Top tip for Prambanan – since the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site, if you are a student (and can prove it), you get to enter at half price. Yus did ask us about BB & GG’s student cards and if I had known this earlier, we would have saved a bit as the temple entrance fee for an adult is IDR 250,000 (approximately USD 19). We also saw this information when we entered the temple. The student discount is not dependent on age, according to the temple, even if you are a mature student, as long as you have valid student ID, they will give you the discount. You can also opt to hire a guide for IDR 100,000 which was very useful.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Candi Prambanan or Candi Rara Jonggrang is a 10th-century Hindu temple compound, dedicated to the Trimurti, the three cosmic functions in Hinduism which are the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). The temple compound, is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia, and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. It is characterized by its tall and pointed architecture, typical of Hindu temple architecture, and by the towering 47-metre-high (154 ft) central building inside a large complex of individual temples. Rising above the centre of the last of these concentric squares are three temples decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic of the Ramayana, dedicated to the three great Hindu divinities (Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma) and three temples dedicated to the animals (Nandi, Garuda and Hamsa) who serve them.
The Prambanan Temple Compounds consist of the Prambanan Temple, Sewu Temple, Bubrah Temple and Lumbung Temple. Prambanan Temple itself is a complex consisting of 240 temples. All the mentioned temples form the Prambanan Archaeological Park and were built during the heyday of Sailendra’s powerful dynasty in Java in the 8th century AD.
While the Prambanan temple is Hindu, Sewu, with its four pairs of Dwarapala giant statues, is Indonesia’s largest Buddhist complex including the temples of Lumbung, Bubrah and Asu (Gana temple). The Hindu temples are decorated with reliefs illustrating the Indonesian version of the Ramayana epic which are masterpieces of stone carvings. These are surrounded by hundreds of shrines that have been arranged in three parts showing high levels of stone building technology and architecture from the 8th century AD in Java.
One thing that really struck me when we were walking across the temples was how steep the steps were and I kept thinking if those who lived at the time these temples were built and use were really tall, though anecdotally, this does not seem very possible. I noticed the same thing about the steps at Angkor Wat too.
Our guide took us through the temples for around an hour or so, and showed us the important bas reliefs, which we probably would not have been able to see without his help. With some interesting anecdotes, he managed to keep our attention for the hour or so it took him to guide us through the complex. He was also a font of information on the best angles and places to photograph the monument.
The temples are still undergoing reconstruction and I understand that over the years, many villagers take back the stones from the compound to build their own homes as they believe the stones from the temple are blessed. Archaeologists are still scouring the area for these stones to bring back to complete the reconstruction. Also they are using modern stones, but all those not from the original temple are specially marked, so that they will know which stones are ancient and which are modern, but made to look ancient!
Spamming some gorgeous pictures from the temple…
After spending about 90 minutes at the temple, we decided to take the free tram shuttle to the Sewu temple which is close by. You can also walk there, but we were tired and decided to just take the tram. The tram stop is in the side of the main entrance to the temple. Sewu was a 5 minute drive away.
Candi Sewu is an 8th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple located 800 meters north of the Prambanan temple and predates the Prambanan temple by around some 70 years. Sewu is actually the second largest Buddhist Temple complex in Indonesia after Borobudur. Although the complex consists of 249 temples, the name in Javanese translates to ‘a thousand temples,’ which originated from popular local folklore; The Legend of Loro Jonggrang.
The Legend of Loro Jonggrang
The legend tells the story about two ancient and neighbouring kingdoms in Java, Pengging and Boko. Pengging was prosperous, and wisely ruled by its king Prabu Damar Moyo who had a son named Bandung Bondowoso. By contrast, Boko was ruled by a cruel man-eating giant named Prabu Boko, supported by another giant Patih Gupolo. Despite his unpleasant nature, Prabu Boko had a beautiful daughter named Rara Jonggrang.
The story relates that Prabu Boko desired to expand his kingdom, and so began training an army and raising taxes for an invasion of Pengging. His forces launch a surprise attack on Pengging, and the ensuring war causes devastation and famine on both sides. In order to defeat the invader, Prabu Damar Moyo sends his son Bandung Bondowoso to fight Prabu Boko. After a furious battle, Prabu Boko is killed by the prince’s supernatural powers. His assistant, the giant Patih Gupolo, leads his armies away from the battlefield in defeat.
Returning to Boko Palace, Patih Gupolo tells Princess Rara Jonggrang of the death of her father. The princess is heartbroken, but before she can recover from her grief the Pengging army besieges and captures the palace. Prince Bandung Bondowoso is mesmerized by the beauty of the mourning princess and propose marriage, but his offer is swiftly rejected. Bandung Bondowoso insists on the union, and finally Rara Jonggrang agrees on two impossible conditions: first the prince must build a well named Jalatunda, and second, he must construct a thousand temples in only one night.
The lovestruck prince agrees, and immediately starts work on the well. Using his supernatural powers once again, the prince swiftly finishes construction and proudly displays his work for the princess. As a trick, she urges him to enter the well and when he does so, Patih Gupolo piles stones into it and buries him alive. With great effort Bandung Bondowoso escapes, but his love for the princess is so strong that he forgives her the attempt on his life. To fulfill the second condition, the prince enters into meditation and conjures up a multitude of demon spirits from the earth. With their help he builds the first 999 temples and starts work on the final one. To thwart his efforts the princess and her maids light a fire in the east and begin pounding rice, a traditional dawn activity. Fooled into thinking the sun is about to rise, the spirits flee back into the earth leaving the last temple unfinished.
The prince is furious when he learns of this deception, and places a curse on Rara Jonggrang which turns her into a stone statue. In this way she herself becomes a feature of the final temple, completing its construction and fulfilling the conditions for their marriage.
The main Sewu temple has been reconstructed, but the other temples in the complex were still unfinished as there were many stone slabs, indicating that perhaps the reconstruction work was not finished. We didn’t spend a lot of time here and went back to the main Prambanan temple when the tram came by again. This temple is quieter, with much less people around. When we were there, we were pretty much the only people around, which helps in taking great pictures!
Our next stop, the penultimate stop for the day was to see the sunset at the Ratu Boko hill. This is around 20-30 minutes’ drive away from Prambanan.
Ratu Boko is often mistakenly called a temple, which is incorrect. It is actually the ruins of a palace. The palace is attributed to the King Boko who is mentioned in the legend of the Loro Jonggrang legend.
This spot seems to be a favourite of locals, especially courting couples as we saw many families enjoying the evening while we were there.
If you go to the highest point in the area, you can see the Prambanan temple framed with the majestic Mount Merapi in the background and greenery in the foreground.
The complex has three levels, or terraces. On the first terrace, no ruins remain but the rock wall supporting the second terrace, several steps above. A 3.5-meter wall of andesite rock divides the second and third terrace. A small tunnel which may have been a moat also marks the division. To the south, are scattered rocks.
There is a café just as you enter the complex and your entrance ticket entitles you to a drink in the café. The views from the café are great and I wished we could stay there a while, but since we were not paying customers, we didn’t get a table to sit. Also dusk was approaching and there was not much to see. If you plan to go to Ratu Boko at sunset, maybe do your free drink before you go up to the ruins and take in the views before the crowds come down after the sunset.
Entrance fees to the complex are IDR 110,000 per person. This entrance fee is only for sunset and includes a drink at the café at the entrance of the complex.
Sunset is quite early in Indonesia and it gets quite dark before 6:30. Yus took a few minutes to say his prayers at the mosque in the complex and we went to have dinner near Prambanan before our Ramayana performance.