In the Land of Gods

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 19 May 2018

A Buddhist temple and a temple complex dedicated to the trinity of Indian gods served to establish close ties between Indonesia and India

Never a good sport at climbing, be it the stairs or a hilly track, I mentally stumbled when I was told that I would have to climb 100 odd steps to reach the Borobudur temple. A part of the fam (familiarisation) trip to Indonesia, our first visit was to the Buddhist temple in Central Java.

However, my fears were allayed when we arrived at the temple complex. The temple, which was at a distance, looked both serene and mighty, with mountains in the background. The elephants swaying gently on the greens signalled patience and peace. So did the people there. There were enough tourists, armed with umbrellas, some of them wearing caps, carrying water bottles. But they walked at their pace, not hurrying or pushing. The 100 odd steps didn’t seem daunting now.

As I neared the temple or Candi, as temples are called in Indonesia, I could see carvings or reliefs from the life of Buddha. Our guide, Yani Ahmad, had earlier mentioned that the temple has a central dome, surrounded by nine platforms — with statues of Buddha seated inside a perforated stupa. However, most of them are in a vandalised state, with limbs missing. 

“The temple is said to have been built in the 9th century by the royal dynasty called Sailendra. Borobudur has been constructed in such a way so as to show the path of enlightenment. The first level is kamdhatu (desires), second is roopdhatu (form) and third is aroopdhatu (formless). A seeker has to renunciate kam and roop to achieve formlessness. However, the top two levels have now been sealed off,” explained Yani. 

Yet, there is a lot to see — each stone panel telling a story — and the lush greenery allowing for perfect photo op. Importantly, you feel calm in the midst of the madding crowd, trying to imagine what it must have been like when the monks lived, meditating, and learning about life. 

If you are not in the mood to ‘seek’, then you can connect the dots between Indonesia and India, the similarities that abound. I, for one, was delighted to find a signboard that said uttara in the temple. Then I set about trying to find more.
The ‘more’ came late next evening, when we visited the Prambanan temple complex. In India, we just have one recognised temple of Brahma in Pushkar, Rajasthan. In Indonesia, especially in Bali where the Hindu community lives, there are temples dedicated to Brahma and other two gods of the holy trinity —  Shiva and Vishnu.

The Prambanan complex near Yogyakarta (pronounced as Jogjakarta), has three main temples dedicated to the trinity, and the smaller three to their vahanas or mounts. There are  two temples located between the rows of trinity and Vahana temples on north and south side, four small shrines located on four cardinal directions right beyond the four main gates of the inner zone, four small shrines located on four corners of the inner zone.

Knowing that Brahma temple is a rarity in India, I was quite excited to see the temple in Indonesia. In India, we believe that Brahma is the creator, so I had assumed his temple to be the bigger one. However, it was Shiva’s which was the biggest and in the centre, with the temple of Vishnu on the right. 

By the time we reached Prambanan, it was quite late. It was 5.15 in the evening and dusk was already setting in, so we paced our steps. As is typical of most temples, here too we had to climb many steps, up the narrow staircase, huffing and puffing to reach the sanctum, where the statue of the deity loomed before me. 
Since no puja rituals take place in this temple complex, there is not much to be seen in the sanctum, especially as there was not enough natural light. So after offering prayers, I hurried to take a few shots of the temples, with the moon rising in the sky. 

One feature that we should be thankful to the conservation and heritage bodies in India, is the information plaques outside our temples, mosques and churches. They were missing here in Indonesia and we had to rely on what our guide told us, and one board that explained the conservation efforts taken by the Indonesian government. 
However, one doesn’t know how the temples came to be and why Brahma is widely worshipped in this part of the world. This question puzzled many Indian tourists who were in the complex. 

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