While Borobudur is the popular attraction around Yogyakarta, I was not familiar with the Prambanan Temple. The temple turned to be an impressive site which I found fascinating and was to be one of the highlights of our Java Island time.
A Surprising 9th-Century Hindu Complex
Build toward the middle of the 9th century, but about 50 years after Borobudur, Prambanan is said to be the largest example of Hindu culture on Java Island. A UNESCO World Heritage Site like Borobudur, Candi (temple) Prambanan is a beautiful Hindu complex.
The Compounds include over 500 temples including several main temples like the Prambanan, Sewu, Bubrah, and Lumbung. The Prambanan Temple is also known as Loro Jonggrang and consisted of 240 temples, many in ruins today. Three main temples dedicated to Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer, and Brahma the Creator which are the basis of the Hindu Trimurti.
Restoring Past Glory
The vastness of the compound became immediately apparent as soon as we arrived and I was eager to stroll the site. The temple reconstruction started in 1937 and has been ongoing since then. We first walked through the surrounding grounds covered with tons of rocks waiting to be used and returned to their original location and glory. It felt we were going through the giant puzzle.
The 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake created significant damage with access to some areas and temples now restricted. However, this did not prevent us from exploring the large complex. It was a busy morning, though not as busy as Borobudur. The layout of the place also allowed for visitors to stretch out more and made for a less overwhelming impression.
According to the legend, the original temples were built in the 8th century by Rakai Pikatan from the Sanjaya Dynasty, after he married into the powerful ruling Dynasty. One of the main criteria of the compound is the tall pointed typical Hindu architecture, one of them as high as 155 ft (47-m).
We walked through and around each of the main temples, stepping up the stairs to admire the different statues hosted in large alcoves. With the different schools visiting the site, going up and down the narrow and steep stairs was somewhat of a challenge. But the places would clear up after a few minutes, giving me the opportunity to enjoy peaceful moments and to admire the detailed stone carvings.
The walls of the building tell the story of the Ramayana, an ancient Indian poem depicting the story of Prince Rama rescuing his wife Sita from Ravana, the demon king. Beautifully detailed carved stone cover the different buildings and I was amazed how detailed and fine the carvings were. In many places, you could see the new creamy stones side by side with the original darker lava rocks. Our guide Nonna did an impressive job in recounting and sharing the stories behind these carvings. It felt like watching a movie, another kind of silent and still, but moving and telling nonetheless.
During the dry months between May and October, the temple hosts a Ramayana performance a few nights around the full moon in an open-air theater. With over 200 dancers and musicians, the summer production is a must-see while in Prambanan. Check with your hotel or guide for more information on days and tickets.
Since we went in November, we did not get to see it at the Prambanan Temple, but we saw a Ramayana performance in Yogyakarta at the Mandira Baruga Theatre. The performance, costumes, and music were breathtaking, and I would recommend highly recommend it.
It was interesting to see that the site was visited by both Indonesian and foreigners alike. Many families, as well as schools of all ages, were composing the bulk of the visitors. We got approached by numerous high school girls eager to get a photo with us, asking shyly first but rapidly gaining confidence and enquiring about our visit, asking where we were from.
How to Get There
The Prambanan Temple is roughly 11 miles (17 km) from Yogyakarta, an easy day trip.
Many organize a tour through a company, but you can also just get a driver to bring you to the site.
Tips for Visiting Prambanan Temple
- Go early or late to enjoy the best lights
- Give yourself lots of time as this is a large complex and there is a lot to see
- A stroll around the pile of rocks and stones gives a good understanding of the challenges facing the restoration process
- Be prepared to be asked for photos every or almost every step of the way
- I recommend good shoes given the instability of the terrain, the steep and worn stairs
- Make sure to wear a long pant or skirt, or bring a sarong with you to cover your legs
This visit, as well as my entire Indonesian trip, including the tour of Mini Indonesia in Jakarta or the Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Bali, was organized thanks to the Konsulat Jenderal Republik Indonesia di San Francisco and provided by Marintur Indonesia. Thank you for the terrific opportunity! Our opinion is our own and is not impacted by this partnership.
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