Trimurti Temple Complex at Prambanan, Central Java

Ancient Hindu Complex of Temples to Siva, Brahma and Vishnu, one of the largest outside of India.

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The Prambanan Complex

Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple of ancient Java, and the construction of this royal temple was probably started by Rakai Pikatan as the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty's answer to the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty's Borobudur and Sewu temples nearby. Historians suggest that the construction of Prambanan probably was meant to mark the return of the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty to power in Central Java after almost a century of Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty domination. The construction of this massive Hindu temple signifies that the Medang court had shifted the focus of its patronage from Mahayana Buddhism to Shivaist Hinduism.

Text adapted from Wikipedia (retrieved, January 18th 2014)

Siva Temple

The Siva temple is the tallest and largest structure in the Prambanan complex, it measures 47 metres tall and 34 metres wide. The Siva temple is encircled with galleries adorned with bas-reliefs telling the Ramayana story which are carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. The bas-reliefs of Ramayana continue on the Brahma temple galleries.

The entrance archways, makara statues, and on the inside walls the Lokapala statues are all worthy of note. Around the outside of the temple at the base are variations of Kalpataru (Lucky Tree) symbols, together with various mythological creatures like kinnara and kinnari, and also lions, geese and peacocks.

Brahma Temple

The Brahma temple, which measures 20 metres wide and 33 metres tall, stands to the south of the Siva Temple, and continues with the bas-reliefs telling the Ramayana story which are carved on the inner walls of the balustrades. In the main shrine room there is a large statue of Lord Brahma with his four heads. As with the Siva Temple, around the base of the Temple are variations of the Kalpataru (Lucky Tree) symbols.

Visnu Temple

The Visnu Temple, also measures 20 metres wide and 33 metres tall, and stands to the north of the Siva Temple. The bas-reliefs here tell the Krishnayana story. As with the others, around the base of the Temple are variations of the Kalpataru (Lucky Tree) symbols.

Nandi Temple

In front of the Trimurti Temples are temples to their respective vehicles (vahana): Siva has a Nandi Bull Temple in front of it; Brahma has his Hamsa (Goose) Temple, and Visnu has the Garuda (Mythological Bird-Man) Temple. Here example sculptures from the Nandi Temple are shown.

The Prambanan Complex

Overview of the Prambanan Area

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 Sivagrha (the House of Siva) or Sivalaya (the Realm of Siva). Some archaeologists propose that the statue of Siva in the garbhagriha (central chamber) of the main temple was modelled after King Balitung, serving as a depiction of his deified self after death.

The temple compound was expanded by successive Mataram kings such as Daksa and Tulodong with the addition of hundreds of perwara temples around the chief temple. Prambanan served as the royal temple of the Kingdom of Mataram, with most of the state's religious ceremonies and sacrifices being conducted there. At the height of the kingdom, scholars estimate that hundreds of brahmins with their disciples lived within the outer wall of the temple compound. The urban center and the court of Mataram were located nearby, somewhere in the Prambanan Plain.

The Temple as it stands today is surrounded at a distance by many Buddhist temples, including Candi Sewu, which is the largest Buddhist structure outside of Borobudur itself. Other Buddhist temples in the immediate vicinity include Candi Plaosan, Candi Sari and Candi Kalasan

Originally there were a total of 240 temples standing in Prambanan, which consisted of:

3 Trimurti temples: three main temples dedicated to Siva, Visnu, and Brahma
3 Vahana temples: three temples in front of Trimurti temples dedicated to the vahana of each gods; Nandi, Garuda, and Hamsa
2 Apit temples: two temples located between the rows of Trimurti and Vahana temples on north and south side
4 Kelir temples: four small shrines located on 4 cardinal directions right beyond the 4 main gates of inner zone
4 Patok temples: four small shrines located on 4 corners of inner zone
224 Pervara temples: hundreds of temples arranged in 4 concentric square rows; numbers of temples from inner row to outer row are: 44, 52, 60, and 68

Today all of the 8 main temples and the 8 small shrines in the inner zone have been reconstructed, but only 2 out of the original 224 pervara temples have been renovated. The majority of them have deteriorated; what is left are only scattered ruins. The Prambanan temple complex consists of three zones; first the outer zone, second the middle zone that contains hundreds of small temples, and third the holiest inner zone that contains eight main temples and eight small shrines.

The temple complex is based on a square plan that contains a total of three zone yards, each of which is surrounded by four walls pierced by four large gates. The outer zone is a large space marked by a rectangular wall. The outermost walled perimieter, which originally measured about 390 metres per side, was oriented in the northeast, southwest direction. However, except for its southern gate, not much else of this enclosure has survived down to the present. The supporting buildings for the temple complex were made from organic material; as a consequence no remains occur.

Text adapted from Wikipedia (retrieved, January 18th 2014)

Model of the Prambanan Complex
Prambanan Architectural Model, photograph by Gunkarta Gunawan Kartapranata (cc-by-sa)


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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