Candi Sukuh

Tucked away in the mountains near Solo in central Java is one of the more interesting Hindu temples in all of Southeast Asia. The temple of Candi Sukuh is unique not only in overall design, but also in decoration. This place isn't exactly off the map. It's in all the guidebooks, but is definitely off the tourist trail. From the guest book kept by the gatekeeper, it appears that it only receives a dozen or so visitors a week. Even if you aren't very interested in the ancient structures of Southeast Asia, you may still want to have a look at Candi Sukuh.

View of the temple from outside View of the temple from outside

In general layout, the temple conforms to the plan of most other Hindu temples. There are three precincts, consisting of three concentric terraces. However, where most temples would have a large square shrine, Candi Sukuh has a pyramid reminiscent of Mayan structures from Central America. This is one of the few Hindu temple, or Buddhist one for that matter, sporting a pyramid like this and nobody knows for sure why the builders chose this type of structure. Just in front of the pyramid, three large truncated turtles are haphazardly placed. They appear to be for offerings or sacrifices, or perhaps, given the nature of the carvings, go-go dancing.

One of the more curious reliefs One of the more curious reliefs

Ah, the carvings. There aren't as many of them as most temples typically have, but those it does have are quit unique. Candi Sukuh, you see, is what they call a "fertility" temple. That's archaeological gobbledygook for a temple that features a lot of sexual images. In Candi Sukuh's case this label may not be so appropriate. The temple was built around the time of a civil war between the Muslim North and the Hindu South that the Muslims were winning; forcibly converting the Javanese to Islam. Those that didn't want to be converted either fled to Bali or up into the mountains. Since the temple is apparently devoted to the god Bima, the sword maker, it seems more reasonable that the temple represents a sort of "we will win because our dicks are bigger than theirs" military mentality.

Everywhere you look around the temple, images of male members abound. And these aren't abstract phalluses like the Hindu lingam symbol. Carved into the floor of the entrance gateway is a large penis about to insert itself into a vulva. As you examine the stone panels along the pathway leading to the pyramid, you will notice that most of the male figures are naked from the waist down.

Candi Sukuh is located on the slopes of Lawu Mountain about 25 miles east of Solo. You can reach it in about one hour from Solo or about two and a half hours from Yogyakarta. Another interesting temple from around the same time period, Candi Ceto, is about 15 kilometers away.

Admission to the temple is 10,000 Rupiah (0.60 USD).