Monday, April 30, 2012

Prambanan: The Ramayana Ballet

During the summer the dance performance is staged outside in front of the illuminated temple... unfortunately when we were there it was being performed inside, but it was no less impressive.  

Sorry for the blurry photos... the lighting was tough.

The dance was performed to the sound of the gamelan orchestra (you can sorta see the musicians sitting in the back) with two female singers. 

The costumes were pretty complicated- lots of layered fabric, jewelry, headpieces, masks and wigs.  
I think this is Rahwana below:

Shinta, her sister and assorted lady friends, dancing a complicated dance that necessitated kicking their purposefully long sarongs out from under their feet in time with the music:

Rahwana, in pursuit of Shinta, who's hanging out with her sister.

Shinta, thrown into the flames for Rama's "purity test":

Rama + Shinta 4-Eva:


Prambanan at Sunset

The same day that we saw Java's massive, ancient Buddhist temple, Borobudur at sunrise, we also saw Java's massive, ancient Hindu temple, Prambanan, at sunset.  Pretty amazing bookends to a day otherwise mainly spent lounging by the pool at our hotel in Jogja!!

The guidebooks all seem to downplay Prambanan in favor of Borobudur, but we think that they're both worth doing, especially since they're both so close to Jogjakarta.  Getting to see yet another monument to another religion that's had a major influence on Indonesia was pretty amazing.


Built shortly after Borobudur in the 9th century, Prambanan was meant to honor the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Sustainer (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva).  Unlike Borobudur, which is one large structure, Prambanan is a series of temples.. three main temples surrounded by 240 mini temples.


There is a local legend (the Rara Jonggrang legend)  about the circumstances surrounding the construction of the temples.  The tale as told by our guide was a little bit hard to follow, but I confirmed his telling using ye olde interwebs.  The gist of it is that there was a prince who fell in love with and proposed to a princess who rejected his proposal (because he had killed her father, the king) unless he could build her a thousand temples in one night.  Faced with this daunting task, the prince conjured up a bunch of demons who helped him build 999 of those temples... as he was about to get started on the 1000th temple, the princess pulled some supernatural shenanigans herself and faked dawn with the help of her handmaids by getting the daily rice pounding started.  That set the prince off, and he turned the princess into stone... she became the final temple and largest temple, the Shiva temple. 

Now, our guide told us, kids are superstitious about bringing significant others to the temple, lest a similar situation occurs...

Like Borobudur, Prambanan has been damaged over time by earthquakes and volcanoes, and was abandoned for hundreds of years before being pieced back together. 

The carving above, our initially a bit surly but ultimately amusing guide explained to us, was frequently used throughout the Prambanan complex... a lion, with two wish-fulfilling kalpataru trees on either side, flanked by kinanas, or half-human, half-animals.

Our guide was pretty savvy about the ideal photo-taking locations on the complex. 

The temples are ringed with carvings that tell the Hindu epic, the Ramayana (probably the Javanese version, which is significantly different from the original Hindu version).  Our guide took the time to describe to us some of the highlights of the story, including the part of the story where Rama subjects Sita to the "purity test" (AKA throws her into the fire).  He joked that nowadays, the husband would be pulled into the fire, too.  Oh, that joker.

Meghan caught the above shot of the temple with a plane flying overhead...

Even the waterspouts were carved with these elaborate dragon heads (above).

The temples are surrounded by hundreds of these lotus shaped bells.

You could enter some of the temples, but others were still closed off since the earthquakes had rendered them unstable.

The guide said that this guy, above to the left, is a priest, and that you can tell because he has a long beard.  The longer the beard, the wiser the priest, said our guide.  Our guide also instructed me to take a photo of this guy above to the right because of the great detail.  He does know what he's talking about, it seems.

This one, he assured us, was a must see.  He insisted that I take a photo.  Look closely, he said.  It's "artistic, not pornographic," he repeated.  Then he pointed out the fella's giant third leg.

I tried, only mildly successfully, to capture the temple after the sunset:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sunrise at Borobudur

While in Jogja, it's practically required that you go see Borobudur, and for good reason.  It was amazing. Here's my take on it, although I hope the ladies will jump in with their remembrances, too.

A little bit of background:  Borobudur is a massive, intricate Buddhist temple in the same vein as Angkor Wat.  Originally built sometime between 750 and 850 AD (300 years before Angkor Wat) as a shrine to Buddha and as a site for pilgrimage, then temple was abandoned and forgotten in the 14th century as Buddhism and Hinduism on Java declined (and Islam became prominent), the jungle and volcanic ashes swallowed it up.  Eventually it was unearthed when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the then British ruler of Java and ultimately the founder of Singapore, caught wind of it from the locals.  It's now a UNESCO World Heritage site

We decided to hit up Borobudur by spending one night at the hotel closest to the temple, Manohara, which provided us with access to their sunrise tour of the temple before all of the other tourists arrived.  Definitely worth it! 

The night before we watched a 40 minute video, an ancient relic from approximately 1983 (when Borobudur's restoration was completed), that gave us some background on the temple and relayed some of the fables we might encounter depicted in the bas-relief carvings all over the temple.  We're still trying to decipher the meaning of some of the stories.

For the sunrise tour, we woke up at 4:30 am bleary-eyed and a little bit out of it, donned these spiffy Borobudur batik sarongs, turned on our flashlights and made the walk of a few hundred yards over to the temple.

Climbing Borobudur's steep and purposefully uneven steps in the pre-dawn dark was a challenge, but the view from the top was totally worth it!

Watching the sunrise from the temple was absolutely amazing.  It was misty/foggy that morning and very quiet until the roosters started crowing and the early call to prayer came rolling through the hills from various local mosques.  Hearing the call to prayer while sitting on this ancient Buddhist temple really made you think about what a complicated history Indonesia has and how it's been influenced by so many different cultures and religions.

You can see Mount Merapi in the distance on the left side of this photo... the volcano, the most active in Indonesia, erupted in October and November of 2010, spewing an inch thick coating of acidic ash all over Borobudur.  The temple had to be closed so that it could undergo a thorough cleaning process (photos on that later in the post).

The structure of Borobudur is one large stupa (shrine for the Buddha) in the shape of a big square mandala.  It had 9 platforms, the lower 6 of which are square and the upper 3 of which are circular. The upper platform has 72 mini bell-shaped stupas, which you see in profile in these photos.  Originally, each of these stupas had a statue of Buddha in it.  Now, unfortunately, some of the statues are missing all together, and many are missing their heads due to looting (some of which was government authorized looting, essentially).

 Pensive Liz contemplates life, religion, enlightenment... and breakfast.

In the photo below you can begin to see the holes in each of the mini-stupas, which allow you to look in an see the Buddha statue.  On the lower levels of the temple, all of the holes are diamond shaped, whereas on the upper levels, they are square shaped.

My feet and sarong.

Timed self-portrait: FAIL.

You can see the Buddha sitting inside of this topless stupa:

Sweaty and sleepy:

Oh hai, Buddha!  You are looking well this morning!

A view down the steps, through one of the main gateways.

Sun peeking out from behind the thick mist:

A large banner depicted the efforts made to restore the Borobudur temple after the 2010 Mt. Merapi eruption, which included dry cleaning, wet cleaning, and dismantling the floor to clean the drainage system, among other things.

Liz touching the hand of the "lucky-in-love" Buddha.  Meghan refused on the premise that hand-touching is icky.


A lion gate guardian:

The theory is that Borobudur was originally designed as both a shrine and a pilgrimage site.  Pilgrims to the site walk around each level of the temple towards the top, always clockwise with the temple on their right, a specific number of times on each platform, in order to contemplate all of the narratives and images in the over 2,760 bas-relief carvings (covering 2,500 square meters and a length of 6 km!).  Each of the levels is meant to represent a stage of enlightenment

Here are some looks down the long pathways, with the intricate bas-relief carvings on both sides:

We overheard a guide saying that he has noticed a sharp increase in the growth of moss/mold on the temple itself since the acidic ash of the 2010 volcanic eruption covered it.  He thought that perhaps the acid broke down whatever natural coating the stone had to protect itself:

Buddha, checking out the misty mountain tops:

The ladies making their way down the steep steps of Borobudur:

A view of the temple from the ground.  Massive!

A view from the temple of the gardens surrounding it.  If you look closely in the foreground of the photo, you'll see the early-bird trinket salesmen, eager to pounce on us as we walked back to the hotel in order to provide us with "yes, special morning price, yes!"  Luckily, since we did the sunrise tour, we missed the masses of "persistent touts" who harass tourists later in the day.

Borobudur from the Manohara:

Map depicting the Borobudur site from above:

Our tasty post-sunrise tour breakfast back at the Manohara Hotel... nasi goreng, pisang goreng (with cheese, to Meghan's delight), crispy shrimp chips.