Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Two Temples Worth a Visit in Central Java

Although most Indonesians know about the popular Borobudur and Prambanan temples, they might not be familiar with the unique Javanese-Hindu temples Sukuh and Cetho, despite the fact that both are also located in Central Java.

I visited Sukuh, a rare erotic temple, in the morning. Getting there from Solo took about an hour and a half by car. The temple was located in Sukuh village in Karanganyar district on the slope of Mount Lawu. On the jagged roads, I passed several small villages, but the temple was easy to find as the villagers were very familiar with it.

When I arrived at the temple complex, it was quiet. There were only a few visitors. Despite the bright sunlight, the air was cool. But I knew it could turn chilly as soon as the fog appeared.

The 5,500 square meter complex seemed carefully maintained, covered with clean, green grass. Since it was situated on an elevated area, in the distance I could see part of Karanganyar town about 20 kilometers away.

The structure of the temple, which was rediscovered in 1815 by Sir Thomas Raffles, was different from the others I had seen in Java.

According to Pak Sarjono, the temple guide, Sukuh temple was built in the 15th century during the Majapahit era when Queen Suhita was in power, making it one of the youngest Hindu temples in Java.

Sukuh faces west and has three open, terraced spaces, each with its own gate. The tallest part was trapezoid-shaped and located in the farthest part of the complex. And like other Hindu temples, that was the most sacred part.

The three terraces symbolize the human journey through life. The first terrace symbolizes for the bottom world, while the second represented the middle world and the third the upper world, the final phase of nirvana.

The thing visitors notice most is the erotic nature of the temple because throughout there are numerous, reliefs and statues depicting human organs, but Sarjono said the temple had more to offer.

“All of the temple’s art is about the phases of human life,” he said. “For example, how we should behave in life and how we educate our children.”

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