If there’s one thing I love about Asia, it’s the age & history of the region. This continent has been civilized and developed for so many centuries, and each generation’s handiwork has been left to behold. From the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the Great Wall of China to all the Biblical historical spots of Turkey & Mesopotamia. Indonesia specifically has some of the oldest landmarks in the world, and is famous for unearthing some of the oldest human remains!
While traveling in Java last month, we visited some of ancient, yet beautiful, monuments to civilizations past. The famous Hindu temple, Candi Prambanan, a mere half-hour outside of Yogyakarta and Candi Borobudur, the world’s oldest Buddhist temple. These structures are full of wonder and awe, as we glimpsed the craftsmanship and handiwork of ancient cultures.
Candi Prambanan is a Hindu temple built in the 9th century. Although Indonesia is currently a predominately Muslim nation, the country’s religious roots can be traced back to Hinduism, Buddhism and animism. The Prambanan temple complex was built a dedication to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). Each of the 3 main temples for the 3 gods contains intricately carved reliefs and statues representing the god’s visual forms. Other smaller temples and shrines cover the main temple area as well. The Yogyakarta earthquake 2006 caused significant damage, which is continually being restored and preserved.
During our time at Prambanan we toured the whole temple grounds, which is quite expansive to include smaller yet equally exquisite temple ruins nearby. We enjoyed some the activities developed for modern tourists to the park. We took a train ride to the back of the property to see the older ruins. We strolled by the “deer park” and took photos of the frolicking animals being fed by other tourists. We watched the cultural dance performance and even ventured into the museum for an amazing, yet educational, film about the temple’s history & cultural significance for today. It was a pleasant experience, even if a bit pricy. We had already toured Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat 2 years earlier, so in comparison, this is less epic. But still a site to see!
A few weeks later, we found ourselves in Magelang, in central Java nestled in the hills and volcano region of the area. We had come for Borobudur, the most famous temple in Indonesia. I toured Borobudur solo, and starting at sunrise, I really soaked this place up. “The monument consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.” [Wikipedia]
It’s incredible. The sunrise was beautiful, but even more so was the lingering fog and mist in the nearby trees and hillsides. The sunrise tour begins 2 hours before regular park opening hours, and is significantly less crowded. There were many moments where I found myself isolated, reflecting and taking in the beauty around me. I loved the contrast of the rounded stupas covering the individual Buddha statues with the harsh edges & corners of the platforms below. Walking through the platforms, surrounded by relief-carved walls, which I couldn’t even see above the tops, I found myself lost in their creativity. I learned at Prambanan that reliefs usually tell a story, and an entire wall or temple could contain the narrative of an ancient tale. I loved this method of storytelling, culture preserved for generations to come. Before the written word dominated culture, including literature, there were images that captured an entire scene. And this scene would remind the viewer of the story. And they could retell the story for their children and grandchildren.
While touring the temples, I felt that I had stepped back in time. Sure, I was surrounded by smartphones, selfie sticks and GoPros, but the structure itself is majestic, not belonging to the era. I love glimpses into the world’s history like this. I love imagining what life was like then, and what it took to create this structure. I think about our world today and what will be left for generations to come. Will we be proud of the mark we made? It will represent our culture well? Only time will tell.