In terms of population Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world but many Hindu temples exist there. The Temple of Prambanan is such an ancient Hindu temple. Literally, Prambanan means Param Brahma (the ultimate god Almighty). This temple is located about 17 kilometers northeast of the city of Yogyakarta, on the border of Central Java and Yogyakarta Province. This temple symbolises and is dedicated to the trinity of Hindu religion i.e. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv. It is known as the largest temple in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. In 1991, UNESCO declared Prambanan Temple as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a masterpiece of typical Hindu architecture. Within the large complex of different temples there stands the massive 47-metre (154 feet) high central building. Historians think that the first building of Prambanan temple was completed in the mid-9th century and the construction required almost two centuries,
Originally there were 240 temples in this Shiv temple complex, big and small. It is thought that the temples collapsed due to earthquake, volcanic eruption and change of political power in 11th century. But the temple compounds were neither displaced nor changed. However, those were rediscovered in the 17th century. At present 8 main temples and 8 minor temples in inner area have been reconstructed and out of 224 Parvar temples 2 have been renovated. Most of them are now relics. Only a few portions are found scattered.
The temple complex consists of three zones known as tri mandal according to the Indonesian Hindu tradition. The first one, Nista Mandal (outer zone), is a large space marked by a walled perimetre of around 390 metres in each side. There are a sacred garden, an ashram (hermitage) for monks and accommodation for the priests. Three main temples dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv followed by three Vahan (carriers of gods) temples dedicated to the carriers of these three gods. According to scripture swan is the carrier of Brahma. Garuda (meaning wing, a large bird or an animal belonging to the bird species) is the carrier of Vishnu. Shiv’s carrier is Nandi (normally depicted as a large bull, known as the best among bulls as Kamdhenu i.e. the wonder cow is known as the best among cows). Madhya Mandal (middle zone) contains hundreds of small temples. Two temples are located between the Trimurti and Vahan temples. Four small shrines are located on four corners - north, south, east and west.
The temple compound, both horizontally and vertically, represents 3 layers of the universe: The three mandals are arranged according to degree of sanctity i.e. from holy to holier and the holiest realms. The outer courtyard and the base of each temple symbolises the realm of bhurlok. The lowest realm is for common mortals like human beings, animals and also demons. Here human beings are still controlled by their lust, desire and unholy way of life. The middle realm is occupied by sages, ascetics and minor gods. People here begin to see the light of truth. The middle courtyard i.e. the body of each temple symbolises the realm of bhuvarlok. Uttam Mandal (the holiest inner sanctum) contains 8 main temples and 8 small shrines. Suarlok, also known as swargalok (the heaven), the highest and holiest realm, is reserved for the gods. The roof of Prambanan temples are adorned and crowned with gems and doamonds.
The second yard surrounds a terraced area that consists of four rows containing 44, 52, 60 and 68 temples, 224 in total. Most of them are still in ruins and only some have been reconstructed. The 16 temples located at the corners of the rows face two directions; the remaining 208 structures are open to only one of the four cardinal directions. These shrines are called Candi Perwara i.e. guardian or complementary temples. It is believed that these were places of meditation for priests and worship for devotees. The sages were carved on Brahma temple wall but in Vishnu temple figures of two apsaras (celestial nymphs/dancers) are drawn at two sides of male deities. The lower outer wall of these temples was adorned with an image of a lion flanked by two panels depicting kalpavriksha (imaginary sacred trees which were believed to fulfil the wishes of people). Pictures of birds, deer, monkeys, horses, elephants etc. are also engraved there. These carvings include manifestation of a famous tradition found in Javanese temples. It symbolises the fact that Time swallows everything.
A deer park beside the temple symbolises the place where Buddha delivered his first lecture after attaining enlightenment. Because of proximity travellers can worship at both temples.
The temple is adorned with bas-reliefs (bas means low and relief means raised work)) narrating the story of the Ramayan and Bhagavat Puran. The Ramayana starts from the Shiv temple balustrade (normally a railing to prevent people from falling over the edge of stairs, a balcony, etc., often with a wooden, metal or stone bar on top that someone can hold) and continues upto the Brahma temple.
On the balustrades in the Vishnu temple there are series of bas-relief panels depicting the stories of Lord Krishna from Bhagavat Puran. The bas-relief of Ramayan illustrates the abduction of Sita by Ravan, Hanuman bringing his monkey-army to help Ram to rescue Sita etc. The story starts from the east entrance. From here visitors turn left and move around the temple gallery in a clockwise direction keeping the sanctuary to their right.
As mentioned in Wikipedia, this Ramayan Ballet has been being performed on Prambanan temple premises regularly from 1961. It is held every Saturday and every full moon night at the Trimurti open-air theatre in the dry season. During the rainy season it is held indoor. The entire Ramayana story has been divided into four episodes, one night for each episode. It is a world record for any performance that a stage show has been continuing for more than sixty years. Most of the performers of this ballet are followers of Islam which is a mark of harmony between two religions.
The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes