Tracing History Through the World of Candi

For me personally, ancient temples are more than just a heap of rocks. It’s the evidence of our ancestor’s great civilization, archaeological remnants that tell stories of the past, and craftsmanship that takes art and architecture to the next level. Exploring Candi is exploring history.

Candi, the Ancient Ruins

The word “Candi” for Indonesian means ancient temple. But this word encompasses much more than that. It can be any ancient ruins, whether a remain of the gate structure, or a vestige of a royal bath, or even residence leftover house. But true, many Candi found in Java, Indonesia, served as a place of worship.

The Candi in Central Java and Yogyakarta has characteristic of a Hindu or a Buddhist. It is obviously seen from its appearance.

A Hindu Candi usually has “Ratna Stupa”, an upside down bud shape with a stem on its top, and a bas-relief of Ramayana Epic or Mahabharata. At the main chamber, a statue of Trimurti resides, it can be Siva, Brahma or Visnu depends on the worshiper preference in the past.

Meanwhile, a Buddhist Candi always has “Bell Shape Stupa”, with bas-relief of Bodhisattvas or Buddha teaching story. A Buddha statue resides in the chamber with the position or Mudra.

Dieng Plateau

Candi Dieng 01

Dieng Cultural Festival at Candi Dieng Complex

At Dieng Plateau, Central Java, you will find a compound of a very old ancient Hindu structures. The compound consists of 5 Candis and some other ruins that seem to be a base of other buildings. Dieng Temple Compound served as Hindu monastery during Kalingga Kingdom in 7th CE.

Dieng Temple Compound now hosts the most celebrated cultural event annually, Dieng Cultural Festival. This event is held sometime between September and August each year. “Rambut Gembel” (dreadlocks hair) cutting ritual becomes the main attraction.

Not far from the Dieng Temple Compound is Candi Bima, stand alone in peculiar shape. Instead of having Meru shape on its top, Candi Bima has more rounded roof shape with niches like a round window on its sides.

Located on 2000 asl makes Dieng Plateau a chill place, the temperature sometimes drops below 0’ Celcius at night. We can find frozen morning dew on the grass like a white carpet covering a field.

Kedu Plain

Borobudur 02

Borobudur Temple, World largest Buddhist monument

The Kedu Plain, also in Central Java, Indonesia, has some of the most remarkable historical remains. Its strategic location and most fertile land was a good place for a civilization to flourished and developed.

The Old Mataram Kingdom of Syailendra Dynasty in 8th CE managed to build the monumental Borobudur Temple. It is the largest Buddhist monument on earth.

They successfully gathered the best architect and artisan to build such prodigious craftsmanship. Yet the construction took more than 50 years to complete and having two generations to finish the job.

Borobudur temple now serves as both tourism and religious purposes. On Vesak day, Buddhist Holiday, Buddhist around the world gathers at the Borobudur complex to perform an annual ritual. This too can be a cultural event that people hard to miss.

Only 3 km from Borobudur Temple is the Mendhut Temple, another Buddhist temple. This temple is a lot smaller compared to Borobudur, but it hosts one of the most well crafted and finest Buddha statue in its chamber. The Buddha statue is 3 m tall in sitting position with Mudra gesture, accompanied by Bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara on both sides.

Prambanan Plain

Candi Prambanan 03

View from the outer wall

Unlike its predecessor, the Sanjaya Dynasty was a Hindu ruler of Old Mataram Kingdom. They built Prambanan Temple Complex 50 years after Borobudur completion. The purpose is to build Hindu monument to rival Borobudur itself, which is a Buddhist.

The temple complex is situated on Prambanan Plain, 50 km southwest from Borobudur, in the Special Region of Yogyakarta.

The construction of Prambanan temple was to honor the Trimurti, the highest Gods in Hinduism. Therefore, there are 3 largest temples in the middle, Temple of Brahma, Temple of Visnu, and Temple of Siva.

Siva has the biggest temple. Each is accompanied by the Vahana Temples, Goose of Brahma, Garuda of Visnu and Nandi of Siva.

Outside the square walls enclosing these temples are the Pervara Temples, with a total number of 244 small temples. This makes Prambanan Temple Complex as the largest Hindu Temple in Indonesia.

At a walking distance, you can find other temple complexes, Pawon Temple, Bubrah Temple, and Sewu Temple Complex. These are Buddhist Temple Complex. Sewu Temple is considered as the largest Buddhist temple complex in Indonesia.

Although the ruling dynasty was a Hindu, they could achieve such high tolerance for other religions to flourish within the kingdom. The Sanjaya Dynasty let the Buddhist build their temples and monastery at the nearby Prambanan Compound.

Furthermore, the King even financed the construction of these temples. This is proof that the Javanese were peaceful people, despite their difference in religions.

Ancient Ruins on East Java

Candi Jawi 04

Candi Jawi

In 11th CE, Mpu Sindok, the last king of Old Mataram Kingdom, moved the capital to East Java. This is due to some disasters that hit the region, especially the eruptions of Mount Merapi.

From then on, kingdoms after kingdoms established in East Java. The shifting did not only happen to location but also in spirituality aspect. The East Java indigenous people were animism and dynamism. They worship ancestors and spiritual beings that inhabited a certain object.

The religions within the new kingdoms then assimilated to the spiritual belief of these people. That is why you will not find any Candi that specific to a certain religion, a Hindu or Buddhist.

Many Candi in East Java is a mixture of these two religions in architecture. Some even have statues of Deity both Buddha and Hindus Gods.

Candi as Dedication to the Late King

Candi Belahan 05

Candi Belahan – Sumber Tetek

Candi in East Java is limited to Royal Family, they are the shrines of late kings that believed to ascend to heaven either as Buddha or one of Trimurti, or even both. The Candi served as a place to worship for the royal family to their ancestors.

Sri Kertanegara of Singhasari Kingdom in 13th CE has 2 shrines. One is Candi Singhasari in Malang Regency, East Java. The other one is Candi Jawi in Prigen, Pasuruan Regency, East Java.

In Candi Singhasari he ascended as Buddha Mahaksobya while in Candi Jawi as Siva.

King Airlangga of Kahuripan Kingdom 11th CE, is believed to ascend to heaven as Visnu. That is why many of his images are in Visnu figure riding the Garuda, a mythical bird serves as the vehicle of Visnu. These figures are found in ruins from King Airlangga reign.

Unlike those in Central Java, the temples in East Java are typically small. The largest is Candi Simping or Penataran Temple Complex in Blitar, East Java.

New Archaeological Findings

Candi Jawi 03

Relief Panel on foot structure Candi Jawi

Through time, people find new Candi over and over again. There is no stopping. The finder then reports to the Archaeological Authorities in each region to record and to plan the excavation. The last discovery was as recent as in 2018.

Once the excavation complete, they will do research on which year is the construction of the Candi and belongs to which kingdom. Sometimes they also find the stone inscription, which tells the story behind the Candi construction.

Read the next article: Majapahit Hotel, Incident that Marks the Great Battle of Surabaya

Leave a comment