Prambanan Temple: Indonesia’s 1,000-year-old Indian Connection

Two thousand years ago, when Indian religion and culture flourished in south-East Asia, magnificent temples called Prambanan were built on Java Island. Time-circumstances destroyed the grand architecture of Prambanan Temple, dedicated to Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh. For thousands of years, it fell into a coma—and then became conscious again!

Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

Suvarna-dvipa : Tracing the Ancient Indian Trade Routes to Prambanan Temple

The Indonesian archipelago, which is referred to as ‘Dipantar Bharat‘, meaning India across the ocean, in texts dating back two thousand years, was a major trading center for many tribes of ancient India, including the Gujaratis. The Indians who came and settled there for the purpose of trade by sea made so much money that Indonesia was known as the Golden Island. An example of how appropriate the name was: Sri Maharaja Bhanu Shailendra, a royal of the Shailendra dynasty of South India, spread his empire over Suvarna-dvipa in the eighth century.

Golden Generations: Traders’ Wealth in Java and the Legacy of Prosperity

Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

According to historical records, his annual income at that time was 4,000 kilograms of gold. Every morning after completing the ritual of worshiping, Shri Maharaj Shailendra used to place 1 solid brick of gold as ‘Naived’ in the natural water tank next to the palace. It is natural that only the king can afford the luxury of free will. However, the economic prosperity of the Gujaratis who returned after doing business in Java for several years was not less than a king. According to a saying, the traders who traveled daily in Java brought so much wealth that their many generations do not require to earn anything.

Indian Legacies: Pambanan Temple and Empires in Suvarnadweep

Prambanan Complex 2 scaled

From the 1st to the 15th century, the islands of Java (Yavadwip), Bali, Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimanthan), etc. were ruled by kings of Indian origin like Srivijaya, Sanjay, Shailendra, Chola, and Sinhashri. In this long period of time, they earned enormous money and also used the money earned for good purposes by building various temples. Believe it or not, about 28,000 small and big temples were built on Suvarnadweep during the reign of the kings of Indian origin. Many temples were destroyed in natural calamities such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and in crusades between Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim sects.

Even today, the number of temples in Indonesia is significant. On Bali Island alone, the number of these temples is almost 1000. One of these super giant cultural architectural wonders is the Pambanan Temple on Java Island.

Prambanan Temple: The Second Largest Hindu Temple

Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

Among the thousands of temples built by Indian kings-maharajas in the countries of Southeast Asia, the largest of these is Angkor Wat in Cambodia, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Although the Prambanan temple is next to Angkor Wat in terms of size, it is still unknown to many.
FYI: The original name of Jakarta, the current capital of Indonesia, was ‘Jaykarta‘, meaning conquered land.

The Magnificent Trifecta: Exploring Prambanan Temple Complex

Prambanan is actually a group of three temples, built in the ninth century during the reign of the Hindu royals of the Sanjaya dynasty, fifteen kilometers from the town of Yogyakarta. Opposite the three huge temples dedicated to Brahma the creator of creation, Vishnu the guardian, and Shiva the destroyer, there are isolated shrines of Swans, Garuda, and Nandi, the vehicles of the three gods, respectively.

Unveiling Prambanan: Exploring the Mystery of its Lost Temples

There are a total of 16 structures in the rectangular main complex. A further 224 dwarf-sized supplementary or protective temples were built outside the complex, which today remain only as scattered stone remains. It is said that a total of 1,000 temples were built in the Prambanan Temple complex centuries ago. No official documentary evidence is known to confirm this supposed figure, but the legend from which the figure was ‘in circulation’ is known.

Lost Treasures: Unraveling the Legend of Prambanan’s Thousand TemplesPrambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

A preserve that today only remains as scattered stone remains. It is said that a total of 1,000 temples were built in the Prambanan complex centuries ago. No official documentary evidence is known to confirm this massive figure, but the legend from which the figure was ‘in circulation’ is known.

 

 

Legendary Love and Deception: The Tale of Prince Penging and Princess Roro Jonggrang

Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

Years ago, Indonesia was not an organized nation. Independent political authorities were established on different islands as well as geographical regions. There was once a fierce war between the kingdoms of Penging and Boko on the island of Java. In battle, the Prince of Penging killed the Boko king. When the king entered Boko’s royal palace after his victorious victory, he met Princess Roro Jonggarang. The Pengjing prince, charmed by the beauty of the grieving princess, who had lost her father in the war, proposes marriage. But instead of turning it down immediately, Roro Jonggrang manipulated it.

Two strict conditions were set before the Penging prince: (1) that the Penging prince build 1,000 temples as an atonement for the killing of the Boko king, and (2) that the construction be completed in one night. Both sides agreed that if any of the two conditions were violated, the prince would leave the land of Boko State.

The Pengking prince accepted the terms. After sundown, he sat in austere meditation and built 999 temples in a flash with supernatural power. As the final temple remained, Princess Roro Jonggarang made a clever move. She set the fields around where the temples were built in fire. A huge fire started to rise. The darkness of the night turned into light. Assuming that it was morning, the prince had to stop the construction of the temple.

Hence, he had to leave Boko State. But before going, the prince went on to punish Roro Jonggarang for cheating. With divine power, he transformed Princess Jonggarang into a stone statue. According to folklore, today the idol is found in the sanctum of the Prambanan Shiva temple. Locals worship her as a form of Goddess Parvati.

Majestic Marvel: Exploring the Shiva Temple at Prambanan Temples

The most magnificent architecture of the Prambanan complex is the Shiva temple, made with black stones, which is 34 meters (111.5 feet) wide, while the spire is 47 meters (154 feet) high (as much as a fifteen-story building). Characters from Hindu Puranas and ‘Jatak Kathas‘ are carved on the outer walls. The carvings depicting the incidents of Rama-Sita-Lakshmana abandoning Ayodhya and going into exile, the army of monkeys building a bridge of stones, Goddess Sita’s kidnapping, sad Goddess Sita sitting in Ashoka Vatika, Ravana-vadh, etc. are really astonishing. The statue of Lord Shiva that is seen upon entering the sanctum of the Shiva temple is also awe-inspiring, as the 3-meter/10-foot Lord Shiva is seen standing on a lotus.

The Symbolic Unity: Lotus and Shivlinga in Prambanan Temple

Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

The lotus is fixed to the Shivlinga. This type of statue is very rare to find in Hindu Shiva temples. There is an interesting theory behind its existence in Prambanan. Accordingly, the island of Java was ruled by the king of the Sanjaya dynasty and also a Buddhist royal of the Shailendra dynasty. During the period when the Prambanan temple was being built, Buddhist symbols such as the lotus and the Dharmachakra were placed in the construction to establish friendly relations between the two dynasties.

In the huge sanctum of the Shiva temple, in addition to the trident Mahadev, giant idols of the sages Agastya, Parvati, and Ganesha are installed. Adjacent to the grand temple of Lord Shiva, respectively, 20 m (65 ft) and 33 m (108 ft) high temples of Brahma and Vishnu are also unique examples of art. Beautiful carvings of the life of Vishnu avatar, Shree Krishna, as well as the events of the Mahabharata of that architecture, have been found on the outer walls.

Just in front of the main shrines of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh are the isolated shrines of Hans, Garuda, and Nandi, their vehicles, respectively. On the back side of the statue of Nandi, there are images of the sun god on one side and the moon god on the other side. Both the gods are riding in their respective chariots. The chariot is pulled by 7 and 10 horses, respectively.

Legacy of Prambanan Temple: Shifting Sands of Power and Tradition

Devata and Apsaras Prambanan 03
A male Hindu deity flanked on either sides by two female deities. These figures is probably devata and apsaras, the celestial maiden. The relief panel on the wall of Vishnu temple, Prambanan, Java, Indonesia.

After almost eight decades of this grand architecture being fully built, its prestige and importance remained intact. The Hindu kings of Java used to hold religious events as well as social gatherings in Prambanan. In the mid-tenth century, there was an abrupt change in tradition when the last Hindu royal of the Sanjay dynasty, Shreeisyan Vikramadhammatungdev, shifted the center of government to East Java. It is said that the erupted volcanic mountain 25 kilometers away from the temple complex was created for this purpose. It is possible that after the mountain top was blown off in a huge explosion, the dust, ash, and lava invasion displaced the Sanjay Empire.

 

Falling Silence: The Forgotten Fate of Prambanan Temple

Prambanan Temple 1

It was in the wake of this unlikely event that the Prambanan temple, resounding with Vedic chants, drums, bells, and the movement of devotees, was filled with silence. It remained derelict and unknown for centuries, during which the ravages of time reduced the entire architecture to ruins. Built of rugged rock, Prambanan has stood the test of time, but unfortunately, in the 16th century, it was dealt a blow by nature. A devastating earthquake shook the island of Java, in which parts of the towering spires of the three main temples collapsed. 224 additional temples around the complex were left vacant. The invaluable work that chronicles the vast reach of Hindu civilization became history itself.

Rediscovering Prambanan temple: Unveiling Indonesia’s Forgotten Jewel

Years passed, and the rule of the Dutch East Indies Company of the Netherlands was established in Indonesia. In 1733, an official of that company was moving around, and arrived in Prambanan. He had discovered a precious heirloom that time had forgotten, but perhaps he did not know its importance. It was a trick of luck that Prambanan, which had been in the dark for years, did not come to light.

Colonel McKenzie’s Discovery: Reviving Prambanan’s Ancient Splendor

Another eight decades passed without any change. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, another coincidence occurred. Colonel of the British East India Company. A white officer named Colin McKenzie arrived at Prambanan by accident. It did not take long for Colonel Mackenzie to see the irregular shapes of the stones and the carvings on them and identify them as Hindu architecture. Being a surveyor-archaeologist, he was naturally interested in the revival of Prambanan.

Restoring Prambanan: A Historical Journey of Revival and Resilience

Under the leadership of superior officer Sir Thomas Raffles, he undertook a major campaign to restore the demolished architecture. British architects were invited to Java and made sketches of the Prambanan temple. If the giant-sized stones scattered here and there were arranged according to the sketch, the temple could be raised again, but the moment of revival of Prambanan did not come in the long history of the change of hands of Dutch, English, and French power in Indonesia. A little more work was carried out in the twentieth century, but since the Indonesian government fell into an economic depression, it was not possible to spend much of the budget on this.

In a few years, World War II took place, and Indonesia had to suffer a lot due to the clash between the Japanese and British Indian Army.

The Rebirth of Prambanan: Symbol of Cultural Identity in Indonesia

Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

A stable government was finally established in 1949 in Indonesia after experiencing several political tensions one after another. Sukarna, the nation’s first president, took over the country’s political reins, not only re-establishing the Prambanan temple in 1953, but also featuring it on the Indonesian five-rupiah currency note. This move was welcomed, as the Prambanan temple was not only a symbol of Hindu culture, but almost of the island of Java.

It was also a witness to a millennium of ancient history. After UNESCO declared this proud symbol of art, architecture, and cultural heritage as a World Heritage Site in 1991, many people from home and abroad made Prambanan their own.Prambanan Temple: Indonesia's 1000 years old Indian Connection

Prambanan’s courtyard, which had been dormant for years, came alive again with the influx of tourists. Yet something was still missing. The temple gained global recognition as a magnificent stone-built structure, but its sanctum as a symbol of faith did not beat. In November, 2019, the Indonesian government organized a grand 3-day Pran Pratishtha Abhishek in Prambanan to fill this gap.

Purification of all the temples and complexes was done through worship, chanting, and panchamrit according to various Hindu traditions. After a full 1,163 years, life was given to the solid stones of Prambanan by Vedic mantras. The events of the Ramayana started to be performed in drama form in the complex. It is still played regularly today.

Prambanan Temple Visitor Information
Name Prambanan Temple
Location View on Google Maps
Address Prambanan, Sleman Regency, Special Region of Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Opening Hours 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Daily)
Entrance Fee Varies based on nationality and package options
Best Time to Visit Early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds and enjoy cooler temperatures
Special Tips Wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for walking. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water.

 

Conclusion

Prambanan today is not simply a monument to Indian culture several kilometers away from India; it is also a sacred symbol of faith. It gives a silent message to the visitors that, like hope, faith is also immortal.


 

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