What you need to know about the temples of Yogyakarta, Indonesia


Yogyakarta is located in Central Java, Indonesia, a region that was once home to kingdoms that left behind many temples in the area, but two earned the well-deserved World Heritage status and are worth a visit: Borobudur and Prambanan. Continue reading to find out more about them.

The first Buddhist and the second Hindu, Borobudur, and Prambanan were built around the same period of time. Not only do they have a lot within them, but they are also proof that these religions coexisted relatively peacefully at that time.


Yogyakarta Temples


Borobudur was built as a stupa and when viewed from above, it appears as a mandala, a geometric design that assists meditation.

It was erected upon a hill and it has three sections that symbolize the three realms of Buddhist cosmology – the world of desire, Kamadhatu, is represented by the base; the world of forms, Rupadhatu, in the square terraces; lastly, in the circular terraces is Arupadhatu, the formless world.

On the first two levels, it’s possible to see hundreds of reliefs of earthly desires, as well as the story of Buddha, from his birth and life as Prince Siddhartha until his enlightenment. The last level has 72 small stupas surrounding a central large one – each small stupa once had a Buddha statue differing in its hand poses (known as mudras) inside of it, but with the passing of time, now only some of these statues remain within the stupas.


Pilgrims are expected to start at the eastern stairway and ascend the steps to each level in a clockwise direction. Walking up the 5 kilometers of Borobudur, beginning at the base and finishing at the top, from the realm of desire to the realm of formlessness, replicates the path to enlightenment. The goal of Buddhism is to free people from suffering. By reaching enlightenment, a person can be freed from reincarnation, life, and hence from suffering.

Borobudur was built in the 9th century, during the Sailendra dynasty. Even with so many theories, it’s still not possible to know the genuine reason for its construction. But one thing is for certain: this massive monument symbolizes the power and shows the number of resources of the kingdom that built it.

Around the 10th-11th century, after a series of volcanic eruptions, Borobudur was abandoned and covered with ash and vegetation for many years. It was found again only in 1814, by Raffles, during the British occupation of Java. Today, Borobudur is one of the main tourist attractions in Java and the whole of Indonesia.


Prambanan Temple


As an answer to the achievements of the Sailendra Buddhist kingdom, a complex of Hindu temples was also constructed in the 9th century. Candi Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and it was built by the Sanjaya family, to honor Lord Shiva.

The Prambanan complex has 3 main temples dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. In the Indonesian archipelago, Shiva and Vishnu are the main Hindu deities.

Shiva’s temple is the largest one in the complex, with a height of 47 meters. It contains bas-reliefs depicting the epic Ramayana story. To follow the story, visitors must enter the Eastside and continue in a clockwise direction. The temple of Shiva has 5 chambers –  in the main one, it is possible to find a 3-meter-high statue of Shiva Mahadeva, the supreme god or the leader of all gods. The statue depicts Shiva Mahadeva with the third eye of knowledge, which when opened could reduce anything in its sight to ashes. He wears a cord around his chest (upavita) representing the ego once mastered. His hair knot is decorated with a crescent moon and skull, representing the cycle of life and death. Shiva’s role as destroyer means that all things must die to continue the cycle of life. He symbolizes the destroyer of evil and ignorance.

Also in the Prambanan complex, Vishnu’s and Brahma’s temples are located to the North and Southside of Shiva’s temple, respectively. They both are 33 meters high and contain the statue of the namely gods. Prambanan also has small candis (temples), dedicated to the vehicle of the Trimurti’s gods: Nandi, the bull that is Shiva’s transport; Garuda, the eagle that carries Vishnu; and Hamsa, Brahma’s sacred swam. The only one that still has the vehicle statue is Nandi.

Candi Prambanan is also known as Candi Lara Jonggrang. According to the folklore, Lara Jonggrang received a marriage proposal from Prince Bandung Bondowoso, but she was not interested because he was her father’s killer. She pretended to accept his proposal on the condition that he could make 1,000 statues in one night. When he was almost done, with 999 statues, she mobilized the villagers to light up torches to give Bandung Bondowoso the idea that it was already morning. As a result, Bandung Bondowoso’s supernatural powers broke and he was so angry that he cursed Lara Jonggrang into a stone statue that became the 1,000th one. This statue can be found in Shiva’s temple.


Curiosity about the temples of Yogyakarta

Some say that if you whisper your wish in Nandi’s ear, he’ll pass it to Shiva (even if he is Meditating) and the prayers are answered accordingly. If it’s the right ear, even better!



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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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