West elevation of Shiva temple

West elevation of Shiva temple

Prambanan sits precariously in central Java, Indonesia. Built around 850 A.D., Prambanan has a dramatic history of glory, abandonment, rediscovery, restoration, repeated collapse and repeated rebuilding from centuries of earthquakes, looting, the ravages of time and volcanic eruptions as recently as February.

It is a spectacular Hindu temple complex — one of the largest in Southeast Asia. Its central square and main temples have been re-assembled while most of the surrounding smaller temples lay in piles of stone on the ground. At the time of its completion, Prambanan included 240 temples in all.

prambanan_1895

Prambanan, 1895 ~ William Henry Jackson, U.S. Library of Congress public domain

“Discovery” of the temple is credited to C.A. Lons in 1733. However, Colin Mackenzie, a Scottish surveyor employed by Sir Stamford Raffles, came upon Prambanan in 1811 which prompted the first full survey of the site. Significant restoration and rebuilding didn’t begin until the 1920s. Obviously, a lot of work has gone into reconstructing the complex since then. It seems miraculous that many of Prambanan’s bas-relief narrative panels of sages and apsaras remain intact, somehow pieced together after centuries of decay and distress.

With that said, there is still a bit of risk inherent to any visit to Prambanan. Entering the temple of Shiva requires a hard hat just in case your timing coincides with the frequent grumbling of nearby Mount Merapi.

Prambanan’s three main temples hold sculptures of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. The Shiva temple contains a deep well at its center and during restoration a stone casket was found resting on charcoal and animal bones. The casket held coins, jewels and gold, perhaps meaning Prambanan was a royal mausoleum of the Mataram Kingdom.

Of the sculptures at Prambanan, Sir Stamford Raffles said, “In the whole course of my life I have never met with such stupendous and finished specimens of human labor, and of the science and taste of ages long since forgot, crowded together in so small a compass as in this little spot.”

16 comments

  1. My first visit to Prambanan was a long time ago, maybe more than 15 years ago. At that time I remember it was possible to enter the chambers of each temple. However when I returned three years ago, the chambers were all closed due to safety reasons. The post-2006 earthquake restoration project was still going. So it’s nice to know that finally visitors can enter those chambers again, although wearing a hard hat is mandatory now.

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    1. Hey Bama! Lucky you to have seen Prambanan a couple times, and 15 years ago. Probably not as many tourists at that time? Thanks for your comment and for reading my blog! πŸ™‚

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    1. Greetings from Singapore! I just found Bogor on the map — near Jakarta! Yes, they still perform the dance but we didn’t get to see it. Maybe next time. Thanks for your comment! πŸ™‚

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    1. Yes, the panels are amazing. And you just added a new destination to my wish list with your reference to the Ajanta caves! They look fascinating. Hope to see them some day, along with much of India. Thanks for stopping by! πŸ™‚

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  2. Kelly, Prambanan is spectacular, as are your photos. It reminds me a bit of Angkor Wat. We visited Borobudur 10 years ago, but never made it to Prambanan. Now we have a new destination to add to the next visit. Great post. πŸ™‚ ~Terri

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  3. So I was just checking your site to see if I missed anything while I was gallivanting, and then I found this post. I cannot believe I was that close at Borobudur and did not even KNOW about Prambanan. Now, I guess I’ll have to return to Indonesia! Bummer…still following Kelly! I have a really cool photo of Borobudur, but it’s on 35mm slide! I like looking at these sites now and wondering who created them. But wouldn’t it be REALLY cool to happen upon one that nobody knew about, like the first explorers here?
    What’s up with you?

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    1. Prambanan was pretty cool. It has similarities with Angkor Wat, although it’s not nearly as big. Would love to see your Borobodur photo. I regret being there mid-day. It was SO hot and bright. Terrible light to shoot in. What’s up with me? Well, it’s the first week since last July that I feel like I’m settled, if you can believe it. Relocating, then working super hard since Oct/Nov and traveling on and off since Xmas has left me kind of exhausted and uninspired. I need to write… it always makes me happy when I do and I have some fun content. I just need to put fingers to keypad, you know? But all I feel like doing is staring into space for a few days. Or weeks.

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      1. Yeah, I really like the temple. I’m sorry I didn’t know about when I was so close. I was at Borobodur before anyone else in the morning…was the first one there, had the whole thing to myself for a couple hours. Sounds like you are settling in…but yeah, that staring into space is alluring! I do way too much of that…

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