Just an hour or so away from Borobudur lies another temple compound that’s a must-visit while in the vicinity of Yogyakarta. Prambanan is considered the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia, and like Borobudur, it’s landed a coveted spot on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Having just been to Borobudur, it was impossible not to compare the two. While the former gave me that staggering, surreal feeling of “Oh, I’m finally here, and it’s even more amazing than I expected,” Prambanan snuck up on me slowly. Yes, there was that burst of whoa when I got my first full view of it from across that long stretch of grass and plants, but it was calmer. Quieter. Instead of stopping me in my tracks, it urged me to come closer and gained more of my admiration with every step I took.
Despite its misleading name, Prambanan Temple, or Loro Jonggrang, is actually composed of 240 temples. If you look at its original model on Wikipedia, you’ll see that it follows a square plan with more than 200 small temples enclosing the main temples and shrines like sentries. Unfortunately, all but two of those small temples have been reduced to rubble.
Thanks to reconstruction efforts, the eight main temples and eight shrines within the inner compound stand tall and proud today. The shrines are easy enough to tell apart from the temples because of their small scale, but you’ll notice that the temples themselves are of different heights. The main trio are dedicated to the Trimurti—Shiva (Destroyer), Vishnu (Preserver), and Brahma (Creator), with the Shiva Temple towering over them all.
Like Borobudur, there’s more to Prambanan’s reliefs than just decoration. The carvings on the walls of the Siva and Brahma temples illustrate the story of the Ramayana, while those at the Vishnu temple speak of Kresnayana. It’s ideal to have a tour guide to explain the symbolisms, but since Sangsoo and I were on a budget, we decided not to hire one. Luckily for me, he knew quite a bit about Hinduism, so he served as my informal guide.
The three main temples house the statue of the deity they’re named after. While the Brahma (shown above) and Vishnu temples each hold one statue, the grand Siva temple houses four—each of them standing solemnly in its own private chamber.
I was especially interested when I found out that the three smaller temples located in front of the Trimurti are dedicated to their vahana or vehicles. Of course, we’re not talking Audis or BMWs—we’re talking animal vehicles. Brahma has the swan Hamsa, Vishna has the kite Garuda, and Siva has the bull Nandi. Sadly, only the Nandi temple contains statues today—the iconic bull flanked by the god of the moon and of the sun.
Because there are hardly any trees within the main complex, it’s extremely hot. I definitely recommend coming ready with your water and your shades, cap, or umbrella. Alternatively, you can come later in the afternoon in time to enjoy the Ramayana ballet performance staged from 7:30 to 9:30 PM. Click here for more information.
As always, here are a few other shots that I took while exploring Prambanan!