It may not be as well known as Borobudur, but the Prambanan temple is a definite must-see for anyone who visits the Yogyakarta area. This 9th century architectural gem comprises 240 temples in various states of repair. Just like Borobudur, it is a breathtakingly large and intricately decorated religious monument. However, while Borobudur is shaped like a flattened pyramid, Prambanan’s distinctive towers were modelled on the mountains where the Hindu gods reside.
The soaring, 47-metre tall Shiva temple and the 33-metre Brahma and Vishnu temples on either side form the centrepiece of the complex. The three towers cut a striking figure in any conditions, but are perhaps most breathtaking when lit up at night. Prambanan was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
One of the statues in the Shiva temple is said to be of Loro Jonggrang, a legendary princess whose name is often also used for the temple itself. She tried to fool an unwelcome suitor whom she had challenged to build 1,000 statues in one night into thinking morning had come just as he completed the 999th one. However, he saw through her deception and turned her into the last statue.
Prambanan Temple History
The first temple at Prambanan is thought to have been constructed around 850 AD by King Pikatan, who wanted to build a Hindu counterpart to the recently-completed Buddhist Borobudur temple nearby. It was originally named Shiva-grha (the house of Shiva), after the god it was dedicated to. The temple complex was expanded several times over the next hundred years or so, before being abandoned when the royal court moved to East Java following the volcanic eruption of Gunung Merapi.
A major earthquake in the 16th century caused serious damage to the already crumbling and largely forgotten temples. The British rediscovered Prambanan, along with Borobudur, in the early 19th century. Early Dutch attempts at restoration led to looting, however, and proper renovation – which still continues to this day – only commenced in 1930. In 1991, the magnificent Prambanan compound was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Unfortunately, the complex was damaged in the 2006 earthquake, and some temples remain unrepaired.
Highlights and Features
- Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in South-East Asia. There were originally 240 temples in the compound, but many of these lie in ruins.
- The 224 small guardian temples (candi perwara), some of them destroyed, are arranged in four concentric rows around the central square, which contains 16 temples of varying sizes.
- The complex is laid out in the form of a mandala, and features the towering, broad spires that are typical of Hindu temple architecture, and represent Meru, the holy mountain where the gods live.
- The holiest section, the inner zone, is an elevated and walled platform with entrance gates at each of the four cardinal points.
- The largest temple in the inner zone rises to a height of 47 metres and measures 34 metres wide, and is devoted to Shiva, the destroyer god. The exterior is richly adorned with stone carvings that tell the story of the hero Rama (the Ramayana epic).
- Inside the Shiva temple there are five chambers, each with a single statue. One of these is Shiva’s wife, Durga, but is also said to represent Loro Jonggrang, the princess who prevented her suitor from completing the 1,000 statues he had to build to win her hand in marriage.
- The Shiva temple is flanked by two 33-metre tall temples dedicated to Brahma and Vishnu. Together with the Shiva temple they form the trisakti (three sacred places), and present a truly magnificent sight, whether viewed up close or from afar. The Ramayana story continues on the balustrades of the Brahma temple, while the carvings on the Vishnu temple are all about lord Krishna (the Krishnayana).
Good to Know
- The early morning is a cool and comfortable time to visit. You can stay at one of the local hotels for a night to get an early start for watching the spectacular sunrise over the temple grounds.
- Make sure you drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen and a hat. There are hawkers and cafes to buy cold drinks from within the compound.
- At the ticket office you can hire a guide who will explain the history, legends and architecture of this fascinating and impressive cultural site. You will also learn all about the Ramayana and Krishnayana epics, scenes from which are carved into the walls of the central temples.
- The Ramayana ballet is performed against a backdrop of the illuminated temple spires for four nights during each full moon from May to October. Do not miss the chance to see this amazing performance.
- Although it is possible to walk around to see all the temples in the compound, a trip on the toy train (IDR 5,000) can take the strain off your feet, especially on a hot day.
- Opening Hours: 06:00 – 18:00
- Price Range: Adults (foreign) – USD 13/IDR 120,000. Registered students (foreign) – USD 7/IDR 65,000. Indonesian citizens – IDR 8,000. A guide will cost around IDR 50,000-60,000. Tickets to the Ramayana ballet performances are priced from IDR 75,000 to 250,000.
- How to get there: The air-conditioned TransJogja bus number 1A runs every 20 minutes from Malioboro Street in Yogyakarta, starting at 06:00. It costs IDR 3,000 each way and takes up to an hour to the travel the 17 kilometres to the Prambanan bus terminal five minutes walk from the temple complex. There are also regular local buses from Umbulharjo bus station in Yogya that take around 30 minutes, as well as several services from Solo to Prambanan (90 minutes). A taxi from Yogyakarta should cost around IDR 60,000 one way or IDR 120,000 return, and you can usually get the driver to wait while you tour the temple.