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Sewu Temple

By Devik Balami at
Sewu Temple

Sewu temple is an eighth-century Mahayana Buddhist temple complex located on the northern side of Prambanan in Central Java, Indonesia. This Buddhist temple which is also regarded as second largest Buddhist temple complex is also known as Candi Sewu since Indonesian address temple as Candi and also Loro Jonggrang. Although the temple complex consists of 249 temples, this Javanese name translates to "a thousand temples" which is originated from popular local folklore.

Historical accounts of Sewu Temple

As mentioned in Kelurak inscription and Manjusrigrha inscription, dated from late 8th century CE, the original name of the temple complex was probably to be Manjushri Griha or the House of Manjushri. Sewu temple was built by the end of the eighth century at the end of Rakai Panangkaran's reign, who was devoted Mahayana Buddhist King and was completed during the reign of his successor, King Indra.

It is also believed that Sewu temple was expanded and completed during the rule of Rakai Pikatan, a prince who married a Buddhist princess from the Sailendra dynasty, Pramodhawardhani. It was also found that the Sewu temple was very much close to Prambanan temple which was a Hindu temple. This suggests that the Hindu and Buddhist communities lived together in harmony during the era.

The nature and area of the temple complex suggest that Candi Sewu served as the royal Buddhist temple of the Kingdom.

Rediscovery of the site

Even though the temple was buried deep beneath of the volcanic debris around Mt. Merapi, the local Javanese inhabitants remembered about the temple but the origins of the temple was completely a mystery to them.

The temple complex gain attraction of international arena only in the early 19th century during the colonial Dutch East Indies era. The artistic creation was spread through the print media. During the Java war, the temple stones were carted away and were used for fortification during the war. The following years, the temple suffered from looting and thus many Buddha statues were decapitated and the Buddha heads were stolen. The locals used the temple stones as construction materials for their homes. Even the foreigners stole the statues and used them as private collections. Some of the Buddhist arts and artifacts were carried away and ended up in museums.

Later in the mid 19th century, Van Kinsbergen photographed the ruins of Candi Sewu which was used as an aid for the reconstruction of the temples. It was only in the early 20th century the idea of reconstruction of the temple was initiated. The idea was of Van Erp while Maclaine Pont drew the reconstruction of the temples. Haan reconstructed the temples.

Even though the reconstruction project has been initiated, the temple complex is not completely restored. There are hundreds of temple ruins, and many stones are still missing.

Features of the Sewu Temple

The temple complex has a rectangular grounds that measures 185 m north-south and 165 east-west distance. The temple complex has an entrance on all four cardinal points but the main entrance is located on the east side of the temple compound. There are statues of twin Dvarapala erected in each of the entrances with the purpose to guard the gate. These guardian statues have been better preserved. The temple complex has 249 buildings which are arranged in a Mandala pattern around the main central hall. This configuration expresses the Mahayana Buddhist view of the universe. In the temple complex, there are 240 smaller temples with the similar designs. Many of the statues that are housed in these temples are long gone which can be comparable to the statues of Borobudur.

The main temple in the Temple complex

The main temple measures 29 meters in diameter and has a height of 30 meters. The ground plan of the main temple is a cross-shaped 20-sided polygon. On each of the four cardinal points of the main temple, there are four structures projected outward. These structures have their own stairs, entrances, and rooms and are crowned with stupas.

The main temple has five rooms- one large room in the center while four other smaller rooms in each cardinal direction. These smaller rooms are connected with outer corner galleries with balustrades bordered by rows of small stupas. The central large room can be reached from the eastern room.

At present context, all the five rooms are empty. But the lotus carved stone pedestal in the central large room suggests that the room once consists of a large bronze Buddha statue with the possible height of four meters. There is also another theory which states that the main statue was probably constructed from several stone blocks coated with Vajralepa plaster.