Indonesia's Prambanan temple: A testimony to India's deep-rooted cultural ties with South East Asia

01:17 PM Dec 10, 2023 | PTI |

Centuries-old Prambanan temple, a large compound consisting of 240 Hindu temples on the outskirts of Yogyakarta city in Muslim-majority Indonesia, stands as a testimony to India’s deep-rooted cultural and historical ties with South East Asia.


The 10th-century Prambanan temple, located approximately 17 kilometres northeast of Yogyakarta city, is considered Indonesia’s largest Hindu temple.

A UNESCO heritage site, the Prambanan temple popularly known as Candi Prambanan is among many such temples in Indonesia which are aiming to attract tourists from India beyond Bali.

India has been generous with its funds in the restoration of some of the temples in the region and has extended services under cultural diplomacy to nations that are geographically as well as culturally close.

In ASEAN nations, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has restored historical sites in Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia.


In Jakarta, India’s Ambassador to ASEAN Jayant Khobragade said that New Delhi is not involved in the restoration work at the Prambanan temple. However, India has been assisting in the renovation of a few temples in some of the ASEAN states, he added.

The original Prambanan temple compound, destroyed by major earthquakes and volcanic eruptions over centuries, was rediscovered in the 17th century and is now being restored.

”The temple was built on the method of interlocking stones. It’s a very complex structure. So far, only 22 temples out of 240 temples in the compound have been restored,” a local official said, adding that work on restoring more structures is in progress.

The temple is dedicated to three main Hindu deities ‘Trimurti’ – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

”Restoration works have been conducted since 1918, both in the original traditional method of interlocking stone and modern methods using concrete to strengthen the temple structure,” according to the UNESCO website.

A government-authorised tourist guide at the temple complex while explaining the unique construction style of the structure said that the restoration work was difficult because there were no pictures available of the original compound.

”It’s a UNESCO heritage site. The rules don’t allow more than 25 per cent of new stones to be used for restoration. That’s also one of the reasons why restoration work is taking time,” he added.

The original plan of the Prambanan temple was rectangular, consisting of an outer courtyard, middle courtyard and inner courtyard. The temples are sub-divided into a higher and a lower terrace.

On the higher terrace are three major temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma with three smaller temples of their animal vehicles in front of them. The temple facing the Vishnu temple is the Garuda temple, the one facing the Shiva temple is the Nandi temple, and the one facing the Brahma temple is the Angsa temple.

The Shiva temple is the largest and the most prominent. The temple is 34 by 34 metres in width, and 47 metres in height and has four chambers which contain a statue inside each one.

In the eastern chamber, there is a Shiva statue, whereas the western chamber contains the Ganesha statue. A statue of Durga is in the northern chamber, while the southern chamber has the statue of Agastya.

The inner side of the walls of the Shiva temple is decorated with reliefs illustrating the epic Ramayana. Along its walls, 56 scenes about Lord Rama’s stories are portrayed.

The Brahma temple is located at the south of Shiva temple. Its shapes and constructs are similar to the Shiva temple, though in a smaller dimension. On its walls, the Ramayana stories were sculpted, which continued the story that began at the Shiva temple. One of the scenes of the reliefs portrayed a battle between Lord Rama and demon king Ravana.

On the other side of the Shiva temple is the Vishnu temple, whose shapes and constructs are similar to the Shiva temple and whose dimension is the same as that of the Brahma temple.

On the lower terrace are four sets of smaller temples surrounded by an inner wall with four gates. Almost all the temples in the central courtyard are currently in ruins.

Two priests, appointed by the authorities, perform prayers thrice every day in front of the Shiva temple.

”We perform puja thrice a day. In the morning around 8, we perform ‘Surya Puja’, around noon ‘Raina Puja’ is done and the final one is performed around sunset. The prayers are offered to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva,” a priest told PTI after performing the evening prayers.

He said that Indonesia and India are culturally connected and Hinduism spread to Java from India. ”The temple is a testimony to India’s deep-rooted cultural ties with South East Asia,” he added.

The local administration regularly organises events around the temple complex to encourage people to visit the historical site.

In November end, around 400 yoga enthusiasts participated in a yoga event in the temple park. The event was the highlight of the Jogja Cultural Wellness Festival, which presents the concept of wellness tourism by paying attention to holistic health and personal happiness.

Not far from the Prambanan temple lies the Kedu Valley, where one of the largest Buddhist monuments in the world – the Borobudur Temple – is located.

The 8th-century temple, also a UNESCO heritage site, was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa.

“There is a large influx of tourists, mostly domestic, at these places. However, not many people from India visit them. Bali is popular among Indian tourists but Yogyakarta remains unexplored,” said a local guide.

In the future, India would contribute to a significant boost in the number of visitors to these places, he hoped.


Udayavani is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest news.