What: Ancient Hindu Temple Prambanan
Where: Located about 18 kilometres from Yogyakarta, Indonesia
When: 8th Century
“A group tour or independent?” was often one of the first question I would ask as a Travel Consultant. “No not a group tour, I don’t want to be with a bunch of people I don’t know” was usually the answer. I used to think the same way and favoured independent travel most of the time, except when I started to realise I may be missing out on not having an informative guide explaining more intricacies of what I was visiting.
While on holidays in Bali, I flew Garuda Indonesia across the island of Java to Yogyakarta and booked myself a private tour with a personal driver and guide to visit the Buddhist Temple of Borobudur. I also toured the Sultans Palace and a couple of other sights before the guide took me to see Prambanan, an 8th century Hindu Temple located around 18 kilometres from Yogyakarta. Interestingly, one of the first questions my personal guide, Mira, a Muslim asked me, as we were driving from the airport in this staunchly Islamic city, was my religion. I mumbled “Christian” to which she gleefully exclaimed “Oh thank goodness, you’re not one of those ‘freethinkers!’” So here we were, a Christian and a Muslim in an Islamic city touring Buddhist and Hindu Temples, the world is amazing I thought to myself with a smile.
Prambanan, thought to be constructed after the Buddhist Temple Burobudur by a Hindu king that came to power after a Buddhist Dynasty had lost power, around 850AD, was built to honour Lord Shiva. Originally consisting of 240 buildings, with 16 inner temples and 224 smaller outer temples which are now just foundation stones laying in ruins around the structure. Only eight of the inner temples, eight inner shrines and two of the outer temples have been reconstructed. The three large central shrines represent Trimurti (“Three Forms”) and are dedicated to three gods, Brahma (the creator) Vishnu, (the keeper) and Shiva (the destroyer).
Prambanan was abandoned in around 930AD, it is thought due to an eruption of nearby Mt Merapi and collapsed during another eruption in the 16th century. Although known of by local villagers who, over the centuries conjured up many a legend, it was not until the early 1800’s that it was rediscovered by a British surveyor under the service of Sir Thomas Raffles and over a century later before the central temples were restored.
The largest of the temples is the Shiva shrine reaching 47 metres in height and measuring 34 metres wide and is the holiest of the temples.
As you make your way around the inner temples, Bas-Reliefs (shallow depth of an image) are adorned throughout, telling ancient Hindu stories. There are hundreds of these reliefs depicting two main Hindu epics, the story of Lord Krishna, Krishnayana, and the story of the Monkey King Hanuman who rescues Sita, the kidnapped wife of Rama, Ramayana.
Hanuman, who brings his monkey army to rescue Sita, the kidnapped wife of Rama, has his story depicted on many Bas-Reliefs some of which are actually slightly rude. Mira would giggle and blush as she pointed out scenes and would say “naughty monkey’s!”
Unfortunately, I didnt get to see the Ramayana Ballet, which tells the story of Rama, Sita and Hunaman and is performed several evenings per week in the amphitheatre situated behind Prambanan. With more than 250 performers, telling the story through traditional Javanese dance and music I could imagine the lit up temples would serve as a magnificent backdrop as the epic unfolds.
Prambanan and the surrounding park was relatively quiet as we made our way out, no hoards of camera clicking tourists, park information staff nor stationary or patrolling guards could be seen as we passed the final foundation stones of the outer temples, but a lone elderly lady, sitting under an umbrella selling cool(ish) bottles drinks. I purchased a couple for Mira and I and we made our way to the park beside the temples and rested, in the shade under a tree, we were both exhausted.
It had been a big day, for us both, so Mira and my driver dropped me at the airport for my Lion Air flight back to Bali at around 5pm. Although I was her only tour member, Mira had given me her full attention, explained in detail the history, geology and geography of her home Yogyakarta, the Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the Hindu Temple of Prambanan. I too had given her my full attention throughout the day and at times I regretted being the only person on the tour and not as a group as I couldn’t tune out, or just stare out the window of the van at the locals going about their day while others had her attention. Overall I was glad that I had her show me the sights I so wanted to see and I couldn’t have seen and learnt so much about them without her, thank you Mira 🙂 . So, what would you do? Would like a personal guide or be with a ‘bunch of people you dont know’?