Prambanan Temple a pearl in the heart of Java

Prambanan Temple masterpiece of Hindu art

A masterpiece of Hindu art

Today it is time to talk about one of the most beautiful temples all over the island of Java in Indonesia. Located only 17 km northeast of the city of Yogyakarta. Easily accessible through one of the many (too many) travel agencies that dot the backpackers neighborhood in Yogyakarta. A better option is renting a motorbike and visiting Prambanan and other temples in the area by yourself.



The complex was built between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century, when Java was ruled by the Buddhist Sailendras in the south and the Hindu Sanjayas in the north. According to historians the two dynasties were unified by the marriage of Rakai Pikatan of Hindu Mataram and the Buddhist Sailendra princess Pramodhavardhani. The presence of sculptural and architectural elements of both Buddhist and Hinduist is most likely due to this unification and represents a standing proof of peaceful cohabitation.

The decline of the temple started after the 10th century when the Hindu-Javanese rulers court was shifted to East Java. The experts are not certain what caused the shift but the main options are either an eruption of the Merapi Volcano or a power struggle. A powerful earthquake in the 16th century, treasure hunters, and locals looking for building materials all had a huge impact on the condition of the site. Colin McKenzie, a surveyor in the service of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, brought the temple to international attention in 1811. A real restoration took place only in 1930. The main Shiva temple was completed around 1953 and inaugurated by SukarnoFormer president of Indonesia. Considering that much of the original stonework has been stolen and reused at remote construction sites, restoration was held back substantially. The fact that the shrines were only rebuilt if at least 75% of their original masonry was available resulted in a bunch of foundations that have no plan of being restored.

The three levels structure

There are as many as 237 temples in this complex, arranged according to their position and function. The site is built in a series of three ‘levels’ which radiate out in size.

In the raised central level there is the mother temple, the largest and the most important, it stands in the middle. It is a Shiva Temple 47m tall and exquisitely carved, with the Brahma temple at its south side and the Vishnu temple at its north. Facing these temples is each of their counterparts: Shiva temple facing Nandi temple, in which stands the statue of Nandi, who is Shiva’s vehicle. Facing the Brahma temple stands Angsa temple (the swan), which is Brahma’s vehicle. Facing the Vishnu temple is the Garuda temple, the great bird that Vishnu flies upon. Two other temples, called the Apit (meaning ‘to flank’) temples stand on each side of the grouping of the three main temples.

Perwara temples ruins

Perwara temples ruins

The second level radiates out symmetrically and contains paths through to the central square, as well as 224 smaller temples of identical design arranged in 4 concentric square rows, which nowadays are almost all in ruins. These temples are known as Perwara temples, meaning guardian or complementary. Although most of these smaller temples are currently tumbling ruins, a few have been restored and it is not difficult to imagine the sheer magnitude of what was once here.

The third level is not on the same axis as the central two, and does not contain religious artefacts. The experts believe that this area would have been used by the people involved in ceremonies to prepare offerings, and were dotted with buildings to host resident priests and pilgrims. None of the structures survive today.

Three main temples (TrimurtiConcept in Hinduism in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver and Shiva the destroyer or transformer temples)

The Shiva temple, is the largest and most important of the Prambanan complex. It is 34 square meters at its base, and 47 meters high. There are several cellas and in the largest, that faces the entrance from the east, sits the statue of Shiva Mahadewa. This is the most important statue. The Shiva Mahaguru or Agastya statue is in the south cella. Ganesha in the west, and Mahissasuramardini, or Durga, wife of Shiva Mahaguru, in the north cella. Durga, when facing the north, is a symbol of death.

The Mahissasuramardini statue is also called the Roro Jonggrang statue, a princess in the legends of the local people.

Respectively in the north and in the south of the Shiva temple there are Brahma and Vishnu temples both facing east. Smaller than the main Shiva temple, they are both the same size of 20 meters wide and 33 meters tall. Each temple has only one large chamber containing the respected gods’ statue Brahma and Vishnu.


Reliefs Prambanan TempleThe reliefs in the Prambanan complex are one of the main reasons to come here. The astonishing quality of the carving put the complex on top of a list of Hindu arts finest examples.

The famous story of RamayanaRamayana is one of the two epic Hindu poems, the other one is the Mahabharata. can be seen on the reliefs of the Siwa temple. They tell the story of how Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, is abducted and how Hanuman the monkey god and Sugriwa the white monkey general eventually find and release her. The reliefs of Ramayana at the Siwa temple are continued on the reliefs of the Brahma temple. The relief of the Vishnu temple is about the story of Kresnayana. Although it is not as famous as the Ramayana, the story of Kresnayana is frequently found on reliefs of more temples in East Java. There are no reliefs on the walls of the temples other than in the three main temples.

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