I’ve always felt a sense of “other-worldliness” at the mention of the name of Java. It is Indonesia’s most populated island – it’s only the 5th largest island in the country, but 60% of indonesians call it home. Yet, despite all its density, Java still evokes images of volcanos, wilderness and yes…ancient temples.
Though a largely Muslim island at present, Java used to have a rich Hindu and Buddhist culture as well. You can still see traces of those cultures – such as their appreciation of the “wayang kulit”, yet nothing else tells about those pieces of history better than the temples of central Java.
The city of Yogyakarta sits at the center of Java – geographically and culturally – and just within the city is one of Indonesia’s most significant cultural treasures. The Candi Prambanan, a temple complex built by the island’s ancient Hindu dynasty, rises above the horizon in the city’s suburbs – its towering structures stand watch over the land. Built in the 9th century, some of its smaller structures may have already crumbled to the ground – many of its rocks laying strewn like silent victims of the ravages of time – but the largest shines, including the ones dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti – the gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – stand upright like sentinels from the heavens, albeit with a little bit of damage from recent earthquakes.
Perhaps it’s the strength of the faith of the people who built them, or the sheer magnifisence of the way the structures were built – stone upon stone with very intricate detail, or perhaps it’s the power of the gods the temple was dedicated to. But whatever it is, Prambanan evokes a sense of reverence and awe at first sight, and walking towards its towering shrines, you feel like you are entering hallowed ground – whatever name you call God by.
The landscape of Yogyakarta and its surroundings is dotted by smaller temples, like the Candi Mendut (Candi, pronounced “chandi”, means temple). Located along a line that leads to a larger Buddhist temple, the Candi Mendut, though small, has all of the detail in intricacy in construction as the larger ones. Indeed, had Candi Mendut and the likes of it been located in another country, they would have been bigger attractions than they are now. But they are in Java, the land of Grand Temples, and here they are but front acts for the real shows.
Now this is the temple of temples. Sitting atop a hill in the countryside near Magelang, about 60 kilometres north of Yogyakarta, Borobudur rises on the horizon like an abode truly worthy of the divine. Built in the 8th century by an ancient Buddhist dynasty, the temple took three generations to build, but outcome of all that work is nothing short of truly spectacular.
First, the sheer size of Borobudur is astounding. It looms over the horizon like a flatter pyramid. Built as series of levels that worshippers walk around before going up the next one, it would take hours for one to see all the detail on each level.
Second, the level of detail is simply amazing. The whole temple is built of interlocking stones which fit precisely and with some level of “earthquake proofing”. Indonesia is earthquake prone, and the temple’s 8th century builders already knew how to go about it. The lower levels of the temple tells of the story of the life of the Buddha, through very intricate bas-relief on the walls and balusters, like an ancient version of a picture book, while the upper levels have stuppas that each enclose a statue of the Buddha.
Third, the location is nothing less than majestic. The view of the sunrise from the temple’s upper levels is simply a sight to behold, like the Genesis happening right before ones very eyes. And the scenery in the morning is totally breathtaking – with fog blanketing the land at treetop levels, and mountains rising on the horizon, like a painting made by the hands of a divine power. There are sunrise tours to Borobudur, and if one is ever planning to visit, this is the best way to see it. I make no exaggerations when I say, that Borobudur at sunrise feels like heaven descending upon the Earth.
*All photos taken last December 2013, using an Olympus EPM2 with M. Zuiko 14-42mm IIR.
*Special thanks to Padri, our awesome tour guide in Yogyakarta. Send me a message if you are interested in his services.