buddhist belief, are 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 the Prambanan temple compound, thus it is called a "Prambanan panel".
The popular legend of Rara Jonggrang is what connects the site of the Ratu Boko Palace, the origin of the Durga statue in the northern cell/chamber of the main shrine, and the origin of the Sewu temple complex nearby. The legend tells 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 to 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 supernatural beings from the earth. Helped by these spirits, 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 daybreak, the supernatural helpers fled back into the ground. The prince was furious about the trick and in revenge he cursed Rara Jonggrang, turning her 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 Maiden".
The Prambanan Plain spans between the southern slopes of Merapi volcano in the north and the Sewu mountain range in the south, near the present border Yogyakarta province and Klaten Regency, Central Java. Apart from the Lara Jonggrang complex, the Prambanan plain, valley and hills around it is the location of some of the earliest Buddhist temples in Indonesia. Not far to the north are found the ruins of Bubrah temple, Lumbung temple, and Sewu temple. Further east is found Plaosan temple. To the west are found Kalasan temple and Sari temple, and further to the west is Sambisari temple. While to the south the Ratu Boko compound is on higher ground. The discoveries of archaeological sites scattered only a few miles away suggest that this area was an important religious, political, and urban center.