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A JAVANESE SITE OF ENIGMATIC BEAUTY
Published Under the Auspices of
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA
Many institutions and people were involved in the making
of this book. First of all we would like to express our
MINISTRY OF STATE OWNED ENTERPRISES (BUMN),
REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA
THE GOVERNOR OF SPECIAL REGION OF YOGYAKARTA
SRI SULTAN HAMENGKUBOWONO X
DIRECTORATE GENERAL OF CULTURE
MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND CULTURE,
REPUBLIC OF INDONESIA
Our very special gratitude goes to the following
institutions and associated individuals for their
permission to use reproductions of paintings, drawings,
archives and artefacts from their collections and to
photographs the monuments:
Deputy Energy Business Logistics and Transportation
Ministry of State Owned Enterprises (BUMN),
Republic of Indonesia
Mr. Kacung Marijan
Director-General for Culture,
Ministry of Education and Culture, Republic of Indonesia
Mr. Harry Widianto,
Director of Cultural Heritage Preservation and Museums,
Directorate General of Culture,
Ministry of Education and Culture,
Republic of Indonesia
Mr. Tri Hartono, Head of
Cultural Heritage Preservation Centre - BPCB, Yogyakarta
Mr. Ign. Eka Hadiyanta,
Kelompok kerja registrasi penetapan dan informasi,
Cultural Heritage Preservation Centre - BPCB, Yogyakarta
Mr. Roger Tol of Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast
Asian and Caribbean Studies, (KITLV) - Jakarta
Leiden University Library,
KITLV Digital Image Library
Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the
information in this book at the time of going to press. The
Publisher cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies
or omissions. Readers are advised to call the various
institutions, if appropriate, to verify details.
A great many other skilled and able people were involved
in the making of this book, too many to be listed here,
but their contributions are highly valued, nonetheless. To
all above, as well as to those who are not mentioned, the
publisher would like to take this opportunity to express
HISTORY AND REDISCOVERY
THE NORTHEASTERN QUARRY AND HERMITAGE.
THE GREAT WESTERN GATEWAY AND COURTYARD
AND NEIGHBORING TEMPLES
THE SOUTHERN MONASTERY AND POOLS
HISTORY AND REDISCOVERY
THE LEGEND OF THE KING WHO VANISHED
The Opak River flows down from Mt. Merapi to the Indian Ocean. In the middle of its course
it runs through a valley which it has carved into the loose volcanic ash which the mountain
has been erupting for a million years. The Unesco World Heritage site of Prambanan with the
temple complexes of Loro Jonggrang, Sewu, and Plaosan lies beside the river’s eastern bank. One
kilometer south of the village of Prambanan rises a steep cliff over 100 meters high. This is the
northern edge of a plateau named after the Hindu god Śiva; this plateau is the tip of a range of
limestone hills which stretches to the south coast, and far to the east. The northwest tip of this
plateau has a separate name: Ratu Boko Plateau.
Page 10-11: Views from
the plateau, north toward
Prambanan, Mount Merapi;
west toward Borobudur,
Yogyakarta, Opak River.
Opposite: View of the Gunung
Kidul (Southern Mountains)
and the hill on which Ratu
Boko's Palace stands, with
Candi Prambanan in the
Although the largest and most impressive temples lie a kilometer north of the plateau, a large
number of other temples once stood on the plateau itself, as well as in the lowland between the
plateau and the Opak River; this is called the Sorogedug Plain. Many of these monuments, such
as Candi (the Javanese word for pre-Islamic site; the letter c in Indonesia is pronounced like the ch
in English "catch") Ngaglik, Candi Geblak, Bubrah (another temple with the same name still stands
between Prambanan and Sewu), Singa, Tinjong, Polengan, Sawuk, and Krapyak, have disappeared
during the last 100 years. Remains of other still can be found. Remains of temples which can be
seen in the plain today include Watugudig, Banyunibo, Payak, and Abang. More survive on the
Śiva Plateau: Dawangsari, Ijo, Gupolo, Gembirawati, and Barong are the best preserved.
The most important site south of Prambanan is known as Kraton Ratu Boko. Literally translated
from Javanese, this means “The Palace of the King Who Vanished”. The legend of this king and his
palace is directly connected with the building of the Loro Jonggrang temple complex at Prambanan.
Loro Jonggrang (“Slender Maiden”) was the name of a daughter of King Boko who lived at
Prambanan. He was a fearsome ogre, very powerful, but he was defeated and killed by Raja Boko
of Pengging. Raja Boko owed his victory to a supernaturally powerful man named Bondowoso,
who had a powerful weapon called Bandung, so he was often called Bandung Bondowoso. The
king of Pengging unwisely allowed Bandung Bondowoso to live in the palace of Prambanan; soon
to their rice pounders and start pounding rice as they normally would at dawn, to prepare food
for the day. He also ordered them to put flowers in their rice mortars. The elves heard the sound
of the rice pounders and immediately stopped work, thinking dawn was about to break, and they
smelled the flowers, which was a sign that they were being summoned to return to the earth.
They vanished, leaving one temple and a little bit of one well incomplete.
Bandung Bondowoso awoke at dawn and went to count the temples. To his surprise one was
incomplete. He became very angry when he found out what Loro Jonggrang had done. He then
cursed all the young women around Prambanan so that they would not find husbands until they
were old. As for Loro Jonggrang herself, he turned her into a stone statue in the biggest temple.
According to this legend, she became the statue of Durgā in the north chamber of the Śiva temple
of Prambanan, and the 999 temples were the complex of Candi Sewu (1,000 temples) just north
of it (Widyamantana 1975).
This mythical story of the war between two kings, one who lived in the Prambanan area and one
who lived on the plateau, and a princess, may have some connection with history. The ruins on the
Śiva Plateau include fragments of places of worship for both Śiva and Buddha, but there are also
many remains of structures which are not religious in nature. This has led many to speculate that
the area known as the Palace of the King Who Vanished may really have been a royal residence.
No palace site from the Mataram kingdom which built Prambanan and Borobudur has ever been
discovered. Could this be it? The great Dutch archaeologist N.J. Krom was willing to consider the
Above: Ratu Boko relief in
Yogya airport, which is has
been demolished due to
airport expansion. At left, Loro
Jonggrang is rejected Bandung
Bondowoso's advances. Below
left, he is meditating with his
teacher. At centre, the elves
are gathering stones to build
the 1,000 temples. At upper
right, a completed temple and
guardian statue are visible. At
lower right, the women are
pounding rice and the roosters
crow; at far right, Bandung
Bondowoso is turning Loro
Jonggrang into a statue.
Bandung Bondowoso fell in love with his former enemy’s daughter, Loro Jonggrang, and demanded
that he be allowed to marry her. She could not refuse, but the wise minister of Prambanan advised
her to set conditions which Bandung Bondowoso could not possibly fulfill.
possibility that the legend of Ratu Boko was inspired by a real palace (Krom 1923: 244).
Krom noted that an inscription in the script known as Nagari used by the Śailendra family
was found at the “palace” site. He also noted that the ruins were found in the same area as two
Thus she asked Bandung Bondowoso to build her a thousand temples and two very deep
very large quarries from which stone used for some of late temples in the lowlands was probably
wells. The task had to be finished in one night. Bandung Bondowoso then called upon the king of
acquired, and he doubted that a king would have shared his palace area with a stone quarry.
Pengging and his father, Damarmaja. Damarmaja controlled an army of elves who had superhuman
Thus the palace, if there had been one, would have dated from the early Central Javanese
powers. Bandung Bondowoso began to meditate, and the elves came out of the ground and set to
period (the 8th and early 9th centuries). The palace, at least in the later period, must therefore
work. By midnight they had finished 500 temples. By 4 a.m. they had finished 995 temples; both
have stood elsewhere.
wells were almost finished.
Some people doubt that a palace ever stood on the plateau, or that the legend preserves any
One of Loro Jonggrang’s maids saw what was happening and ran to tell her mistress that
vestige of historical reality. One major objection to the idea that a palace stood on the hill is that
Bandung Bondowoso was going to achieve what she had thought was impossible. Everyone in the
the limestone bedrock is very porous, and water does not stay long in the pools there. The water
palace was confused and at a loss what to do. The chief minister however had an idea. He went
storage system on the plateau is indeed reminiscent of the Loro Jonggrang story, but the wells are
to all the nearby villages and roused the sleeping women from their mats. He ordered them to go
on the plateau, not near Prambanan. A palace for a kingdom as important as Mataram would have
Opposite: The Loro Jonggrang
statue in Prambanan.
Left: Map of the area, showing
sites now vanished (source:
Lulius Van Goor, 1922)
had many hundreds of people living in it, both officials and servants of the nobility. In the 1950s,
before the site was acquired by the government of the Republic of Indonesia, only a few families
of farmers lived on the hill. The main problem they faced in daily life was a lack of water.
It would have been impossible for a palace to survive on the Ratu Boko site unless water were
carried up the hill, and this would not have been practical, since the plateau is almost 100 meters
above the level of the Opak River. As we shall see, it is likely that the palace itself lay somewhere
in the area between the plateau and the river, perhaps near the site known today as Watu Gudik.
On the other hand, there is another enticing possibility: that the Ratu Boko site formed part of a
vast palace complex. The majority of the palace staff and activities could have lived and worked on
the lowlands, while the plateau was reserved for special people and rituals. The legend may not
be incorrect, just incomplete. This theory will be explored in this book.
EARLY RESEARCH ON RATU BOKO
A few Dutch observers noted the existence of antiquities in the Prambanan area in the 18th
century. Van Boeckholtz in 1790 made the first sketches of Ratu Boko (Krom 1923: I, 241; Teguh
Asmar and Bronson 1973: 3).
During the British occupation of Java between 1811 and 1816, antiquarian research received
Opposite: Triple gateway at
the northwest corner of the
Gapura area after the first
restoration (Leiden University
Library, KITLV Digital Image
Library, No. 168398).
considerable attention from Lieutenant Governor Thomas Stamford Raffles. He was eager to
collect evidence that Java had once been a centre of early civilization. At the time, few Europeans
had seriously considered this possibility. The Netherlands had however sent some investigators
to the Yogyakarta area to record antiquities. In 1802 a Dutch engineer who was in charge of
constructing a fort at Klaten, between Yogyakarta and Surakarta, made the first drawings of the
ruins at Prambanan. In 1811 Colonel Colin MacKenzie, of the Madras Engineers had surveyed the
Mysore kingdom in India. In 1811 he was the engineer in charge of planning the English landing
on Java to fight the troops loyal to Napoleon Bonaparte. After the battle, Raffles sent him to
survey Javanese antiquities, together with Dutch engineers H.C. Cornelius and H.W.B. Wardenaar
and their trained draftsmen.
Mackenzie wrote a report entitled “Narrative of a journey to examine the remains of an ancient
city and temples at Prambanan in Java” on his visit to Prambanan in January 1812. He saw the
statue which the local guides called Loro Jonggrang and correctly identified it as Parvati or Durgā.
He was aware of the legend connecting Prambanan with the King Who Vanished. He climbed the
hill south of Prambanan looking for the “krattan” or palace of an ancient raja. He found the ancient
staircase which leads to the plateau from Prambanan (which is still in use by tourists today) and
the meditation caves in which, the Javanese told him, the susuhunans or “exalted ones” (the
title still used by the rulers of Surakarta today, in preference to “sultan”) when “embarrassed or
melancholy” would seclude themselves for eight days during which they would fast and meditate.
In front of the first artificial cave, or cell, they found a statue which they called a “Jain Saniassi”
in posture of meditation, facing the cave. The British at this time understood Jainism, since it was
still an active religion in India, but knew little of Buddhism, since that religions had practically died
out there centuries earlier. We now can be sure that Jainism never reached Indonesia; the statue
must have been that of Buddha.
Mackenzie and his party also found the ruins which they thought was the Royal Krattan/palace,
but they had no chance to explore it because it was covered with overgrowth, it was raining, and
darkness was approaching. They still had to make their way down the steep stairs cut into the rock
and return to the house of a Chinese man where they were being accommodated.
John Crawfurd, another of the British administrators who lived in Java during the British
interregnum, visited the Prambanan area in 1816 and wrote about his observations in the journal
Asiatick Researches (1820). Bernet Kempers quoted extensively from them in an article in 1949.
Crawfurd mentioned the Loro Jonggrang complex, Sewu, Asu, Lumbung, Plaosan, Gupolo, Sojiwan,
the Ratu Boko plateau, Barong, as well as the temples further west such as Kalasan, and Sari. He
noted that the Plaosan Kidul complex was then called “Chandi Caputren, or the Seraglio by the
modern Javanese from its containing female images only” (quoted in Bernet Kempers 1949: 181).
This no doubt also explains why the remains at the southeastern extremity of the Ratu Boko
complex today has the same name, though no female statues are found there now. His Candi
Gupala was not the one by the same name south of the Ratu Boko complex; rather it lay about 2
miles (3.2 km) east of the village of Prambanan. All that remained of it then were some scattered
bricks and four statues of door guardians (two large and two small ones). By the 20th century no
remains at all were left on this site.
Crawfurd described a dense group of ruins at the northern foot of the Śiva Plateau. “In a
westerly direction from the village of Cabon Dalam [Kebon Dalam, now called Sojiwan], and just
behind that of Prambanan we discover very extensive ruins, but no temples standing. These ruins
extend to the west as far as the banks of the Umpah [Opak River], a clear and rapid stream which
runs in a south west course, till it empties itself into the sea nearly opposite to Yogyacarta. To the
south the ruins extend nearly to the bottom of the range of hills. This ground is alledged [sic.]
by the natives to have been the site of a town or city and certainly has that appearance. Here
the walls of a great square enclosure are still to be traced, particularly to the north and west
(A) Bronze bowl unearthed
found in the ruins of the
complex Ratu Boko (Leiden
University Library, KITLV Digital
Image Library, No. 165411).
(B) Gold objects found in the
peripih (consecration deposit)
buried at the time part of Ratu
Boko was constructed (Leiden
University Library, KITLV Digital
Image Library, No. 166629).
(C) Ancient Javanese ewer for
containing sacred water (kendi)
found in early excavations at
Ratu Boko (Leiden University
Library, KITLV Digital Image
Library, No. 165559).
sides. By measuring these, they are discovered to have been 900 feet [275 meters] to a side. The
appearance of the square, is that of a modern Craton, and tradition relates, that it contained
the King’s palace, but of this there is no vestige. Towards the eastern site of the enclosure,
The Five-Fold and Three-Fold
Gateways with Mt. Merapi
(right) and Mt. Sumbing (left)
in the background before
reconstruction of the wall.
PENDOPO: THE SOUTHERN MONASTERY
PENDOPO, KRATON, AND VIHĀRA:
THE SOUTHERN MONASTERY AND POOLS.
The centerpiece of the area known colloquially as King Boko’s Palace (Kraton Ratu Boko) is a
compound surrounded by a high stone wall which lies about 150 meters southeast of the grand
entrance gateways of the Gapura. To get to the southeastern sector one follows a winding path
which was laid out by villagers who settled the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The
P. 70-71: Vihāra pendopo from
Opposite: Partially restored
gateway and staircase leading
to the vihāra from the west.
two sectors were no doubt linked by a path in the eighth century, which followed a different course
than the modern one. South of the modern pathway, remains of walls, gateways, and ramparts
are being unearthed and restored on the west slope of the promontory on which the Kraton
stands. It seems likely that the original access route to the Kraton led south from the Gapura area,
then east through gateways and up staircases until one reached the western side of the hilltop.
Excavations have uncovered lotus bud-shaped stone carvings in this area. The probably decorated
the tops of walls in this area, giving it a different image from the walls around the Gateway sector.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, which lead up the ramparts to the southeast part of the
plateau, one sees a broad flat field about 130 meters from north to south and 70 meters from east
to west, in the midst of which stands an impressive stone wall with a gate in the middle. The top of
the wall is decorated with stones in the shape of keben fruit, a common motif in ancient Javanese
temples. This is actually one wall of a rectangular structure 34 meters from east to west and 40
meters north to south. Inside the enclosure thus formed are two stone platforms 1.25 meters
high. The north platform is 20 meters square and has bases for 20 pillars for a square roof. There is
also a groove running around the perimeter of the platform's upper surface which may have been
meant to stabilize timber beams. The southern platform is 20 meters long but only 5 meters from
north to south. On it are two rows of six pillar bases.
One can obtain an idea of the condition of these ruins as they appeared 100 years ago from
N.J. Krom’s description (1923: 245):
The earliest writers did not see much more of the “kraton” than the foundations; now they too are
largely gone. A flat paved area of about 60 feet square, surrounded by a broad moat, now dry,