Prambanan Temple

Indonesia Culture, Tourism

The Mythical Prambanan Temple

10 Sep , 2015  

Prambanan temple is an ancient Javanese Hindu’s candi in the outskirt of Yogyakarta. It’s the Hindus’ answer to the Buddhist’s Borobudur. Both temples were built at roughly the same time in 9th century; two mega projects just roughly 30 kilometers apart. One Buddhist, one Shivaite Hindu.

Architectural Landscape of PrambananArchitectural Landscape of Prambanan Temple

What is called Prambanan Temple or Candi Prambanan is actually a complex of a total of 240 candis that were built in the following arrangement:

  • Three major candis, each is dedicated to one of the Trimurti (Hindu’s major deities), namely Brahma the Creator, Wisnu the Keeper and Siwa the Destoyer. (Note: I used their name in native Bahasa here). Together these temples are named the Candi Trimurti. The biggest candi is the one dedicated to Siwa, and it is the central point of the whole complex.
  • Three lesser candis were built opposite of the Trimurtis. Each is dedicated to the Trimurti’s respective vahana or pet-slash-ride. Siwa’s Nandini (bull), Brahma’s Hamsa (swan) and Wisnu’s Garuda (giant eagle-like creature). These temples are know as the Vahanas Temples
  • Two smaller candis were built on each end of the row that separate the Trimurtis and the Vahanas. In addition to these, there are also one candi on each cardinal point and on every corner of the inner complex.
  • The rest of the candis were arranged in four rows squaring the inner complex. They’re named Perwara Temples. The number of the candis from the inner row to the outer are 44, 52, 60 and 68, respectively.


Unlike Borobudur which is the prime example of Kedu Plain civilization, Prambanan is located on a plain that bears its name, the Prambanan Plain. Both plains, two fertile valleys surrounded by four mountains and separated by a major river, Kali Progo, are the cradle of civilizations of Central Java civilization.

Here one can trace Indonesia’s glorious, non-monotheistic past. Tens if not hundreds of stone candis, both Buddhist and Hindu (some are just recently unearthed) can be found here. They’re the legacies of two most powerful dynasties in ancient Java, the Buddhist’s Sailendra and Hindu’s Sanjaya that predated even the great Majapahit civilization of East Java. Religious tolerance between devotees seemed inherent at that time, as witnessed by the location of structures of both religions which is often side-by-side. In a walking distance to the north of Prambanan complex, for example, is the Buddhist Candi Sewu complex.

Candi Prambanan’s existence is also a proof to a now lost form of Shivaism Hindu (infused with indigenous Javanese influence and characteristics), as opposed to Bali’s own Vaishnaism Hindu (veneration of Vishnu) for instance. Indeed, from the inscription found, this place used to be called Shiva-graha, The Abode of Shiva.

The Legend of Roro Jonggrang

Prambanan temple complex was probably abandoned at the exact same time with Borobudur. Unlike the latter, however, the ruins were not completely concealed from sight. The locals had known the ruins for many years before the rediscovery. So big the impact of its presence to the locals, it existence transcend to mythical realm as a source for a well-known folklore. That of Roro Jonggrang‘s.

Roro Jonggrang (which translates into Slender Virgin) was a beautiful maiden to whom Bandung Bondowoso, a prince, fell in love with. Jonggrang, who hated the prince to the bones because he had killed her father, refused. But the love sick prince persisted. Unwilling to accept his proposal, yet too wary to blatantly refuse, Jonggrang set an almost impossible task for the prince to fulfill if he really wanted to win her hand in marriage. She asked the prince to build her a thousand candi in one night only, from dusk till before dawn.

Durga Statue Source of Roro Jonggrang MythUnknown to her, the prince was a powerful individual with literal magic trick up on his sleeve. With his magic, the prince summoned thousands of demons to help him build what Jonggrang had asked. The demons were able to build insanely fast that, only in short time, the works were almost finished. Panic that the prince would be successful, Jonggrang sabotaged the prince’s efforts by ordering her attendees to start their early morning activities, namely pounding the rice and feed the chicken. The sound of these commotion woke up the cocks that soon cook-a-doodle-doing. Being led to believe that the dawn was breaking, the sun-fearing demon fled the scene, leaving the prince who just in his way to finish up the thousandth temple, alone.

When the real morning came, the prince realized that Jonggrang had thwarted his effort. Enraged, the prince then put a curse to Jonggrang. The curse turned the beautiful maiden to stone statue.

It’s then told that, the 999th candi became Candi Sewu complex (sewu is Javanese word for a thousand), while Prambanan is the thousandth candi that the prince was finishing before Jonggrang’s scheme succeeded. In a twist of irony, Jonggrang became the last piece the candi was needed. A fait accompli.

You can still see “her” there now with all of her beauty and grace. You see, she’s the Durga statue in Candi Siwa according to this legend.

Trivia: There’s a taboo regarding Prambanan that probably sourced from the Roro Jonggrang story above. It’s said it causes bad luck if you visit this place with your girlfriend/boyfriend. The place somehow superstitiously detrimental to your love life. Separation is the most likely. However, spouses somehow excluded from this taboo. Only girlfriend-boyfriend thingy is affected. Don’t ask me why.

Prambanan as a Tourism Destination

Prambanan is a perfect example of Hindu culture in Indonesia. It shows great artistry, architectural and engineering skills of Indonesia ancestors. Knowledge that now has lost.

From historical point of view, this place is priceless. Each stone slab on its main temples are adorned with bas-relief stories of love, loyalty and wisdom taken from the epic Ramayana.

Anoman ObongHanuman Burns scene with the Temples as Background

It has another attraction. Every full moon, Prambanan houses spectacular show of Ramayana performance. It’s a festivity of motion, color, sound and fire! The Ramayana Ballet (Sendratari Ramayana) is held at the open stage, by the river, with the ancient candis at the background, ready to wow you, while the full moon shines above. It’s something you don’t want to miss, really. It involves over 200 professional dancers and musicians. The best performance probably the one called Anoman Obong. It’s taken from one chapter of Ramayana, when the monkey sage, Lord Hanuman, tried to save Sita from Ravana, burning down Ravana’s capital as the result.

You can see the schedule and book here.

You won’t find difficulties finding accommodation in the area. The best choice for accommodation would be the various hotels near Yogyakarta airport, or further downtown. Yogyakarta-Prambanan is only 45 minutes drive anyway.

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1 Response

  1. […] in Central Java evacuated to the east; the eruptions that laid waste, erased and hid Borobudur and Prambanan temples from people’s memory for a millennium before they were re-discovered in the 19th […]

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