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Candi Prambanan


Calling out to wanderlusters! If you’re looking for your next destination, this should be it. (You’re welcome?) We have spent so much time going so far away – as far as Europe, Africa… but let’s go somewhere nearer to home, to our neighbour: Indonesia.

Let me introduce you to one of the most famous ancient architectural heritage in Indonesia. It is the Prambanan Temple (Compounds), or what the locals would call Candi Prambanan or Candi Roro/Loro Jonggrang.

Candi Prambanan
Candi Prambanan
candi prambanan on the map
candi prambanan on the map

The exact date of when Prambanan Temple was built is not known, due to lack of formal written record. However, it is predicted that Prambanan Temple was built in c. 9th Century, by the Mataram Kingdom during Sanjaya Dynasty, a flourishing Hindu kingdom that shared the island with the Buddhist Saliendra dynasty that built Borobudur. The relationship between the two dynasties is not clear, although there is a high chance that they were coexisting in harmony despite the religious difference. But, one theory states that that the Sanjayas constructed Candi Prambanan in response to the construction of Borobudur, as a symbol of showing equal power. There are, however, significant differences between the two temples, since Prambanan is Hindu whereas Borobudur is Buddhist. On a more positive note, a source also says that the Sanjayas built Prambanan to emphasise the importance of Hinduism in the Buddhist-dominated area. 

Prambanan has three main temples (the highest one being 47 metres high), called the “Trimurti” or “Triumvirate” which is a deity concept in Hinduism. The first is dedicated to Brahma, the god of creation. The second is dedicated to Vishnu, the central god who is the Keeper, and the third and the largest is dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction. Looking at the temple, one would be dumbfounded at how grand and intricate it is, one would wonder how it was built during ancient time with very minimal technology. The legend below might offer a possible explanation. Story time!


Once upon a time ...

There was a kingdom called the Prambanan, ruled by an ogre king called Baka. Baka, however, had a beautiful daughter called Rara Jonggrang.

Far away from Prambanan, there was another kingdom called Pengging, where a mighty warrior named Bandung Bandawasa. He was ordained by the king of Pengging to fight Prambanan and take over. Unsurprisingly, Bandawasa managed to accomplish the task. Bandawasa also killed King Baka. Having done a good job, he was entrusted by the king to manage Prambanan kingdom.

Since the first day of his office, Bandawasa fell in love with Rara Jonggang. He asked Rara Jonggrang to marry him. But, Rara Jonggrang did not want to. Obviously. (Bandawasa had murdered her father, what do you expect?) Nevertheless, Rara Jonggrang did not refuse him straight away. She was apparently cleverer than that. She gave a condition: she would marry Bandawasa only if he could make 1,000 temples and 2 wells in one single night, before the dawn set in – very purposely gave him something impossible to accomplish. So he would suffer in toiling yet fail and eventually could not marry her.

The mighty warrior, however, agreed to that condition. That night, he summoned his ‘troops’ from other dimensions – thousands of genies and other spirits – to help him to complete the task and fulfil the pre-requisites. They were so efficient and in no time they were quite close to finishing. Seeing the rapid progress, Rara Jonggrang became worried. She’s afraid he really could do it and she would have to marry him.

But, she had another idea to deter that possibility. She asked her chief maid to wake as many other maids and staff members. She ordered them to burn hays and start ploughing. She wanted to orchestrate the breaking of dawn.

Meanwhile, Bandawasa and his aids saw the reddish light at the horizon created by Rara Jonggrang, and they thought it really was already dawn. Then, the spirits and genies left him (as they needed to avoid the sun), though only 999 statues were done.

Rara Jonggrang then approached him to “officially” reject him due to his shortage of 1 temple to make it 1000 statues. However, soon enough Bandawasa found out that he had been cheated and he became so furious about this. He then cursed and turned Rara Jonggrang to be the 1000th statue. The Durga statue inside chamber of the Shiva temple is suspected to be the cursed Rara Jonggrang.

This story, regardless of whether it’s true, has become a famous folktale in Indonesia that is being told from generation to generation. It teaches the local about the costs of cheating and the absolute, ultimate victory of the truth. Prambanan is hence more than merely an object of tourist attraction for the locals, as it contains special cultural values that are close to the people’s hearts. There’s just so much to a historical site like Prambanan, other than its exterior aesthetics.

Look around you! There’s just so much richness and beauty within our proximity. The rest of the world appreciate it and even go the distance to find out. But look at us. We take it for granted. We are ignorant about their existence. In fact, some of us may be nonchalant about it.

Indeed, there’s so much to Southeast Asia that we all should be proud of!

PS: for more insights about the culturall, art and historical richness in the Prambanan, you can check out this one:

Levin, C. S. (1999). The "Ramayana" at loro jonggrang: Indian antecedents and javanese impetus (Order No. 9930225). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304516412). Retrieved from