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Prambanan Hindu Temple near Yogyakarta.  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Indonesia > Jawa Tengah > Prambanan

Prambanan Travel Guide

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Prambanan is a complex of ancient Hindu temples in Central Java, Indonesia.

Prambanan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a collection of massive Hindu temples (candi) built by the Mataram Kingdom, rulers of central Java and defeaters of the Sailendra Dynasty. 

In almost any other country a magnificent ancient monument on the scale of Prambanan would quickly be designated a national symbol, in Indonesia though it is somewhat overshadowed by the even more awe-inspiring nature of nearby Borobudur.

The two sites are quite different in style with Hindu Prambanan being a collection of sharp, jaggedly sculpted towers in contrast to the vast horizontal bulk of Buddhist Borobudur.


Prambanan Hindu Temple near Yogyakarta.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

A temple was first built at the site around 850 CE by Rakai Pikatan and expanded extensively by King Lokapala and Balitung Maha Sambu the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom. According to the Shivagrha inscription of 856 CE, the temple was built to honor Lord Shiva and its original name was Shiva-grha (the House of Shiva) or Shiva-laya (the Realm of Shiva). According to Shivagrha inscription, a public water project to change the course of a river near Shivagrha Temple was conducted during the construction of the temple. It is therefore slightly later but more or less contemporaneous with Borobudur. In the 10th century the temple was largely abandoned after the Mataram dynasty moved its court base to East Java.

The Legend of the Slender Virgin

After her father King Boko was defeated in battle, the Javanese princess Loro Jonggrang reluctantly agreed to marry his victor Prince Bandung, but only if he built a temple with 1000 statues before sunrise. With the help of spirits, Bandung had completed 999, when the princess lit a fire to the east of the temple. Fooled into thinking it was dawn, roosters in the neighboring village crowed and the spirits fled — and a furious Prince Bandung changed her into stone, the last and most beautiful of the statues.

Prambanan, Candi Sewu  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Most of the main temples collapsed during a major earthquake in the 16th century and the huge complex lie largely forgotten in the jungle. Following the Anglo-Dutch Java War, Java was briefly under British administration from 1811 to 1816. In 1811, a surveyor working for Thomas Stamford Raffles came upon the ruins of Prambanan by pure chance. It is somewhat ironic that the very brief British rule of Java led to the re-discovery of both Borobudur and Prambanan. The British and Raffles were not in power in Java long enough to really do much about Prambanan though and looting became rife with Dutch residents adorning their gardens with priceless statues and local people taking foundation stones and using them as construction material. Proper restoration began only in 1930 and still continues today.


Prambanan  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Originally there were 240 temples in the complex but many of them have deteriorated or been looted leaving just scattered stones. There are three zones:

  • The outer zone is a large open space that was once bounded by a large wall (long gone). The function of this space is disputed but was probably either a park/relaxation garden or the site of an ashram for temple priests brahmins.
  • The middle zone consists of four rows of 224 identical, concentrically arranged shrines. Most of these are in ruins but a few have been fully restored. These shrines are called Candi Perwara (guardian temples). The 224 Pervara temples are arranged in 4 concentric square rows; numbers of temples from inner row to outer row are: 44, 52, 60, and 68. There are several theories about the design and use of these shrines. Some believe that each of the four rows represent a level of the Mataram caste system and each was designed to be used by one caste only. Other theories include that these were designed to recieve submissive offerings to the king or that they are simply beautifully designed places for meditation.
  • The inner zone contains eight main temples and likewise, eight small shrines. This is certainly the holiest of the three zones and is a square elevated platform surrounded by a wall with gates corresponding to each of the four cardinal points. The three main inner shrines are dedicated to Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper and Shiva the Destroyer. The three main temples are called Trimurti temples. Right in front of these three mai temples lies three Vahana temples, three temples in front of Trimurti temples dedicated to the vahana of each gods; Nandi, Garuda, and Hamsa. The two Apit temples located between the rows of Trimurti and Vahana temples on north and south side The 4 Kelir temples are small shrines located on 4 cardinal directions right beyond the 4 main gates of inner zone, and four Patok temples, four small shrines located on four corners of inner zone.
    Candi Lara (''Loro'') Jonggrang  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.de/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Modern Day Prambanan

Prambanan was designated at a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and its global profile as a tourist attraction rose markedly in the 1990s. The main Candi Loro Jonggrang is in a large, well-maintained park making this a pleasant and user-friendly place for visitors.

To understand a little of Prambanan and to get around all of the temples, you will need to set aside the best part of a full day. The complex opens early at 6 AM so it is no bad thing to stay the night beforehand and get in before the crowds arrive from 9 AM onwards. This would also allow a leisurely return to Yogyakarta or Solo in the mid-afternoon taking in some of the other archaeological sites on the Prambanan plain.

This is a wet part of Java and a visit outside of the November to March period has the best chance of providing a clear, sunny day.

Should you get into trouble, the nearest police station to Prambanan is 3 km away at Klaten although officials at Prambanan more or less take the role of policemen. The telephone area code for Prambanan is the same as Solo: 0271, Ambulance: 118, Police: 110.

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