Saturday, October 06, 2012

Blogging from Indonesia: Enjoying the legend associated with Prambanan Temple

by Salman Hameed

I had a chance to visit the 9th/10th century Prambanan temple compound yesterday. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Most of the temple buildings in the compound are no longer standing because of earthquakes, but I can imagine what a spectacular site it would have been at its height. Originally, there were 240 temple buildings and here is a picture of a model of the site:

Today, you can see some of the largest structures. Here is a picture that gives you the full perspective of what is standing today along with a view of this spectacular tree. Too bad, this car was parked under the tree, but I guess it is an appropriate sign of modern encroachment:

But here is a clearer view of the full compound. Note all the stones on the ground. They have been left where they were found. There are now efforts to identify them to the right temples and then reconstruct the building using more than 75% of original stones.

And here is a close-up of one of the central temple buildings, and you can start seeing the spectacular details:

If you are a fan of graphic novels, you would definitely love this place. On the side walls, the legend associated with the specific temple god (for example, Brahma or Siva) is inscribed. Here is just one panel on the wall of Brahma's temple:

However, there is also a local Javanese story associated with Prambanan - and it is fantastic. It involves the legend of Rara Jonggrang and it has a pretty gritty ending (or I guess it depends on your perspective about happy endings). Here is the bit about he legend from Wikipedia:
The legend tells the story about two ancient and neighbouring kingdoms in Java, Pengging and Boko. 
Pengging was prosperous, and wisely ruled by its king Prabu Damar Moyo who had a son named Bandung Bondowoso. By contrast, Boko was ruled by a cruel man-eating giant named Prabu Boko, supported by another giant Patih Gupolo. Despite his unpleasant nature, Prabu Boko had a beautiful daughter named Rara Jonggrang. 
The story relates that Prabu Boko desired to expand his kingdom, and so began training an army and raising taxes for an invasion of Pengging. His forces launch a surprise attack on Pengging, and the ensuring war causes devastation and famine on both sides. In order to defeat the invader, Prabu Damar Moyo sends his son Bandung Bondowoso to fight Prabu Boko. After a furious battle, Prabu Boko is killed by the prince's supernatural powers. His assistant, the giant Patih Gupolo, leads his armies away from the battlefield in defeat. 
Returning to Boko Palace, Patih Gupolo tells princess Rara Jonggrang of the death of her father. The princess is heartbroken, but before she can recover from her grief the Pengging army besieges and captures the palace. Prince Bandung Bondowoso is mesmerized by the beauty of the mourning princess and propose marriage, but his offer is swiftly rejected. Bandung Bondowoso insists on the union, and finally Rara Jonggrang agrees on two impossible conditions: first the prince must build a well named Jalatunda, and second, he must construct a thousand temples in only one night. 
The lovestruck prince agrees, and immediately starts work on the well. Using his supernatural powers once again, the prince swiftly finishes construction and proudly displays his work for the princess. As a trick, she urges him to enter the well and when he does so, Patih Gupolo piles stones into it and buries him alive. With great effort Bandung Bondowoso escapes, but his love for the princess is so strong that he forgives her the attempt on his life. 
To fulfill the second condition, the prince enters into meditation and conjures up a multitude of demon spirits from the earth. With their help he builds the first 999 temples and starts work on the final one. To thwart his efforts the princess and her maids light a fire in the east and begin pounding rice, a traditional dawn activity. Fooled into thinking the sun is about to rise, the spirits flee back into the earth leaving the last temple unfinished. 
The prince is furious when he learns of this deception, and places a curse on Rara Jonggrang which turns her into a stone statue. In this way she herself becomes a feature of the final temple, completing its construction and fulfilling the conditions for their marriage.
What a great ending, right?

Here is a short (10-minute) video that gives you a tour of Prambanan. It is a little dry, but the visuals are really nice. Enjoy.

And if you want to see a really cheesy version of the Rara Jonggrang legend, you can check this out:


Anonymous said...

considering the fact that abandoning the five daily prayers is punishable by deatth according to the four schools of thought in the sunni Islam, frequency of prayers may not be a good indicator in highly conservative countries. It might be a good variable when there is true free will in exercising /practicing religion.

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