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Temples comprise a significant part of the tangible historical remains on Java that pre-date the 16th C. As houses of worship to the highest being(s), and sometimes as memorials or funerary monuments to deceased rulers, they were built of stone when most other structures, even royal palaces, were made of perishable materials. These temples and their foundation deeds contain information about Javanese history, religion and its practice and even daily life. See for instance this discussion on musical instruments displayed on temple reliefs.
On Java, temples were built between the 5th and the 15th Centuries. Depending on the time of construction and the patron, temples were built either to honour Hindu, Sivaite or Buddhist dieties. Early examples followed Indian prototypes, but over time an purely Javanese style developed which incorporated changes in ritual and building styles. The evolution is seen both in the architectural construction and in ornament.
Generally, the architecture of Buddhist temples underwent continuous changes and the architecture of Hindu temples was over time transformed into a Javanese style that was then followed for the remainder of the time Hindu temples were built.
Temples were constructed at the orders of a patron, often this was the ruler (king), but it could also be a local dignitary. It is difficult to otherwise explain the proliferation of temples on the Kedu plain of Central Java that so resembles the density of temples seen in the vicinity of Angkor Vat in Siem Riep. There, foundation stones show how sometimes temples where not built at the order of the ruler, but by other leading members of the elite. Javanese temples lack the extensive foundation documents of the Khmer temples, but this need not rule out a similar explanation for the construction frenzy. The densely placed temples of the Kedu plain are also recognised by following very distinct interpretations of doctrine, as if to justify their existence. Any such doctrinal difference are unlikely to have been relevant to the ordinary person.
Temples are also frequently found on mountain tops and other (usually remote) locations that were felt to be endowed with a strong spiritual power. Candi Dieng, Selagriya and Ceta are good examples of this on Central Java, in East Java the parallel might be the building programme on Mount Penanggunan that was felt to be sacred due to its likeness to Mount Meru.
The earliest temples, of which no direct remains are left, were built in the kingdom of Tarumanagara (near Jakarta on West Java). Later construction moved to Central Java where through the 6th - 9th Centuries the Sanjaya and Sailendra dynasties ruled on - respectively - the North and Southern parts of Central Java. The former dynasty was Hindu, and the latter Buddhist. This explains the existence of contemporary Hindu and Buddhist monuments on Central Java. In the 10th C the centre of power shifted to East Java. The ruling kingdoms through the early 13th C were likely not very powerful or affluent as there is little evidence of temple construction during these centuries. The consolidation of political power under the Singosari dynasty (1222 - 1292) changed this, and temple construction gained a new impetus to continue to flourish though the Majapahit (1293 - 1530) era. Temple construction slowed considerably with the conquest of Java for Islam. Surviving Hindu communities built temples through as late as the 15th C in remote mountainous sites. Hidden high up Gunung Kelud near Blitar, Candi Gambar may be found, and Candi Ceto near Solo lies equally secluded. The craftmanship of temple construction was in many places applied to build monuments to Islam, and one of the most famous examples of this is the Menara Kudus in the city of the same name just outside of Semarang on the North Coast.