Candi Lara Jonggrang


The first explicit mention of this temple is made in an inscription from 856 (D28 or the Çivagrha). This inscription mentions the inauguration of a Çivagrha with a wall surrounding the central square. Inscriptions found in the temple grounds show that King Pikatan was the founder of the complex. He died in 855, placing the construction of the complex in the first half of the 9th C. 

The complex is located in the Sleman district near Yogyakarta. (map)

According to the legend, Lara Jonggrang (slender virgin) was the name of the daughter of King Ratubaka. Bandung Bondowoso, a giant with supernatural powers asked for her hand. Rather than refusing him outright she asked him for a 1000-statue temple complex to be built overnight by way of a wedding present. When he appeared to be succeeding, she started pounding the rice mortar earlier than normal, causing the cocks to crow as they thought dawn had come. Out of anger Bandung cursed the princess to be changed into stone to complete the number of statues. The statue is Dewi Durga in the northern cella of the main temple.

Candi Lara Jonggrang is commonly referred to as Candi Prambanan, after the name of the village where it is located. It is likely, however, that Prambanan refers to a complex of temples that includes Candi Sewu and its satellites. Prambanan would then be derived from parambrahma(n) meaning the universal soul or world spirit. 

The date of construction, and the religious nature of Candi Lara Jonggrang have long been the issue of scholarly research and debate, and this debate is continuing to this date.  

Standing amidst a large number of Buddhist temples, Candi Lara Jonggrang was believed to be a Buddhist sanctuary until the 1885 excavations by IJzerman brought a statue of Çiva Mahadewa to light. Accordingly, the temple was believed to have been built after the defeat of the Çailendra by the Javanese Sanjaya rulers. Some scholars placed the complex well into the tenth century on the basis of the apparently deviant version of the Ramayana depicted on the temple reliefs, and based on the fact that an inscription by East Javanese King Daksa were found south of Prambanan at Getak. This inscription regarded a monastery (kawikuan) where Durga was worshipped. This explanation is no longer tenable now. Firstly, the complex can be positively identified in the 856 Çivagrha inscription that was read in 1956 by De Casparis. Secondly, some fifty inscriptions in red, white and black paint mentioning the name/word Pikatan (most likely referring to a contemporary king) were found near CLJ. The writing style of these inscriptions closely match those found at Plaosan, again putting the complex in the 9th, rather than the 10th C. 

Purbatjaraka also researched the Javanese Ramayana and dates it in the period before Sindok (before the first decade of the tenth centruy). This Ramayana describes a group of temples which must refer to the Candi Lara Jonggrang group. 

De Casparis, based on the identification of the complex in the 856 inscription saw in CLJ evidence of a resurgence of Hinduism, and a rival to Buddhist Borobudur, reflecting the fact that in 855 the Javanese Sanjaya rulers defeated the Buddhist Çailendra dynasty in a battle at Ratu Boko. This explanation is now no longer accepted: for one because the sheer magnitude of the structures described in the 856 inscription could not have been built in one year.  

As De Casparis read it, the 856 Çivagrha inscription also says that Çri Maharaja Rakai Pikatan had abdicated and was succeeded by Cri Maharaja Rakai Kayuwangi. Other scholars such as Aichele took jatiningrat to reflect a posthumous title. This reading is confirmed by the Wanua Tengah III inscription, found in the 1980s. This inscription lists 12 kings who ruled before King Balitung, and give 855 as the date of the death of King Pikatan. Thus, he could not have built CLJ in 855, but much earlier. 

Jordaan (1996) has suggested that is likely that the practise of Tantric Buddhism allowed for the simultaneous existence of Buddhism and Çivaism. The construction of a complex including both Çivaite and Buddhist temples is not as much of a contradiction as might appear at first impression, as this is confirm the practise of Tantric Buddhism. (Jordaan). He believes it likely that the Saiva Kapalika sect (rather than the Pasupata, as has also been put forward) were responsible for the construction of CLJ. 

Central Java knew Tantric Buddhism at the end of the 8th C: the Kelurak inscription of 776 is Tantric in origin, and the area had links with the Pala kingdom of Bengal, where Tantric Buddhism was similarly practised. On this basis, scholars (Pott 1946, 1966) have put forward the theory that Candi Sewu might have been part of a larger complex with Sewu - Bubrah and Lumbung reflecting the superstructure of Tantric Buddhism through the triratna, and Candi Lara Jonggrang reflecting the foundation of Tantric buddhism and the right-hand path of the Mahayoga through the display of the Çivaite trimurti. That there may have been a fusion of the two religious systems in 8th C Central Java was first postulated by Moens in a 1924 study on Javanese Buddhism. His findings were subsequently vindicated by the discovery and reading of the Kelurak inscription close to Candi Lumbung and Bubrah. Part of this inscription reads <he, the Vajra-bearer, the Serene Highness, is Brahma, Visnu and Mahesvara. He, who is the Lord, encompassing all dieties, is honoured as Manjuvac> 

Description of architecture

Candi Lara Jonggrang has three main temples dedicated to the Trimurti, the higher gods of Hinduism (Icwara). Facing the entrance of the main temples are three smaller temples that were previously believed to have contained the statues of the mounts of each of these gods, as as a result were called candi vahana (vahana = vehicle). However, only in the case of structure facing the central temple dedicated to Lord Çiva, do we know with certainty that it contained his vehicle, the bull Nandi. Accordingly, this structure is known as the Candi Nandi, where the two other structures are now designated as A and B. They most likely contained statues of Çiva Mahayogin and a linga.

Temples at Lara Jonggrang

        Visnu                     B
        Çiva                       Nandi
        Brahma                  A

There are eight small temples located at either side of the four flights of stairs of the main Çiva temple, and the upper terrace with the main temples are in turn surrounded by 224 small shrines (candi perwara) located on a lower terrace. Recent research (Jordaan, note) has suggested that the main terrace might have been flooded at certain times in the past to reinforce the image of mountains emerging from the sea.

The ground plan of the temple buildings is square, with rectangular protrusions on each side, such that there are 20 corners. The surface of the largest temple, Candi Çiva is 34 sq m. The body of the temple is square and surrounded by a single gallery. The shape of the ground plan is resumed at roof level. Four layers - each one smaller than the preceding layer - repeat the pattern with the final layer leading the way to a clock shaped crown. This crown shape is to be found throughout the temple - 120 on the roof layers, 66 on the gallery, and 12 over the four kala heads. As is the case with most temples, the superstructure is hollow in order to balance the load of the roof, and take the pressure of the lower building.

Candi Brahma and Visnu measure 20 x 20 x 33

Pripih: the temple has a well of 5.75 m depth in which a stone casket was found on top a pile of charcoal, earth and remains of burned animal bones. Sheets of gold leaves with the inscription Varuna (god of the sea) and Parvata (god of the mountains) were found here. The stone casket contained sheets of copper mixed with charcoal, ashes and earth, 20 coins, jewels, glass pieces of gold and silver leaves, sea-shells and 12 gold leaves (5 of which in the shape of a turtle, dragon, padma, altar and egg).

There is no scholarly agreement on the function of Candi Lara Jonggrang. IJzerman found a skeleton in the temple yard Candi Lara Jonggrang. Combined with the finds inside the pripih, he concluded that the complex had been a burial complex of either King Balitung or King Pikatan. No forensics were done on the skeleton to determine the sex or the cause of the death: this is sad, as its existence could equally well point to evidence of human sacrifice as common in Tantic Buddhism.  

Lara Jonggrang as Mount Meru?

Many scholars have found a representation Mount Meru, the Abode of the Gods in the structure of Lara Jonggrang, with descriptions of the temple in the Old Javanese Ramayana as a starting point for the resemblance, that is carried further by the decoration on the candi showing the tree of heaven and lions at the lower levels, then by singers, dancers and musicians along the stair railings, the protectors of the cardinal points at the foot of the body of the temple, with images of gods in the main niches. Jordaan (1996:45-59) revisits all the early 20th C research pointing into this direction, and shows how this interpretation stand up to thorough research of the site. The candi complex was in all likelihood plastered white at the time of its construction, with the temple terrace flooded to represent to Ocean of Milk.  

Description of statues & reliefs

The reliefs depict a version the Ramayana (not the <standard> of Valmiki, but more likely another form that existed alongside) and the Krsnayana.

Çiwa temple

  1. On the walls of the base: statues of lions in niches with kalamakara ornaments on both sides of the tree of heaven with a pair of kinnara. On the outside walls of the balustrade there are 62 panels containing pictures of heavenly beings (bidadari), musicians and dancers doing the Çiva  dance (Tandawa dance as in the book Natyacastra). On the inside walls there are Ramayana reliefs depicing the crossing of the sea to Langka, story continued on the balustrades of Candi Brahma. The Ramayana story on CL differs from the old Javanese version shown on Candi Panataran. There are 42 panels in the Ciwa temple, to be read E - S - W - N., continued on the Brahma temple in 30 panels. On the upper part of the base are 24 reliefs of the gods of the four winds (Lokapala) Indra faces east, Yama south Waruna west and Kuwera north.
  2. Central chamber: Çiva  Mahadewa attributes: rosary (aksamala), fly whisk (camara), trisula (trident). Head dress: skull and lunar crescent. Caste cord: snake.
  3. West chamber: Ganeca, attributes: rosary, hatchet, skull bowl and a piece of right tusk. Headdress: skull and lunar crescent like his father Çiva .
  4. South chamber: Batara Guru (Agastya), attributes: trisula & kamandalu (water-jar).
  5. North chamber: Lara Jonggrang, see legend above. Durga mahisasuramardini in the act of killing a bull-demon. Stands on the back of a bull holding its tail with her right hand and her left hand clutches the hair of the demon. Eight arms: arrow, sword, cakra, bow, shield & winged conch (cangkha).

A few scholars (Brumond, 1853 and Jochim, 1913) have drawn attention to the fact that the Durga and Ganeca statues in the Çiva temple may not be the original statues, as the supporting platforms don't seem to match the size of the statues. Jordaan (1996) gives two possible explanations. firstly, if Lara Jonggrang was dedicated to the Trimurti but simultaneously adopted into a greater Buddhist entity, it might well be that the original mandala wasn't pure hinduist, but include boddhisattva in the locations where Agastya, Durga and Ganeca are now. Secondly, the rise in orthodox Hinduism evident at the end of the Central Javanese period might have led to the replacement of boddhisattva at Prambanan.

Brahma temple
Main chamber has a statue of Brahma, the four headed and four-armed god and the Lord of Creation. Continuation of Ramayana story started on Candi Ciwa (another 6 reliefs). Has relief of building on E-Balustrade. Houses with sagging roofline, - cult of Visnu.

Visnu temple
Main chamber has a Visnu statue. Four hands in a standing position. Right forehand rests on a club beside him, attributes in back hands are a cakra and a cangkha. Visnu depicted in various personifications, Narayana, Paracurama, Wyasa, Balarama &c. Inner balustrade has Kresna reliefs depicting the story of Krshna and his brother Balarama in their youth.

Nandi temple
Has the bull Nandi and statues of Surya and Chandra each driving a carriage drawn by 7 and 10 horses respectively. God Surya holds a padma flower in his two hands, Chanra has a some plant in his right hand and a dwaja (banner) in his left hand. Candra has a third eye on his forehead, this is a characteristic of Lord Çiva .

Garuda statue
A statue of the Garuda bird is kept at the archeological service office in Prambanan, it was found at Telaga-lor 700m north of Prambanan, and assumed to belong to the Lara Jonggrang group. Van Erp, believing it to be the mount of Lord Visnu, placed it in Candi B that was accordingly called Candi Garuda. This was subsequently found to be in error, and the statue was thus removed.


Neglected around the 10thC. VOC employee C.A. Lons visited Central Java in 1733 and mentions that the group was already in ruins, however, there is no indication that he explicitly mentioned Lara Jonggrang, he referred to the general area only. Much damage was likely done by the earthquake of 1584. Since 1885 efforts at restoration have been made starting with Ir JW IJzerman, who was the Chairman of the local archeological association. After him, more work was done by Dr. Groneman (he was reportedly careless) and Th. Van Erp. Careful restoration was started in 1918 under Perquin (research), and the task was transferred to De Haan in 1926 who moved with his family to the temple complex, and lived there for over two years. Under De Haan trial formations allowing showing the complete reconstruction to the upper crowning plinth of the temple body were achieved. What was not resolved was how the peak would have looked. De Haan died in 1930 and was succeeded by van Romondt. Restoration proceeded slowly during the crisis years of the 1930s and the actual rebuilding only started in 1937. As a result of the disruptions during and after the Second World War there was much disruption during the work. Rebuilding had proceeded to the fourth roof crown, when a shortage of cement caused a further work stoppage at the critical time when the wooden scaffolding was about to decay in 1948. After independence work could resume again, and in 1953, on December 20 the work on Candi Çiva was finally completed.

Candi Brahma was reconstructed between 1978 and 1987, and Candi Visnu between 1982 and 1991. The flanking temples A, Nandi and B were reconstructed between 1991 and 1994. The complex was fitted with concrete drainage channels and large water collecting tanks starting in 1993. In actual fact <deficient drainage> may have been the explicit intention of the builders, who might have wanted the first terrace to be flooded. Indeed, the 856 inscription refers to the walls as tamwak reinforcing the impression that the terrace may have served as a pond: to this day tambak is used to suggest a retaining wall or a fish pond. 

Because of insufficient records of the location of loose stones found around the site during the earliest restoration works, the absolute certainty of the location of some items has been removed. Thus, the correct sequence of the 'tandawa' panels is not known. Based on old pictures, only 21 of the 62 panels could be placed with certainty. The ultimate sequence was decided based on choreography. In this case, a high level of certainty was preferred over a very incomplete reconstruction.

After the Second World War, two of the 224 secondary temples between the first and the second wall have been reconstructed.