There are numerous places where Pyramids are found in distinctive forms. The Meso-Americans Pyramids or the Mayan Pyramid is exclusively truncated on its top. What if I tell you that half-world away across the Pacific has similar ancient structures. Java, in distant past, was home for Truncated Pyramids.
Punden Berundak, The Indonesian Pyramids
While Mexico has Yucatan Peninsula rich with ancient ruins of the Mayan Civilization or the Mayan Pyramids, Indonesia has Java Island where ruins of thousand years old civilization can be found.
Javanese history can be traced from thousand years ago when kingdoms and empires once flourished and fell one after another. Hence, they left many signs of their existence in the form of Candi or ancient ruins as well as inscriptions in stones and other writing materials.
Some of them are gigantic such as Borobudur and Prambanan temple complex. And a much larger ruin in West Java called Gunung Padang. A megalith structure resembled pyramid shape.
One interesting fact between the Mayan and ancient Javanese civilization is that they have similar structure design, a truncated pyramid. There is one, in particular, the ruins of Sukuh that looks exactly the same as those in Mayan ruins.
Ancient Spirituality of Java
Most of the ruins in Java has spiritual values or as a place of worship. Therefore, we can find a lot of religious images sculptures on the ruin’s wall.
The pre-historic spiritual beliefs in Indonesia were animism and dynamism, which have a place of worship called “punden berundak”, the truncated pyramid. These structures, actually, represent the shape of mountain or volcanoes, a high place where ancient Gods and Goddesses reside in.
Two of the remaining truncated pyramid structures are the ruins of Cetho and Sukuh. If the ruins of Cetho has lost its original structure, due to additional new structures built by local Balinese Hinduism residents.
The Sukuh pyramid, on the other hand, has preserved its original shape. It even mentioned in Thomas Stamford Raffles monumental book, The History of Java. Said to be one of the most peculiar ancient ruins in Java.
The Cheto Pyramid
The way to Cetho is the same route to Sukuh Pyramid. Only that, Cetho is further and more challenging. Many steep roads we need to go through, the worst would be the last road going to the entrance of the ruins.
Although Cetho is one of the ancient ruins built on Mt.Lawu slope. It is an active place of worship by local residents. They are Balinese people that hold Hinduism as their belief.
Therefore, many additional Balinese style structures were added. It is also served as a recreational place for people from different regions.
The Ancient Sumerian Figures
The first thing to see after walking the front steps are two statues of kneeling down person. What weird about the statue is that they don’t represent a figure of Javanese or even Indonesian. Some references say that it resembles the figure of ancient Sumerian.
The face with the beard is not an ancient Javanese at all. It even has a middle eastern nose shape with thick eyebrows. One other thing to notice is that its kneeling position as if the person is from the inferior civilization.
Kneeling position means to surrender or being afraid of or even to pay great respect to whomever the person in front. The question is to whom he’s kneeling?
Then we will see a Balinese gate as the main entrance going to the first level. The ruins complex is divided into some terraces. There is nothing to see on the first terrace, the gate itself is instagrammable.
Another short step going to the next terrace that has two semi pyramid ruins, one has gone which only leave a mound of land with grass covering.
The authority has restored the structure and added a wooden roof. On the third terrace, we will see a stone formation that resembles Linggam and Yoni, the man and women’s genital, in the center of the yard.
The Surya Majapahit
Some stone carving with “Surya” symbol, the Majapahit empire official symbol. Next terrace we can find stone blocks with relief bass and two guardian statues one headless and another one has face similar to the one on the entrance.
The next 2 levels, walled in stones, only consist of wooden roof resting places and places for deity statues. On the top level, that has little space, is where the main temple resides. The one in the truncated pyramid, only that it looks new.
The steps are narrow, the crowd needs to queue for going up and down. This ruin seems to has gone into a touristic place, like those temples in Bali.
The Sukuh Pyramid
There are 3 terraces in the Sukuh Pyramid, with unique gates on every terrace. First is the main entrance with huge gates. On the center of the gate sculpture the so-called Kalamangkara, a figure of monster that guarding the gate in ancient ruins.
It has 2 Kalamangkara, one on the front and the other one facing back. Those two don’t match other Kalamangkara sculptures in any ancient ruins found in Java. On both sides of the main gate, we can find “Sengkala” or symbols of years in the form of figures in the story, just like the hieroglyph of Egypt.
One on the left says “Gapura Buta Aban Wong” literally means the gate of giant devouring man, each word represent a number which is 9, 5, 3, 1.
So the archaeologist explains that the people built the temple in the year 1359 Chaka or 1437AD. On the right says “Gapuro Buto Anuhut Buntut” meaning the gate of giant devouring snake’s tail.
Sukuh as mentioned in History of Java
In History of Java, Raffles mentions the Sukuh Pyramid in a sub-chapter of the Antiquity chapter. He explains that we cannot neglect those sculptures on Sukuh Pyramid to be comparable to those in Egyptian Mythology:
“It was impossible to reflect on the design of these sculptures, without being forcibly struck with their reference to the ancient worship of Egypt. The form of the gateway itself, and of all the ruins within our view, was pyramidal. In the monster devouring the child we were reminded of Typhon; the dog, of Anubis; in the stork, of the Ibis: the tree, too, seemed to be the palm, by which the Egyptian designated the year; the pigeon, the hawk, the immense serpents, were all symbols of Egyptian worship. (History of Java; page 50, Thomas Stamford Raffles)
Inside the gate, there is the sculpture of Lingam and Yoni on its floor. The archaeologist believes that this temple complex served as a place of cleansing ritual, or the Javanese usually call it “Ruwatan”. As we arrived at the first terrace, there is nothing but view stone blocks with relief bass.
On the second terrace, there are no sculpture stones or whatsoever, we can only see the disfigured small guardian statues on the damaged gate. The third terrace is the main level where the pyramidal structure resides in.
The Symbols and Figures
Surrounding the Pyramid, there are some other structures. On the left, there is an open chamber with a relief of some bird-man, one with sharp claws and wide open wings, the other one carrying serpent and tortoise on its claw.
A relief picturing a womb of a mother with two figures inside and relief of a “punakawan” or one of Javanese “wayang” figure performing a cleansing ritual to a giant.
In front of the pyramid, there are giant tortoise statues as an altar and a smaller pyramidal structure with a statue of the deity inside and seems to be dwarfs and giant relief on its wall. We can also find a statue of a headless little man holding his big genital nearby.
On the left is an obelisk with the figure of Siva holding “Trisula” on both hands. The peculiar thing about this Siva figure is that it has a mustache on the face. I never find Hindu deity or god of Javanese ancient statue, Siva to be particular, to have a mustache like this one.
On the main level yard, we can also find statues of headless bird-man, the Garuda, the Hindu mythology of bird-man in Ramayana story. One with perfect human legs, another one has claws on its feet.
As my observation, I do not recognize it as the Garuda, especially one with human legs. It looks more to Horus in Egyptian mythology or Annunaki of ancient Sumerian.
Story of Sudamala
We can also find many relief bass stone blocks in the yard, they are on the left corner. The relief bass telling story of Sudamala.
The Sudamala in Hindu’s scripture telling a story of Sadewa performing a cleansing ritual to the Durga Goddess whom at that time cursed into female Giant and cast away in the jungle of Setra Gandamayu.
Therefore, many figures and ornaments on the Sukuh pyramid showing men and woman’s genitals. The cleansing ritual is the reason why they built the temple. This makes this ancient ruins well-known as the most erotic in Indonesia.
Theories Emerge on How The Pyramids came to be
The archaeologist suggests that Majapahit Empire in 15th CE built this temple complex, during its dawn period. As shown in the gate Sengkala, which is in 1437AD.
They explain how the shape has come into simply pyramidal, while other older ancient ruins are following the Hindu guidance in building temples.
They say that once the empire declined, the more ancient belief appeared on the surface and mixed to the religion, which has the place of worship simply pyramidal. So they built the temple according to a more ancient structure.
My Own Theory
I, on the other hand, having a theory of my own. They built the Temples a very long time ago, where the Javanese still embraced Animism and Dynamism. As I said before, these beliefs have their own altar or place of worship in the form of “Punden Berundak” or Pyramidal structures.
Then came the Hindu people settled in the surrounding area and found the pyramid. The Hindu people believed that some places are sacred, especially those with ancient ruins.
So they make this ruins as their own place of worship by adding Hinduism aspect on some part of the complex without changing the grand design of the original ruins.
For whatever the theory is, these Pyramids complex are all peculiar in many aspects. Resembling the very old Javanese culture. They are the Pyramids of ancient Maya civilization lies in the deep jungle of Mt.Lawu slope.
Read the next travel story The Prambanan Plain, Land of Ancient Ruins (part 1 of 3)