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Candi Prambanan 1

After discussing candi Borobudur, we will look at candi Prambanan, because both are extraordinary large temples from the Ancient Mataram kingdom. Candi Borobudur is a Buddhist religious temple, established by a Sailendra king, while candi Prambanan was constructed during the reign of a king from the Sanjaya dynasty of Hindu-Siwa religion in the year 856 A.D.

Candi Frambanan constitutes a temple construction complex, consisting of three premises with a Siwa temple as its center, sited in the Prambanan Subdistrict, Sleman Regency, about 17 km east of Yogyakarta city.

Folk story about Prambanan

This temple is also known by the name candi Lara Jonggrang or Roro Jonggrang, according to the name given by the local population to the Durga Mahisasuramardini statue which stands in the entrance hall at the north of candi Siwa.

The name Lara Jonggrang, meaning “Slender girl” is related to a folk story about the origin of the construction of candi Prambanan, as follows:

Lara Jonggrang, a princess, daughter of king Baka  was proposed in marriage by Bandung Bandawasa. The princess, however was not interested, because the young man had killed her father. Because he kept urging her, Lara Jonggrang looked for a device to trick him. She pretended to accept his proposal, on the condition that Bandung Bandawasa would build one thousand temples/statues within one night.  Near midnight it turned out that the young man had almost finished the job, and had built 999 constructions. Worriedly Lara Jonggrang asked the people to light as many torches as possible, and some girls to be busy pounding rice, so that the  cocks started crowing. Because he thought it was already sunrise, Bandung Bandawasa lost his strength and was unable to complete the thousand temples/statues. When he realized, however, that he had been deceived by the princess, Bandung became mad and put a curse on Lara Jonggrang who turned into a stone statue, completing the number of temples/statues she had requested.

Rediscovery of the Prambanan

Candi Prambanan was the temple complex first reported by CA Lons, an official of the VOC [United East Indies Company] in Semarang in 1733.

When Stamford Raffles became Governor General on Java, candi Prambanan was studied systematically for the first time.     

In 1885 YW Ijzerman started to clean up the temple  ruins, and then wrote a report of his task in his book entitled Beschrijving der Oudheden/ Description of  Archaological Constructions.  This was continued by J. Groneman,  and a Javanese photographer named Kasian Cephas, who took documentation photos of the candi Prambanan. The restoration of the Prambanan complex is  carried out on a continous basis.


The Japanese Occupation and the Struggle for the Independence of Indonesia

During the Japanese occupation the Dutch employees were captivated by the Japanese, and the work was continued by Indonesians, namely by Suhamir, with assistance of Samingun and Suwarno. During the physical revolution in 1948 restoration work was stopped altogether, because the employees were afraid to come at the office.

Damage occurred when Bogem village near Prambanan became the military barracks of the Dutch colonial army, while the people started to plunder the Prambanan office  thinking that golden objects were kept there, so that many archives were lost.  After Yogyakarta returned to the government of the Republic of Indonesia in 1949, restoration work at candi Prambanan accelerated.

Restoration was finished in 1952, but it was never thought of to place a lightning rod at the high construction, so that in the same year the top of candi Prambanan was struck by lightning. Repair was carried out together with repairing the decoration at the roof and the temple chamber gateways, so that repair was completed in 1953 and the Siwa Prambanan construction was officially dedicated by President Soekarno, the first president of the Indonesian republic.


The Temple Complex and Buildings

The candi Prambanan complex consists of hundreds of temples  are enclosed by a three square walls, each with a rectangular groundplan with gateways set in the four sides.


The Central Courtyard

The most innermost court measure which has an extension of 110 x 110  square meters.  In this central premise or first premise stand eight temples, namely candi Siwa as the largest one facing the east, flanked by candi Wisnu in the north and candi Brahma in the south.

In front of these three temples are three smaller ones, usually called candi Wahana, and two temples near the northern and southern gates, both called candi Apit (Court Temples).

Beside the large eight temples on this central courtyard are found eight small temples, sited at the eight compass points, not far from the surrounding fence.  These eight temples are usually called candi Kelir, but in this article are called the candi Mata Angin or candi Astadikpalaka, meaning the Guardian of the 8 compass points. In the Hindu religion exist  groups of gods, guardians of the compass points , some consisting of four gods [Catur Lokapala], of  eight gods [Astadikpalaka] and of ten gods [Dasa Lokapala]. [During the time of the growth of the Hindu-Siwa cultural period, in East Java between the  tenth – sixteenth century there were nine Siwa forms known as Nawasanga].

The eight small temples on the central courtyard of the Prambanan complex are places of the Astadikpalaka gods, because in the Vastusastra book, those gods have a very important position in each religious ceremony.  The reliefs of these Astadikpalaka gods are found at the wall of the body of candi Siwa.  The central courtyard appears to be 4.20 meters higher than the second courtyard, so that to go to the second premise, one has to pass nine stairs.


The Second Courtyard

The second courtyard has an extension of 220 x 220 square meters, and the remains show that originally there were 224 candi Perwara on it, all facing the outside, not facing the central courtyard. Some Perwara temples are restored, but most are difficult to reconstruct to their former shape, because many stones are missing.


The Third Courtyard

It draws the attention that the form of the third courtyard is not symmetrical to the first and second courtyards, for an unknown reason. Possibly the third courtyard was deliberately made asymmetric to accommodate the water of Opak river in a kind of artificial pool. In a sacred construction, the role of water [tirtha] is most important, in the form of a river or a pool. In the Siwagrha inscription of 856 A.D a holy building complex that was established was mentioned, which may possibly be the Prambanan complex. In that inscription the sentence was written …lwah inalihaken … meaning “the flow of a river was changed”. Did this mean that the Opak river stream had been changed to collect the water in a pool?  The Third Courtyard which site is lower than the second courtyard, was formerly used to build profane buildings, such as lodgings for the priests and possibly also resting places for the visitors of the sacred place.  The extension of the third courtyard is 390 x 390 square meters.


Candi Siwa

This is the largest and most beautiful temple among all the complex temples. Candi Siwa has a square groundplan of 43,46 x 42,60 square meters and  is 47 meters high, with broad projections.

The temple has three parts, namely the foot – the body – the roof, each part is supposed to symbolize bhurloka [the underworld] – bhuwarloka [ the human world] – swarloka [the higher world]. It has four chambers, namely cella the main or central chamber [garbhagrha], with a door facing the east,  and three minor rooms on the south, west and north side.

In the central chamber [garbhagrha] is found the four arms Siwa Mahadewa statue standing on a yoni, as a principal deity.

The smaller chambers contains the statues of Agastya [in the south], Ganesa [in the west] and Durga Mahisasuramardini known as Lara Jonggrang in the north. Each entrance has a stair to enter the chambers.

The temple roof  soars up high, consisting of three storey decorated full with ratna or high amalaka , while the top of the temple has the shape of a high amalaka as the temple’s crown.

Another speciality of candi Siwa are the small constructions at the corner of each stair is trailling and temple foot. In the beginning the function of those small constructions was unknown, but after measurements were taken from the premises of the temple complex, it became known that one of those small temples, namely the one at the south of the east stair was the intersecting point of the first and second courtyards.  This is interesting, because according to the Indian Vastasusastra book, the intersecting point should be in the central chamber [garbhagrha]. The Old Javanese artists, however, did not want to follow the regulations of the Vastusastra, and deliberately avoided to put the intersecting point in the most sacred chamber. This situation is also found in some other ancient Mataram temples, e.g. at candi Sambisari.


Kalpataru and the Prambanan Relief

Beside the grandiose temple structure, candi Siwa has  most interesting kinds of decorations and reliefs. One of the most attractive decoration styles is found at the outside foot of candi Siwa, as well as on the other temple feet, in the form of  kalpataru trees [kalpawrksa] flanking a lion relief, while in turn each tree is wedged between certain animals.  This decorative style is known as the Prambanan motive.

Among around 200 Prambanan motives, there are no two motives that are detailedly similar. Kalpataru is “the tree of life” growing in the heaven of god Indra. There are five kinds of Tree of Life; beside the kalpataru there is the parijata tree used as decoration in the temples of the Young Classic period, mainly at candi Kidal from the Singasari period. At the outside foot of candi Siwa there are 64 reliefs of the Prambanan motive.  While at the row of panels above the panels decorated with the Prambanan motive there are 70 panels figuring three dancing figures.  This relief is taken over from the Natyasastra book a manual on the art of dancing, picturing Siwa in his Tandawa dance. The movements of this Tandawa dance actually represent the five tasks [pancakrtya] of god Siwa as the highest god, namely : creation, protection, destruction,  omitting ignorance, bestowing gifts.

Beside the beautiful ornamental decoration style at the inside part of the balustrade of candi Siwa, the  wiracarita Ramayana  relief is carved on 42 panels, starting from the east side.  The story begins with the incarnation of Wisnu in Rama, ending with the story of Rama and the ape army constructing a bridge to Alengka [the wayang story Rama Tambak]. Because the story was incomplete, the Ramayana was continued on the inside part of the balustrade  of candi Brahma on  30 panels.

Below are found the short outline of the Rama narrative scenes that we can follow when walking along the veranda alley [pradaksinapatha] from the east side with the temple on the right side [mapradaksina], meaning following the hand of the clock:

  • Five gods are crying in front of Wisnu with the request that god Wisnu should descend to the earth to kill Rawana.  Wisnu sits on the snake Ananta and beside him sits Garuda presenting a half open lotus flower [1] 
  • Priest Wiswamitra asks the help of Rama’s father to destroy the giants who disturb their hermit abode.  Rama and Laksmana are sent representing the king, and succeed in killing the giants, inclusive the giants Taksaka and Marichi [2-5]
  • Then Rama and Laksmana propose to Sita, the daughter of king Janaka, and Rama wins in the swayamwara after succeeding in extending the bow of god Siwa [6]
  • After the marriage, Rama, Sita and Laksmana return to Ayodhya. On the way they are ambushed by Rama Parasu. But Rama Parasu  is defeated by Rama [7-8]
  • King Dasaratha, Rama’s father, wants Rama to succeed him as king of Ayodhya. But this wish is opposed by one of the king’s wives, namely Kaikeyi. Finally Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son,  is appointed as the king’s successor, while Rama, Sita and Laksmana are forced to leave Atodhya and to live in the Dandaka forest [9-11]
  • The three of them leave for Dandaka forest. Because of his sadness king Dasaratha passes away, and his corpse is cremated [12-13]
  • Bharata follows Rama and asks him to return to Ayodhya and become king, but Bharata’s request is refused. Rama extends a pair of his wooden clogs to represent him, which are put on the throne. Rama also teaches the eight [asta] steps of good behaviour [brata] expected of a king. This teaching [niti] is known on Java as Astabrata [14]
  • Rama and his group enter the forest and meet with many temptations, among others Sita is teased by a crow.  Rama gets mad and the crow is cursed by him so that his feathers turn black [15-16]
  • Sarpanaka, Rawana’s younger sister, comes to ask Rama and Laksmana in marriage, but is refused. Because she feels hurt, she complains with her brother, Rawana [17-18]
  • Rama and Laksmana  are chasing the Kencana antilope, which actually is the giant Marica, Rawana’s assistant. When Sita is left alone, she is abducted by Rawana [19-21]
  • Sita is saved by the Jatayu bird, but the bird is defeated by Rawana.  Before his death, Jatayu is able to inform Rama about Sita [22-23]
  • In their search for Sita, Rama and Laksmana release a male sprite and a fairy who were cursed into a giant and a crocodile, afterwards Rama meets Hanuman [24-26]
  • Rama helps Sugriwa by killing Walin [Subali], Sugriwa’s brother, and appoints Sugriwa as king of the  Kiskenda cave.  Sugriwa promises to assist Rama in fighting Rawana [27-32]
  • Preparations for war are started. Hanoman is sent to Alengka to meet Sita [33-34]. Hanoman succeeds in finding Sita in Alengka; she is always guarded/accompanied by Trijaya, Wibisana’s son. Hanuman is caught and sentenced to be burned. But Hanuman is not burned to death, and even succeeds to burn the houses in Alengka. Then he returns to Rama and reports what has happened [35-39]
  • After permission from the seagod Waruna, Rama mobilizes the monkey army of Sugriwa to construct a bridge above the sea to Alengka, and together with his army, Rama and Lasmana are headed for Alengka [40-42]

This Prambanan Ramayana relief was investigated by W.F. Stutterheim in his 1925 dissertation.  Besides, in 1928 he tried to find the symbolic meaning of the Ramayana narrative relief, and according to his opinion, the Rama story scenes are in accordance with the course of the sun circling the earth everyday:

  • In the east: the descend of Wisnu to the earth, until the return of Rama to Ayodhya [sunset]
  • In the south : the married life of Rama and Sinta, until the scene of the forest exile [summit of happiness]
  • In the west: Sita ‘s kidnapping by Rawana,  until the victory of Rama over Subali [twilight, the sun begins to go down’
  • In the north: Rama’s agreement with Sugriwa to attack Alengka , while Hanuman. is sent to Alengka, until the bridge construction and the  crossing to Alengka [evening- toward morning] 

As mentioned before, this Rama narrative is continued on the inside part of the balustrade  of candi Brahma on 18 panels.  The source of this Ramayana story is still unknown.  The scenes of the Rama narrative do not originate from the Ramayana composed by Walmiki, nor do they have the Ramayana kakawin as its source.

DR. Hariani Santiko

Translated by Mrs. Ediati Kamil  Master of Library Science