If you visit the temple of Borobudur, you should also visit Prambanan. These two temples have a lot in common, their structure as well as their rediscovery. They were built around the same time, and then abandoned, potentially due to a volcanic eruption.

Prambanan is a complex with no less than 224 temples, both large and small, that are built in a layered manner. There are three main temples, the largest is 47 metres high and dedicated to the god Shiva. The northern temple is dedicated to the god Vishnu, and the southern one to Brahma. There are three smaller temples opposite these ones.

A shepherd at Prambanan. Corno van den Berg

Around the central square there are ruins of more than 200 small temples, only a few of these have been restored. The reliefs at Prambanan are world famous: in the Tree of Life relief there are depictions of many animals: deer, rams, peacocks and monkeys. A bit further along is the Ramayana epic: it tells of how Rama’s wife Sita was abducted and then rescued by Hanuman, the monkey king, and his monkey army.

Prambanan’s history is quite similar to that of Borobudur, though these temples weren’t discovered until 1893. When they started excavating, they discovered the central square.

Soon after they started the first reconstructions, though this was no easy process. This was because the archaeologists couldn’t find the original stones, probably because many of them were taken or repurposed in houses and roads. They reconstruction of the main buildings wasn’t completed until 1953, but there are still foundations of buildings that archaeologists have no idea what they looked like.

An earthquake in 2006 caused severe damaged to the Prambanan temples, so parts of it have been closed to the public. They are working on restoring these parts using pictures from before the earthquake. During these restorations, they are also trying to reinforce the current structure to prevent further damage.

Prambanan sculpture
One of the sculptures at Prambanan. Corno van den Berg

Researchers are desperately looking for ways to protect ancient structures such as Prambanan and Borobudur from the forces of nature. The threat of an eruption of one of the four surrounding volcanoes is ongoing and real, and could mean the end of these two temple complexes.

Must Do! Tips:

Watch the epic of Ramayana by full moon

Every full moon there is a special dance performance. This ancient love story has been re-enacted here for centuries. The legend of Sita’s abduction is depicted on the reliefs on the temple. There is no spoken word in the performance, only dance and elaborate costumes. When the moon is full this is quite a sight to behold, on other days they use lamps to help light the stage. The show is only performed near the main temple in the dry season, in the wet season it is performed in a hall in Yogyakarta. You can opt to have dinner with the show as well.

See how Prambaban is restored

Most of the time there are restorations happening at the temples of Prambaban. It shows how these huge projects bring ancient object back to life, stone by stone. It’s an interesting process to witness, especially when you can ask the archaeologists questions about their job. They regard the project with both scientific and religious interests, which can be tricky for them.

Hinduism Temples