From New World Encyclopedia
Prambanan Temple Compounds*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Prambanan temple complex
State Party Flag of Indonesia Indonesia
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iv
Reference 642
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1991  (15th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple compound in Indonesia, and one of the largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia, located approximately 18 kilometers (11 mi) east of Yogyakarta in Central Java. Characterized by tall and pointed architecture, and by the 47 meters (150 ft) high central building inside a large complex of individual temples, Prambanan exemplifies Hindu temple architecture.[1] UNESCO designated the temple a World Heritage Site in 1991.[2]

Although enormous manpower, talent, and money went into the compound, it had a short life as an active temple. Devotees abandoned the compound shortly after its completion in 850 C.E. After its rediscovery, reconstruction began in 1918 and has been an ongoing project, with the main building completed in 1953. What caused Hindu devotees to abandon Prambanan shortly after completion is a matter of speculation. Typically, Hinduism outside India has been short lived. It may be safe to say that when the dynastic power which installed Hinduism in conquered nations fell or departed, Hinduism also dissipated shortly thereafter, leaving behind magnificent temples as a testament to its presence. That may well have been the case with Prambanan.


The ruins of Prambanan during early discovery. Photograph by William Henry Jackson in 1895

Either Rakai Pikatan, king of the second Mataram dynasty, or Balitung Maha Sambu, during the Sanjaya Dynasty, built the temple compound around 850 C.E.[3] Shortly after its construction, Hindu devotes abandoned the temple, leading to its deterioration. Reconstruction of the compound began in 1918, with the main building completed in 1953. Much of the original stone used to build the temples has been removed and reused at remote construction sites. As a rule, the government will sponsor rebuilding a temple if 75 percent of the original stones have been recover. Only the foundation walls of most of the smaller shrines have been reconstructed, with further plans for their reconstruction put on hold.

The earthquake in Java, in 2006, damaged the temple. Early photos suggest that although the complex remained structurally intact, significant damage has been inflicted on the buildings. Large pieces of debris, including carvings, littered the ground. The temple closed to the public at that time. The head of Yogyakarta Archaeological Conservation Agency stated that: "it will take months to identify the precise damage".[4] Some weeks later, in 2006, the site reopened for visitors. The immediate surroundings of the Hindu temples remain off-limits for safety concerns.

Lara Jonggrang complex

This information gives an account of the complex before the 2006 Java earthquake

The Prambanan temple complex consists of three zones. A large space marked by a rectangular wall (destroyed) marks the outer zone. The original function remains unknown, possibly a sacred park or priests' boarding school (ashram). The supporting buildings for the temple complex had been made of wood that deteriorated over the centuries.

The middle zone consisted of four rows of 224 individual small shrines. Those concentric rows of temples followed identical designs, each row slightly elevated towards the center. Called "Candi Perwara" or complimentary temples, they belong to the main temple complex. Some believe Candi Perwara had been offered to the king as a sign of devotion. The Perwara configure in four rows around the central temples, possibly signifying the four castes, devotees entering according to their rank. Priests alone could access the row nearest to the central compound, while nobles, knights, and common people respectively accessed the other three. Conversely, the four rows of Perwara may have had nothing to do with four castes, simply serving as meditation places for priests and as worship places for devotees.

The maquette of the Prambanan temple complex.

The central compound represents the holiest of the three zones. A square stone wall with stone gates on each of the four cardinal points surrounds the square elevated platform. The three main shrines or Trimurti ("three forms") had been dedicated to three gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper, and Shiva the Destroyer. That holiest compound has eight main shrines or candi. The other three shrines in front of three main temples have been dedicated to Vahana. Between those rows of the main temple, on north and south side, stand two Candi Apit. Beside those eight main temples, eight smaller shrines exist; four Candi Kelir on the four cardinal directions of the entrances, and four Candi Patok on four corners.

The Shiva shrine at the center contains five chambers; four smaller chambers on each cardinal direction and one larger main chamber in central part of the temple. The east chamber connects to central chamber which houses a three meter high statue of Shiva Mahadeva. The statue of Shiva stands on Yoni pedestal that bears the carving of Naga serpents on north side of pedestal. The other three smaller chambers contain statues of Hindu Gods related to Shiva; his consort Durga, the rishi Agastya, and Ganesha, his son. A statue of Agastya occupies the south chamber, the west chamber houses a statue of Ganesha, while the north chamber contains a statue of Durga Mahisasuramardini depicting Durga as the slayer of Bull demon. The shrine of Durga also has been called the temple of Lara Jonggrang (Javanese: Slender virgin), after a Javanese legend of princess Lara Jonggrang.

The temple compound.
Main shrine dedicated to Shiva of Prambanan temple complex.

The two other main shrines have been dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma; the shrine on the north side of Shiva shrine has been dedicated to Vishnu and the shrine on the south side to Brahma. Both temples face east, each containing only one large chamber dedicated to their respective gods. In front of each main temple smaller temples stand dedicated to their respective gods: The bull Nandi for Shiva, the gander Angsa for Brahma, and Vishnu's Eagle Garuda. Garuda holds an important place in Indonesia serving as the national symbol of Indonesia.

The bas-reliefs along the balustrades on the gallery around Shiva and Brahma temples depict the Ramayana legend. They illustrate how Ravana abducted Sita, the wife of Rama. The monkey king Hanuman brings his army to help Rama and rescue Sita. The Ramayana Ballet performs this myth regularly on a full moon at Trimurti's illuminated open air theater in Prambanan complex. On the balustrades in Vishnu temple series of bas-reliefs depict the story of lord Krishna.

The legend

Map showing Central Java within Indonesia

The popular legend of Lara Jonggrang connects the site of Ratu Boko Palace, the origin of Durga statue in northern cella (chamber) of the main shrine, and the origin of Sewu temple complex nearby. The legend tells the story of how Prince Bandung Bondowoso fell in love with Princess Lara Jonggrang, the daughter of King Boko. But the princess rejected his proposal of marriage because Bandung Bondowoso had killed King Boko and ruled her kingdom. Bandung Bondowoso insisted on the union. Finally, Lara Jonggrang agreed to the union in marriage under duress, but she required one impossible condition: Bandung must build her a thousand temples in just one night.

The Prince entered into meditation and conjured up a multitude of spirits (demons) from the earth. Helped by supernatural beings, he succeed in building 999 temples. With the prince on the verge of success, the princess awoke her palace maids, ordering the women of the village to begin pounding rice. They set a fire in the east of the temple, attempting to make the prince and the spirits believe that dawn had come. As the cocks began to crow, fooled by the light and the sounds of morning, the supernatural helpers fled back into the ground. The prince, furious about the trick, in revenge cursed Lara Jongrang, turning her into a stone. She became the last and the most beautiful of the thousand statues. According to the tradition, the unfinished thousand temples created by the demons became the Sewu temple compounds nearby (Sewu means "thousands" in Javanese). The Princess became the image of Durga in the north cella of the Shiva temple at Prambanan, still known as Lara Jongrang, or Slender Virgin.

Other temples around Prambanan

In addition to the Lara Jongrang complex, Prambanan hosts some of the earliest Buddhist temples in Indonesia.[5] Close by, to the north the ruins of Bubrah temple, Lumbung temple and Sewu temple stand. Further east, Plaosan temple, while to the west Kalasan temple and Sari temple stand. Further to the west, Sambisari temple, and to the south, the Ratu Boko compounds reside on higher ground.

North of the Lara Jongrang complex

  • Candi Lumbung. Buddhist-style, consisting of one main temple surrounded by sixteen smaller ones.
  • Candi Bubrah. Buddhist temple still in ruins.
  • Candi Sewu. Buddhist temple complex, older than Roro Jonggrang. A main sanctuary surrounded by many smaller temples. Well preserved guardian statues, replicas of which stand in the central courtyard at the Jogja Kraton.
One of the giant guardians, known as Dwarapala, guarding the front of Candi Plaosan, a ninth century Buddhist temple in Klaten, Central Java.
  • Candi Plaosan. Buddhist, probably ninth century, believed built by a Hindu king for his Buddhist queen. Two main temples with reliefs of a man and a woman. Slender stupa.

South of the Lara Jongrang complex

  • Ratu Boko. Complex of fortified gates, bathing pools, and elevated walled stone enclosure, all located on top of the hill.
  • Candi Sajiwan. Buddhist temple decorated with reliefs concerning education. Animal fables decorate the base and staircase.
  • Candi Banyunibo. A Buddhist temple with unique design of roof.
  • Candi Barong. A Hindu temple complex with large stepped stone courtyard. Located on the slope of the hill.
  • Candi Ijo. A cluster of Hindu temples located near the top of Ijo hill. The main temple houses a large lingam and yoni.
  • Arca Bugisan. Seven Buddha and bodhisattva statues, some collapsed, representing different poses and expressions.

West of the Lara Jongrang complex

  • Candi Kalasan. Eighth century Buddhist temple built in commemoration of the marriage of a king and his princess bride, ornamented with finely carved reliefs.
  • Candi Sari. Once a sanctuary for Buddhist priests. Eighth century. Nine stupas stand at the top with two rooms beneath, each believed to be places for priests to meditate.
  • Candi Sambisari. Ninth century Hindu temple discovered in 1966, once buried 6.5 meters under volcanic ash. The main temple houses a linga and yoni, and the wall surround it displayed the images of Agastya, Durga, and Ganesha.
  • Candi Gebang. A small Hindu temple discovered in 1937 located near the Yogyakarta northern ring-road. The temple displays the statue of Ganesha and interesting carvings of faces on the roof section.
  • Candi Gana. Rich in statues, bas-reliefs and sculpted stones. Frequent representations of children or dwarfs with raised hands. Located in the middle of housing complex. Under restoration since 1997.
  • Candi Kedulan. Discovered in 1994, by sand diggers, four meters deep. Square base of main temple visible. Secondary temples only partially excavated.


See also


  1. George Michell, The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 7.
  2. UNESCO World Heritage Center, Prambanan Temple Compounds. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  3. Jeremy Allan and Michel Bikker, Yogyakarta (Singapore: Times Editions, 1989), 19.
  4. Breaking News, World famous temple complex damaged in quake. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  5. Brad Olsen, Sacred Places Around the World: 108 Destinations (San Francisco: Consortium of Collective Consciousness, 2008), 114.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Allan, Jeremy, and Michel Bikker. 1989. Yogyakarta. Singapore: Times Editions. ISBN 9789812040268.
  • Bernet Kempers, August Johan. 1959. Ancient Indonesian Art. Amsterdam: C. P. J. van der Peet. OCLC 2887811.
  • Dumarçay, Jacques, and Michael Smithies. 1986. The Temples of Java. Singapore: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195825954.
  • Holt, Claire. 1967. Art in Indonesia; Continuities and Change. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. OCLC 914024.
  • Leemans, Conradus. 1854. Javaansche Tempels bin Prambanan. Leyden, Netherlands: BKI. OCLC 223466873.
  • Michell, George. 1988. The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to its Meaning and Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226532301.
  • Olsen, Brad. 2004. Sacred Places Around the World: 108 Destinations. San Francisco, Calif: Consortium of Collective Consciousness. ISBN 9781888729108.

External links

All links retrieved November 30, 2022.


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