Java is known as the island of a thousand temples, coming from an old legend of a besotted Prince Bandung Bondowoso, eagerly trying to capture the attention and affection of the beautiful Loro Jonggrang. Problem is, Prince Bandung killed Loro’s father in battle – but what relationship doesn’t have hurdles. Loro Jonggrang agrees to marry the prince if he completes two impossible tasks – to build a huge well and construct 1,000 temples in one night. I know women can be demanding, but this takes it to a whole new level.
The Prince, desperate and love-struck completes the construction of the well and while displaying his efforts to the wily princess, is convinced to climb in (trap for young players). The princess has rocks thrown on top of the well, entrapping the luckless fellow. Harsh. Prince Bandung Bondowoso manages to free himself, and in true folktale style, forgives the princess for her betrayal and sets about on the second task, the 1,000 temples. As luck would have it, our man possesses supernatural powers – so through meditation he summons demons from the earth to do his bidding (like to see you do that, my yoga-tastic friends). The demons help him construct the first 999 temples (obviously without union involvement) and while constructing the final temple, the princess and her handmaidens trick the demons in to thinking dawn is approaching – so they flee back to the earth. By now Prince Bandung Bondowoso is pretty unimpressed with the efforts of Loro Jonggrang to thwart his grand gestures of love – so he finally gets vindictive and turns the beautiful princess in to a statue and uses her as the final piece of the 1,000 temple Candi Prambanan, where she still stands today.
So through his eagerness, Prince Bandung littered the island of Java with more temples than you can poke a stick at. Many lie in ruins, some partly excavated, some never discovered. Two of the area’s largest temple complexes, Borobodur and Prambanan, lay abandoned and undiscovered for hundreds of years. Borbodur was covered in volcanic ash and lay unknown for over 800 years until excavated by Dutch engineers in 1814. Lying 40km north of Yogyakarta, Borobodur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist destination and one of the largest Buddhist monuments in the world. It’s immense – with it’s base a 123m x 123m square and the Candi (temple [pronounced “chandi”]) rises to a height of 34.5 m (around the size of and 11 story building). It has carved reliefs and statues explaining the birth of Buddha, stories about Buddha from before he was born (I don’t get that either) and the search for nirvana.
The other temple, Candi Prambanan is a ninth century Hindu temple complex, and the final resting place of Loro Jonggrang. It is one of the largest Hindu temples in South-East Asia and stands an impressive 47m in height (a bit of my temple is bigger than your temple going on here), though not as wide as Borobodur. It consists of 237 temples, some small, others massive, containing carved statues of Hindu Gods. Prambanan was abandoned in early 900AD and lay undiscovered until English surveyor Colin Mackenzie came across the temples by chance in 1811 (Indiana Jones type moment!). The temples weren’t properly restored until the 1930’s, with previous attempts mainly leading to Dutch workers souveniring statues for their home gardens!
Both of these temples are amazing to view, and both are UNESCO World Heritage listed sites. Every time I make it out to see them, I can’t help but be amazed at size of the construction, the intricacy of their carvings and the effort that it must of taken to construct them. We recently took the option of a dawn tour of Borobodur – well worth the effort of getting up at 4.30am. The temple is eerily still, there are only a few people up there, and your traipsing around with torches feeling very 19th Century explorer!