The Prambanan Complex

Just about 10 miles outside of Yogyakarta in central Java is the temple complex of Prambanan. This huge complex of Hindu temples was constructed between the 8th and 10th centuries. The remains of 244 temples have been identified in the complex, making it easily the largest Hindu temple complex on Java. The temples fell into disuse when the kings of Java moved their capital to the East, and then many were destroyed by earthquakes. By the middle of the last century it was just a collection of rock piles from which locals would scavenge building materials. It was reconstructed over the last 50 years as Indonesia rediscovered its cultural heritage.

Although the entire complex technically covers several square miles, most tourists just visit the central compound (pictured), which contains eight large temples along with eight smaller ones. Each of the individual temples has the same basic design. They vary in size and decoration, according to which individual Hindu deity the temple was dedicated to.

The main temple, Candi Shiva Mahadeva The main temple, Candi Shiva Mahadeva

The largest and most ornate temple of the group is, of course, dedicated to the central Hindu god Shiva. It's called the Candi Shiva Mahadeva. Many consider it to be one of the most outstanding examples of Hindu art. From the square base, the spire reaches up 150 feet into the sky.

Note: As of September 2011, the Shiva Mahadeva chapel was still closed in the wake of the 2006 earthquake. I'm told that all of the statues in each of the four shrines have been removed, and will probably not be replaced.

Panel depicting a guru in meditation
Panel depicting a guru in meditation

A short flight of stairs brings you to a gallery which encircles the temple. The inner wall of the gallery is carved with scenes from the Ramayana, one of the two main epics that make up the Hindu religion and also the subject of the Kecak dance on Bali. Actually, the gallery only tells a little more than half the story. It's concluded on the smaller Candi Brahma temple next to Candi Shiva Mahadeva.

Vishnu statue
One of the statues within the chambers of the temples

In the middle of each side, facing the four cardinal directions, a further flight of stairs leads up to a chamber containing a statue. Each chamber contains a statue depicting some aspect of Shiva. Shiva himself is depicted in the main chamber, which faces east. Agastya, Shiva as teacher, faces South; Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva faces West; and in the North is Shiva's consort Durga, who can be seen killing the demon buffalo.

Admission Fee

Admission to the Prambanan complex is 125,000 Rupiah (7.50 USD). A guide will cost you another 75,000 Rupiah (4.50 USD). Like Borobodur, it's one of the most popular tourist destinations on Java, so don't expect to have the place to yourself. In addition to the main temple described above, the main Prambanan park includes Candi Sewu and two other small temples.