Candi Sewu is an 8th-century Buddhist temple located 800 meters north of the main temple complex at Prambanan in Central Java. Candi Sewu is the second largest Buddhist Temple in Central Java after Borobudur. Although originally only around 257 temples are present, the name in Javanese translates to a thousand temples, which originated from popular local folklore.
Based on the inscription in 792 AD which was found in 1960, the original name of the temple complex was probably Manjusri griha (The House of [the Bodhisattva] Manjusri). Sewu Temple was probably built in the 8th century at the end of Rakai Panangkaran administration (746 - 784 AD). The temple was then probably expanded and completed during Rakai Pikatan's rule, a Sanjaya dynasty prince who married a Buddhist princess of the Sailendra dynasty, Pramodhawardhani. Most of his subjects retained their old religion after the return of the Sanjaya dynasty. The fact that this temple was built near Prambanan Temple which is a Hindu Temple indicates that the Hindus and Buddhists lived in harmony in ancient Java.
The grand scale of the temple complex suggests that Candi Sewu was a Royal Buddhist Temple and was one of the most important religious centers in the past. The temple is located in the Prambanan valley between the southern slopes of the Merapi volcano in the north and the Sewu mountain range in the south, near the present border of Yogyakarta province and Klaten Regency in Central Java. The valley houses many archaeological sites scattered only a few miles away, suggesting that this area was once an important religious, political, and urban center.
The temple was severely damaged during the earthquake in Java in 2006. The structural damage is significant and the central temple suffered the worst. Large pieces of debris were scattered over the ground and cracks between stone blocks were detected. To prevent the central temple from collapse, the metal frame structures were erected on four corners and attached to support the main temple. Although some weeks later in 2006 the site was re-opened for visitors, the main temple remains off-limits for safety reasons.
The temple complex is the largest Buddhist compound in the Prambanan area, with rectangular grounds that measure 185 meters north-south and 165 meters east-west. Judging from the layout of the temple complex, the main entrance is located on the east side. Each of the entrances are guarded by twin Dvarapala statues. This large guardian statues have been better preserved and replicas can be found at Yogja Kraton.
There are a total of 257 buildings in the complex arranged in a Mandala pattern around the central main hall. The smaller temples consists of 248 temples of similar design arranged in four rectangular concentric rows. The temples were all made with a square frame but varied by different statues and orientations. Many of these statues are now gone and the arrangements on the current site is not in the original orientation.
Along the north-south and east-west central axis at a distance of about 200 meter, between the 2nd and 3rd row of smaller temples are located the perwara (vanguard) temples, a couple on each of the cardinal points facing each other. The perwara temples are the second largest ones after the main temple, however only the eastern twin perwara temples and one northern perwara temples still remain today. These smaller temples encompass a larger sanctuary that has been heavily looted. Behind the 4th row of smaller temples lies a stone paved courtyard.
The main temple has a cross-like 20 cornered polygon ground plan, 29 meters in diameter and it soars up to 30 meters high. On each of the four cardinal points of the main temple, outward structures project each with its own stairs and entrances into rooms that are crowned with stupas, thus formed into a cross-like layout. All of the structures are made of andesite stone. These four rooms are connected with the outer corner galleries and balustrades.
From the findings during the reconstruction process, the original design of the central sanctuary only consisted of a single roomed temple. It was later surrounded by four additional structures. Doorways were also later constructed so as to join the temples together into one main building with five rooms. The central chamber can be reached from the eastern room. The central chamber is larger than the other rooms and has a higher roof. The statues are now missing from all five rooms. However the lotus carved stone pedestal in the central chamber suggests that the temple once contained a large bronze statue, probably reaching 4 meters tall.
Text adapted from Wikipedia (retrieved, October 17th 2009)
Colin Low photographing Candi Sewu
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu