A Visit to the Great Hindu Temple Complex of Prambanan

In this trip report, we visit the great Hindu temples of Prambanan just outside of Yogyakarta in a combined day trip with Borobudur.

Borobudur and Prambanan

Together with the Buddhist temple of Borobudur, the Hindu temple compound of Prambanan is the blockbuster sight of Yogyakarta.

I would even go further and say that the ancient temples of Borobudur and Prambanan are the highlights of the entire island of Java – and perhaps even of Indonesia in its entirety.

Borobudur and Prambanan can be easily visited from Yogyakarta as a half-day trip, either by organised tour or by arranging your own wheels by renting a car and driver for the day.

In the previous chapter about Borobudur, I explained more about this and detailed my experiences of a sunrise visit to this magical Buddhist temple.

borobudur sunrise temple java indonesia
Borobudur, Indonesia. ©Paliparan

Prambanan history

After visiting Borobudur, we drove back towards Yogyakarta. While Borobudur is located quite a distance (40km) out of the cultural capital of Indonesia, Prambanan is located quite a bit closer to the city centre as it’s just 17 kilometres away.

Just like Borobudur, Prambanan was also built in the 9th Century, although the big difference is that Prambanan is of course a Hindu temple complex.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia and one of the biggest in all of south east Asia. It was most likely built by a local Hindu dynasty as a reply to the construction of Borobudur by a rival Buddhist dynasty.

Basically, it was the 9th Century version of buying a brand new Mercedes just to outshine the BMW of your neighbour. And sure enough, when you walk from the car park to the temple complex you instantly feel that Prambanan is a highly impressive site.

A ticket to the complex costs 350,000 IDR (20 EUR). There are discounts for students, children under the age of 10 and Indonesian nationals.

prambanan temple yogyakarta java
Arriving at Prambanan. ©Paliparan

Exploring the Prambanan temples

Prambanan differs from Borobudur that it consists out of multiple smaller temples instead of one giant temple mount. When you approach the complex you immediately see the temples towering above the trees.

The highlight of Prambanan is the central compound, where there are eight main temples assembled on a raised platform.

prambanan temple complex
Walking to the central temple compound of Prambanan. ©Paliparan
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The temples tower high in the sky. ©Paliparan

Inside the temples

Each temple at Prambanan is dedicated to a different Hindu god – and features a statue of the respective deity inside.

The largest of them all is the ‘Candi Shiva Mahadeva’, a temple dedicated to Shiva. The main spire of this lavishly carved temple soars 47 metres high.

Inside the temple of Shiva, you can find several smaller shrines dedicated to other Hindu deities such as Ganesh and Durga.

If you look closely at Ganesh you can see that his right hand is cracked. This is part of the damage which Prambanan sustained during an earthquake in 2006 which killed around 5,800 people in the greater Yogyakarta area.

Although the main temples were relatively unscathed, many smaller temples sustained some extensive damage. Restauration works are still ongoing and some parts of the complex are therefore off-limits.

temple shiva prambanan
A staircase leads into the main temple of Shiva. ©Paliparan
prambanan temple shiva
The temple is lavishly carved with different figures and scenes. ©Paliparan
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Prambanan. ©Paliparan
entrance climb
Climbing into the temple. ©Paliparan
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A statue of the elephant god Ganesh inside one of the smaller shrines at the temple of Shiva. His cracked right hand is the result of the 2006 earthquake! ©Paliparan

Other Hindu gods

The other two main temples at the central temple compound of Prambanan are dedicated to the Hindu gods of Brahma and Vishnu.

You are free to climb into every temple – and exploring all the staircases and walkways of the temples is certainly part of the charm of the magnificent complex.

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Exploring the Prambanan temples. ©Paliparan
temple complex
You can climb into every temple at Prambanan. ©Paliparan
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Exploring the Prambanan temples. ©Paliparan
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Prambanan. ©Paliparan

Outside the main compound

In total there are a whopping 244 temples at Prambanan, although not all of them are as massive or well-preserved as the main temple of Shiva.

If you walk outside the main compound, you will find a lot of smaller temples, as well as some crumbling stone remains of what once used to be temples.

A lot of these temples were toppled by an earlier earthquake which hit Prambanan in the 16th Century. At that time, the entire area was already abandoned by the Hindu kings of Java who fled east after Islam gained a foothold in the country and the Mataram sultans took power.

It marked the start of a long decline as the Prambanan temples were left to crumble and treasure hunters ravaged the area.

Even though the temples outside of the central compound are not as impressive, it is still well worth it to walk a bit around. The lack of crowds and the mesmerising sounds of some bells or triangles made for some amazing moments.

Besides, the further you get away from the main compound of Prambanan, the better the views are when looking back!

prambanan temples
Some of the smaller temples are well-preserved, while others are in ruins after a series of earthquakes. ©Paliparan
prambanan hindu temples
Looking back towards the main compound of Prambanan. ©Paliparan
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Prambanan. ©Paliparan

Conclusion

Just like Borobudur, Prambanan is an amazing sight which cannot be missed when visiting the island of Java. To me, visiting Prambanan and Borobudur was the absolute highlight of my trip to Indonesia.

Even when I compare it with other historical places around the world which I was fortunate enough to visit, Prambanan would certainly rank among the top.

When visiting Prambanan, do however make the effort to walk a bit more around the area. Although the main shrine of Shiva and the surrounding temples of the central compound are arguably the finest of all, there is a lot more to see in the area.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘Journey to Java‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Rome Ciampino (Airbus A321)
2. Half a Day in Rome: A Walk Around the Eternal City
3. Review: Casa Alitalia Lounge ‘Piazza di Spagna’ Rome Fiumicino Airport
4. Review: Saudia Business Class Rome to Riyadh (Airbus A320)
5. Review: Saudia Alfursan Business Lounge Riyadh Airport
6. Review: Saudia Business Class Riyadh to Jakarta (Boeing 777-300)
7. Review: The Hermitage, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia
8. A Day in Jakarta: Exploring Indonesia’s Bustling Capital City
9. Review: Garuda Indonesia Domestic Business Lounge Jakarta Airport
10. Review: Garuda Indonesia Business Class Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Boeing 737-800)
11. Review: The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta – Mgallery By Sofitel
12. A Magical Sunrise Visit to Borobudur Temple
13. A Visit to the Great Hindu Temple Complex of Prambanan (current chapter)
14. Review: Yogyakarta to Surabaya (Indonesia) by Train
15. Review: Majapahit Hotel, Surabaya
16. Visiting the city of Surabaya
17. Review: Concordia Premier Lounge, Surabaya Airport
18: Review: Singapore Airlines business class Surabaya to Singapore (Airbus A330-300)
19. A quick Singapore stopover
20. Review: Silverkris Lounge Singapore Changi Airport
21. Review: Singapore Airlines business class Singapore to Manila (Boeing 787-10)
22. Review: PAGSS Lounge Manila Airport Terminal 1 Gate 2
23. Review: China Airlines economy class Manila to Taipei (Airbus A330-300)
24. Review: China Airlines Business Lounge Taipei Airport Terminal 1
25. Review: China Airlines Economy Class Taipei to Rome (Airbus A350)
26. Review: TAROM economy class Rome to Bucharest (Boeing 737-700)

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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