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What is Prambanan?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
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Prambanan is an enormous compound of temples found in Indonesia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1991. Prambanan is the largest complex of Hindi temples in Indonesia, and one of the largest in south-east Asia.

Prambanan was likely built sometime in the mid-9th century by Rakai Pikatan of the Matarm Dynasty. The compound consists of three main shrines, known as candis, five other major candis, and around 250 smaller candis in the area.

Each of the three main candis, collectively referred to as the Trisakti, are built for a specific one of major three gods. One is built for Brahma, one for Vishnu, and one for Shiva. The temple of Shiva contains four shrines, one of which, the shrine to his wife Durga, is one of the most famous attractions at Prambanan.

Legend has it that the shrine to Durga was adorned with statues as the result of a challenge by a princess, and the shrine is sometimes called the Shrine of the Slender Virgin, or Loro Jonggrang. This princess was made to marry a prince she did not want to marry, so she issued a challenge to him to build a thousand statues between the time the sun set and the time is rose.

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The prince, Bandung Bondowoso, enlisted the help of a multitude of spirits to help him construct the statues. They worked feverishly through the night, and eventually had finished 999 of them. The princess then lit a large fire in the east, fooling roosters into thinking the sun was rising, so they began to crow. This made the spirits think the sun was coming, and as they could not stand the sun they fled. The prince was furious, so turned the princess into stone, making her the 1000th and most beautiful of the statues.

Many of the candis feature ornate bas reliefs, detailing scenes from various Hindi legends. Many of the smaller candis are dedicated to lesser figures, such as the mounts of the major gods. One of the most famous of the bas reliefs found at Prambanan shows the story of Ramayana, where Sita is kidnapped by an ogre and ultimately rescued by Hanuman and his army. This famous story is performed as a ballet each full moon at Prambanan, and is a hugely popular tourist attraction in Indonesia.

Aside from the Hindi candis there are some Buddhist temples in Prambanan as well. Candi Sewu is the most famous of these, with an enormous temple surrounded by smaller temples. Two smaller Buddhist temples, Bubrah and Lumbung, are also near here, although they are not open to the public.

Prambanan suffered fairly extensive damage during the large earthquake that rocked Java in 2006. As a result a number of previously opened temples are fenced off and are not open to the public until they are fully renovated. Nonetheless, Prambanan still contains some of the most accessible and impressive examples of Hindi architecture on Java, or indeed in all of south-east Asia.

Although nearby Borobudur receives most of the tourist traffic, because of its sheer bulk, Prambanan contains more of the pyramid-style buildings that most people associate with the Hindi style.

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