As the largest Hindu temple in Southeast Asia, the beautiful and graceful temple of Prambanan is a magnificent spectacle and an icon of Indonesia’s cultural heritage.
Located about 17 kilometers from Yogyakarta and not far from the Buddhist Borobudur temple, the proximity of the two temples tells us that on Java, Buddhism and Hinduism lived peacefully next to one another. The top of the main shrine is visible from a great distance and rises high above the scattered ruins of the former temples. Prambanan is the masterpiece of Hindu culture of the tenth century.
Prambanan Temple is locally known as the Roro Jonggrang Temple, or the Temple of the “Slender Virgin”, it is the biggest and most beautiful Hindu temple in Indonesia. The temple complex of Prambanan lies among green fields and villages. It has eight shrines, of which the three main ones are dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The main temple of Shiva rises to a height of 130 feet and houses the magnificent statue of Shiva’s consort, Durga. There are 224 temples in the complex; three of them, the main temples are Brahma Temple in the north, Vishnu Temple in the south, and the biggest among the three which lies between Brahma and Vishnu temples is Shiva Temple (47 meters high).
Prambanan and Roro Jonggrang
Prambanan is often called Roro Jonggrang temple after the local name of the Durga statue enshrined in one side of the Shiva temple (Loro Jonggrang means “Slender Virgin”). The substitution of Durga for a more locally-derived god occurred through the fame of an ancient legend. According to legend, the statue of Durga is actually the petrified body of Loro Jonggrang, the daughter of King Ratu Boko. When prince Bandung Bandawasa asked for her hand in marriage, the king answered that he could have her only if he could kill him in battle. In the ensuing fight, the prince killed Ratu Boko. Loro Jonggrang did not wish to marry the murderer of her father, so she asked of him an impossible task: build 1,000 temples in one night. If he fulfilled the task, he could marry her.
Bandung nearly accomplished the job by securing an army of spirits through the help of his dead father. The supernatural laborers erected temples at lightning speed, and Loro Jonggrang realized that Bandung would finish before daybreak. To stop him, Loro Jonggrang pounded on a rice block, making the cocks in the neighborhood wake up early and call the arrival of dawn. Hearing this, Bandung’s army of spirits feared the daylight and rushed away from their work, leaving just a single temple unfinished. In fury, Bandung cursed Roro Jonggrang and had her body turned to stone. Through the intervention of Shiva, the petrified body became the idol that now stands in the north cella of the Siva temple at Candi Prambanan. The statue of a slender virgin graces the main Prambanan temple, while a group of temples nearby is called the Candi Sewu or the Thousand Temples.
In recent centuries, the fame of Roro Jonggrang spread far and wide, and the original purpose of the temple was forgotten as worshipers flocked to her small cella, leaving offerings of food, money, and gifts. Early foreigners who visited the temple often had trouble reaching the statue with all of the offerings clogging the narrow passage. Of the idol herself, the numerous hands of the worshipers had rubbed the breasts and stomach to a smooth sheen, giving the appearance of shining metal.
After hundreds of years of neglect, the Prambanan temple was rediscovered by CA Lons, a Dutchman, in 1733. Since then, this temple has been revitalized and today is widely regarded as the most beautiful and graceful Hindu temple in Indonesia.
The grandeur, complexity, and integrated architectural concept of Prambanan makes this a truly amazing structure. As a unique cultural and architectural marvel, Prambanan was declared a World Heritage site in 1991 by UNESCO.