Prambanan is a collection of massive Hindu temples (candi) built by the Mataram Kingdom, rulers of central Java and defeaters of the Sailendra Dynasty.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, 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.
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.
Most of the main temples collapsed during a major earthquake in the 16th century and the huge complex lay 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.
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 receive 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.
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. As a foreigner, be aware that you will be required to wear a tie-on 'skirt'(Please help with better term for this) as a sign of respect for the site. 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.
Tourism Information Office
- PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur Prambanan Ratu Boko, Jalan Raya Yogya - Solo Km 16 Prambanan, Yogyakarta 55571, Indonesia, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The official government park authority for Prambanan
The nearest major cities are Yogyakarta, 17 kilometres to the south west and Solo about 40 kilometres to the north east. The main road connecting these two large cities passes right by Prambanan and this makes transport links very straightforward. The nearest actual town to Prambanan is Klaten, about 3 km to the north.
Yogyakarta airport is well served by domestic flights from Jakarta, Bali, other major domestic destinations and internationally from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It is just ten kilometres from here to Prambanan. A taxi direct from the airport should cost about Rp 50,000 and take about 20 minutes.
Solo airport is much smaller but has several flights each day from Jakarta and is also connected internationally from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Prambanan is about 90 minutes by bus from Solo airport.
TransJogja, Yogyakarta's newest bus service, also serves a direct route to Prambanan. The bus is air-conditioned and comfortable, but sometimes can be overcrowded. Take number 1A from Malioboro street (Rp 3 000 one way). The first one leaves around 6AM, then every 20 minutes. Depending on traffic, the journey normally takes around 30 minutes, but can take an hour when traffic is heavy. From the terminal station, cross the busy road, turn right, and walk around 300 metres to the pedestrian entrance.
There are regular buses from Yogyakarta's Umbulharjo bus station (30 minutes), as well as a wide variety of tour agency-operated minibuses shuttling directly from Yogyakarta's backpacker haunts. Local buses to/from Solo are also easy to find (90 minutes).
A taxi from the center of Yogyakarta costs around Rp. 60,000. The driver may be prepared to wait free of charge for an hour or so and then take you back for the same price, giving a total cost of Rp. 120,000.
Prambanan can be fairly easily covered on foot. If the midday heat is too much, a toy train shuttles around the park for Rp 5,000 a throw.
The main site of modern day Prambanan complex is inside a large, landscaped park. The complex is open daily from 6AM to 6PM. Try to get there early to beat the heat. Entry costs Indonesians less than $1, while foreigners are charged a fixed tourist rate of US$17 (175,000 Rp) or US$9 for a registered student. Guides can be hired at the ticket office for about US$5 (75,000 rp) and as this is a complex monument, a guide is a very good idea.
- Candi Lara (Loro) Jonggrang, or simply Candi Prambanan, is the largest and most-visited of the temples just to the left of the main entrance. While there were 237 temples originally built, most have long since crumbled and the main remaining attractions are the six temples of the central court, richly decorated with carved reliefs. Three of them, known as the Trimurti ("three sacred places"), are particularly important:
- Candi Siva, dedicated to Shiva the Destroyer, is the largest of the six, rising to a height of 45 meters. There are fine reliefs of the Ramayana in its forecourt and four chambers with statues. The largest chamber, to the east, contains a statue of Shiva himself, while the south has the sage Agastya, the west his son Ganesh (the elephant-headed) and the north his wife Durga. Durga is also known as Lara Jonggrang ("Slender Virgin"), a legendary beautiful princess turned to stone (see box).
- Candi Brahma, to the south, continues the story of the Ramayana and has a statue of Brahma the Creator inside.
- Candi Vishnu, to the north, tells the story of Vishnu's avatar Krishna and has a statue of Vishnu the Preserver inside.
- Opposite the three large temples are three smaller temples originally dedicated to the vehicles of the gods. Only the statue of Nandi, Shiva's bull, has survived.
- Candi Lumbung and Candi Bubrah, two Buddhist temples, are located several hundred meters further north. They lie in ruins and are fenced off.
- Candi Sewu, a large Buddhist temple complex meaning "one thousand temples", is one kilometre north of the entrance gate and contains a large central temple surrounded by a cluster of smaller ones. The sheer size of the recently renovated and intricately decorated central temple is impressive but the statue niches are all empty. Take note of the Borobudur style stupas here. Entrance from the east side only.
- Prambanan Museum. North of Candi Lara Jonggrang is a poorly displayed museum laid out in a series of small houses connected by walkways. Explanations are minimal, but entry is free so you might as well take a look.
- Prambanan Audio Visual, inside the museum grounds, is the park's term for screenings of a film entitled "Cosmic Harmony", which lambasts the "industrial world" in general (and Jakarta in particular), and gives a fairly basic explanation of the Prambanan site. Still, it makes for a fairly entertaining half-hour break and Rp 5,000 is not too bad a price to pay for the air-con. The film is available in several languages.
Other than temples within Prambanan archaeological park (Prambanan, Lumbung, Bubrah, and Sewu temples) there are also other less visited and less touristy temples around Prambanan plain. If you interested in ancient Javanese temple architecture, the off the beaten path temples on hill tops or in the middle of rice paddy through villages might interest you. After your visit to Prambanan, the Prambanan Archaeological park offer the group tour to these outlying temples, especially Ratu Boko. However if you prefer going on your own, rent and riding andong horse carriage (you must state the destination, for example Plaosan temple, and bargain for the price), or by taxi (if you took one from Yogyakarta earlier that has been waiting for you since there is no taxi around Prambanan area), or by daily rented car if you rent one earlier in Yogyakarta.
The entrance of these minor temples are guarded by archaeology bureau authorities. They will hand you guest book and expect you to fill your identity: name, origin, and your oppinion. It is for statistic purpose on visitors data of each temples. There is no specific ticket rate to enter these temples (except of Ratu Boko), however the temple guard might expect donation, although you are not obliged to, paying Rp 5,000 (US$ 0.5) in these sites is sufficient.
- Candi Plaosan. This Buddhist temple is about 2 km east of the northern edge of Prambanan park complex and is easily walkable from there. There are two large stuctures - Plaosan Lor (north) and Plaosan Kidul (south). This complex gives a good insight into the close relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism in 9th century Java. Buddhist Plaosan was built during the same reign as Candi Loro Jonggrang. The Hindu king at the time had a Buddhist wife. There are some excellent intact reliefs and statues of Boddhisattvas here although most of the statuary was looted long ago.
- Candi Sojiwan. A Buddhist temple with architecture similar to Mendut temple near Borobudur. The temple had undergone reconstruction project and just finished in 2012. The main chamber is empty and the temple is notable for its Jataka fable Buddhist tales carved on panels around its foot. Located in a village 1.5 kilometers south from Prambanan between Prambanan and Ratu Boko.
- Kraton Ratu Boko, south of Prambanan (take the minor road from Prambanan towards Piyungan and this palace is on your left after about 3 km), is a ruined palace or temple of uncertain origin, located on a hilltop 200 metres above the Prambanan plain (which makes for good pictures if and only if you have a zoom lens). Only some building foundations remain and it's difficult to make any sense of the site. Now incorporated into the Borobudur Park Authority, entry to Ratu Boko is a separately charged US$10.
- Candi Barong and Candi Banyunibo. Candi Barong is located east of Ratu Boko on neighboring hill top, while Banyunibo is on the valley nearby. Barong is a Hindu temple on stone platform on the hill overlook the valley, while Banyunibo is Buddhist temple. Ask for the information and direction in Ratu Boko park authority. Take the village road southeast from Ratu Boko around 1.5 kilometers.
- Candi Ijo located further 4 kilometers southeast from Ratu Boko. The Hindu temple houses a large Linggam and Yoni symbol of Shiva. The temple is consists of one main temple with three lesser temple. Because it is located on hill top on another hill and quite remote, it is advisable to reach these temples with taxi (from Yogyakarta) or rented car.
- Candi Kalasan. This Buddhist temple is the oldest temple in Prambanan plain located 3 kilometers west of Prambanan. Take the main road from Prambanan heading back towards Yogyakarta, after 3 kilometers the temple can be seen easily on south (left) side of the road. It is the oldest temple in Prambanan plain. According to Kalasan inscription, it was built to honor Tara, a female boddhisattva. The temple throne is now empty, statue of Tara probably made from bronze and have been looted for scrap metals for centuries, however the carvings of boddhisttvas is interesting.
- Candi Sari. This Buddhist temple was the vihara (temple as well as lodging) for Buddhist monks. Located just several hundreds meters north from of Kalasan temple in a walking distance. Just cross the main road to north side, walk east heading to Prambanan direction, after several hundred meters turn left into small village road and heading north until the temple is visible. The carving of Taras and Boddhisattvas are exquisite. Examine the winged human celestial creature similar to angels on northern wall. The temple was originally coated by white plaster called 'vajralepa'. The temple is originally two storey, with upper deck was made from wooden structure, the remnant of place to hold wooden beams can be seen.
- Candi Sambisari. This Hindu temple pre-dates Prambanan by about 30 years and was only discovered as recently as 1966 and is remarkably complete. Some archaeologists speculate that it is part of a yet to be discovered, much larger complex which lies hidden under centuries of volcanic ash and earth on the Prambanan Plain. Take the main road from Prambanan heading back towards Yogyakarta. When you reach the village of Sambisari, turn north (right) and follow the small road to the end.
- An open-air theatre inside the park, just west of Candi Prambanan right across the Opak river, has ballet Javanese dance performances of the great Hindu epic Ramayana on four nights during each full moon between May and October (dry season). The performance involved 200 artisans; dancers and gamelan musicians, and only performed in Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights. This performance, set against the stary sky and the lit back drop of Prambanan, is quite spell-binding. Enquire at travel agents locally or at your hotel for tickets and times. On rainy season (November to April) the performance moved to smaller indoor Trimurti theatre.
The ticket price for Prambanan Ramayana Ballet performance (2012):
- The Plot of Ramayana Ballet. Read the plot of the Ramayana.
Hawkers hassle tourists near the entry gate but will generally take the hint after a terima kasih (thank you) or two.
There is a large market just outside the gate selling lots of touristy souvenirs.
There are many good value Indonesian warungs in and around Prambanan. A good tip is to follow the local Indonesian tourists - they always know which has the best food.
- Taman Prambanan Restoran is close to the entrance gate and serves typical Javanese dishes at very competitive prices.
- Restoran Prambanan, just east from the museum. Offers rice with various side dishes from Rp 10,000.
- Prambanan Garden Resto, located on the west side of the temple next to Prambanan open air stage. Serving Indonesian food buffet with Rp 75,000 per pax. Usually visited in late afternoon to nightfall for a stop over dinner while waiting for Prambanan Ramayana Ballet performance nextdoor in 19:30. The restaurant set against the majestic flood-lighted Prambanan temple as the background which make a romantic setting for dinner while waiting for the Javanese dance performance.
Drink hawkers are omnipresent. The museum also has a drinks stand and there are benches scattered throughout the park for a quick break.
After a walk around Prambanan in the heat, a glass of fresh local juice or a pitcher of iced Javanese tea goes down very well.
There are a few hotels here if you want to spend the night (not such a bad idea if you want to see Prambanan before the crowds arrive and before the heat of the day sets in). However, most visitors day trip from Yogyakarta or Solo.
- Candi View Hotel, Jalan Candi Sewu, Prambanan, ☎ . Simple budget hotel on the main entrance road towards the rear of the complex. Rp 160,000.
- Hotel Galuh, Jl Manisrenggo, Prambanan, Klaten, Central Java, Indonesia, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mid market hotel which is popular with local tour groups. Located just to the north east of the main complex. Has a swimming pool and two tennis courts.
- Poeri Devata Resort Hotel (formely Prambanan Village Hotel), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The grandest hotel at Prambanan but a bit over-priced for the standard of accommodation provided. Decent swimming pool, restaurant and they can arrange car and bicycle hire. From US$ 80.
The telephone area code for Prambanan is the same as Solo - 0271
- Ambulance: 118.
- Police: 110.
The nearest police station to Prambanan is 3 km away at Klaten although officials at Prambanan more or less take the role of policemen.