Prambanan Temple

Located on the island of Java, amidst villages and rice paddies, the Prambanan Temple is one of Indonesia’s most famous temples. It is actually a group of temples and shrines, visible even from a distance. This is mainly due to the height of the largest temple, Shiva, which is over 30 meters (100 feet) tall. The Prambanan complex is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia, as well as one of the most magnificent.

Candi Rara Jonggrang

Although this temple complex is less than an hour’s journey from Borobudur, and was built in a similar time period, it couldn’t appear more different. Prambanan is made up of jagged towers with lots of sharp angles, which is the opposite of the rounding, curved shape of Borobudur.


Archaeologists believe that construction of the Prambanan Temples began in the middle of the ninth century. According to one inscription found, dated 856 B.C., the King Rakai Pikatan of the Sanjaya dynasty built the first temple, a temple to the god Siva. The Mataram kings later enlarged this temple and developed the Prambanan Temple complex.

Prambanan Detail

The Sanjaya dynasty had control over the island for approximately 100 years. In the 10th century, they abandoned Prambanan Temple and moved their base to East Java. The reason they moved is unclear although some historians believed the eruption of Mount Merapi might have been the cause.

In the 16th century, before the discovery of the site, a major earthquake destroyed many of the temples and left much of the area in ruins. Archaeologists first located the Prambanan Temples in 1733. It was not until 1885 that the Dutch started to clean the site and expose the temples, although proper restoration didn’t come until 1930. In May 2006, another earthquake again damaged the site. However, restoration is still taking place today.


If you visit Prambanan today, you’ll notice that the temples are divided into three zones. Just like Borobudur, this reflects a hierarchy of the temple zones that spans from the less holy to the holiest realms.

Prambanan from above. Photo credit: Onny Carr

Prambanan from above. Photo credit: Onny Carr

The first, called the outer zone, is mostly open space where temple priests would have relaxed or meditated. The second zone, called the middle zone, boasts 224 identical shrines, most of which are now in ruin. Builders arranged these guardian temples in four rows. The first row holds 68 temples, the second row holds 60, the third row holds 52 and the fourth row holds 44.

The third and final zone, called the inner zone, is home to eight temples and eight shrines. Each of the temples are called candi, , with the largest being Shiva. On either side of Candi Shiva are temples honoring the Hindu gods Vishnu and Brahma. . Each of these temples faces east. Three smaller temples sit in front of these large temples, honoring the animals that transport these gods. They include the bull for Shiva, the sacred swan for Brahma and the eagle for Vishnu. These three temples face west.

Ramayana Story

Ramayana Story

Bas-relief carvings cover the exteriors of the temples in the central square. This is especially true of the main temple, Shiva, which is famous for its 62 relief carvings of the Ramayana epic, popular among Hindus.


In addition to viewing the various temples and their artwork, visitors are encouraged to visit the open-air theatre located west of the Prambanan Temple. The theatre has ballet renditions of the famous Hindu legend of Ramayana. The performance takes place in the evening during the time of the full moon from May to December, and is well worth the visit.

Prambanan temple

There is also a small but impressive Prambanan Museum that explains more about the architecture, discovery and history of this incredible complex of Hindu temples in Java.

After so many years of neglect, the Prambanan Temple is now a magnificent example of Indonesia’s culture. It is a stop that should be included in everyone’s venture to the island of Java.