Prambanan: The Hindu Temple That Rivals Borobudur

Rising Above the Shadows of Borobudur

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia

It was 5 pm when we arrived at Prambanan, just mere minutes before the closing of the ticketing booth, and less than an hour until the complex closes. With time trickling down, I knew I won’t get to explore the whole site and get my money’s worth. And quite frankly, at that point I felt that I’ve already reached my temple appreciation limit—if there is even such a thing. Alas, I admit, my temple run from Semarang to Yogyakarta might’ve been a tad overreaching. Oh well, at least the promise of a beautiful sunset awaits—my guide Fauzi assured me.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
around 5 pm in Prambanan

The Prambanan temple was virtually built in the same era as the Borobudur. But despite hailing from two different religions—Hinduism and Buddhism respectively—the two magnificent monuments have a lot more in common than just their proximate foundation year and location. Having already written a rather comprehensive article on Borobudur, I feel that doing the same to Prambanan would only be redundant. I would merely echo the same statements for most of the story.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
Should I go to Borobudur or Prambanan? I'll only choose one. - said no one ever!

Nevertheless, most of you are less likely to pick one over the other anyway. Chances are you might even visit both Borobudur and Prambanan on the same day. For this reason, I decided to keep this one simple by breaking down the two temples’ similarities and differences.

Similarities with Borobudur

The twin temples of Java were built during the 9th century by rival kingdoms Mataram and Sailendra. Although Prambanan was built slightly later than Borobudur, they are more or less contemporaneous. Both complexes are grand and iconic, built to become the quintessential monument and lasting legacy of their empires. 

Unfortunately, like the downfall of the empires before them, both kingdoms succumbed to a newer and stronger empire—in this case, the arrival of the Muslims. As the population converted to Islam, both Prambanan and Borobudur were abandoned and left to deteriorate for centuries to come.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
the numerous volcanic eruptions and earthquake left a lot of temples in ruins

It was only when the Dutch arrived in 1511 when the temples were accidentally rediscovered. The then seated Governor of Java, Thomas Raffles, learned of the existence of Borobudur and Prambanan on an exploration trip in Java. Under Raffles’ term, the first unearthing of Prambanan began. However, just as how brief the Dutch ruled in Java, the rebuilding efforts didn’t last either. Left unguarded, the monuments’ priceless statues and foundation stones were looted. 

Furthermore, it took another century for formal restoration to happen. It was only until 1930 when the Indonesian government officially began its rebuilding project. And in 1991, both Borobudur and Prambanan were recognized by the UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia

Up to this day, the twin temples continue to share the same struggles. Both were heavily affected by the eruption of Mt. Merapi last 2006. But no matter how difficult, these two temples are incredibly resilient—always finding their way back to prominence. Simply put, beyond the similarities in their struggles, Borobudur and Prambanan are equally phenomenal; their value is transcendent of time, culture, and religion.

Differences from Borobudur

If the similarities are inconspicuous—cultural and historical—the differences are obvious. First, they are landmarks of two rival kingdoms and religious origins. Borobudur was built by the Sailendra dynasty—a very devoted Buddhism advocates. On the other hand, Prambanan is a Hindu temple established by the Mataram kingdom—defeaters of the Sailendras.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
a plane flew over the temples as I was snapping this photo

Physically, they could not have been more different. Borobudur is circular and bulky. A stark contrast to Prambanan’s sculpted towers that have very sharp and jagged features. Unlike the singular monument that is Borobudur, the numerous temples of Prambanan are isolated and scattered throughout the complex.

Finally, visiting these temples interestingly has different peak moments. Borobudur is best visited during sunrise while Prambanan is at its most magical during sunset.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
Indeed the sunset in Prambanan is magical. The jagged towers make a stunning silhouette.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
beautiful sunset all around the Prambanan compound

Prambanan Temples

The main site of the Prambanan complex is surrounded by a sprawling landscaped park.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
a beautifully manicured park leads to the temples

As you walk through the park before closing in to the main temples you will come across a cluster of stones scattered around the area. Originally there were 240 temples in Prambanan but majority of them have deteriorated, looted and now left in ruins.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
these ruins used to be a row of small temples enveloping the Trimurti temples.

Among the best preserved and most noteworthy temples in the entire complex are the three massive towers that collectively are called “Trimurti.” The central and largest temple is dedicated to Shiva (the Destroyer). 

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
the Shiva temple

On its sides are structures built for Brahma (the Creator), and Vishnu (the Preserver). The Vishnu and Brahma temples both have the typical layout of a Hindu temple and likewise feature well preserved statues inside. Along the sides of the three temples are exquisite carvings telling the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
the Brahma temple

Across the three key temples are 3 accompanying structures dedicated to the vehicles of each deity—a bull for Shiva, a swan for Brahma, and an eagle for Vishnu. Unfortunately, only Nandi the Bull managed to survive.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
the temples dedicated for the vehicles of the Gods, I was standing on the third temple.

Apart from the temples and ruins within the Prambanan grounds, there are also outlying temples beyond the complex walls. The nearest is the Lumbung temple and about 1 kilometer away is the Sewu—a temple that actually predates Prambanan’s main temples by a century.

Prambanan Temple - Yogyakarta Indonesia
outside the complex are outlying temples also worthy of a visit

Getting There

Prambanan is just 30 minutes away from Yogyakarta. Hence, there are various ways to reach it from the city center. First is through the public Transjogja bus 1A. Starting from 6 am a bus 1A departs every 20 minutes at Malioboro street—the backpacker area of Yogyakarta. It is a direct route to the temple and costs only RP 3600 for a one-way trip.

Second is through a taxi ride.  The standard rate is RP 60,000 and most drivers are prepared to wait for you for an hour or so and then take you back for the same price. This is a good option if you’re travelling with company.

The third and most common option is to join tour groups. A join-in tour is often packaged with Mt. Merapi and/or Borobudur. This is your best option because visiting each site separately is expensive and rathert impractical.

Last, and the least common, is to rent a bicycle and take a long scenic ride to the complex.

Ticketing and Operating Hours

The complex is open daily from 6 am to 6pm—the ticketing booth closes at 5:15 pm.

Ticket prices

Foreigners       IDR 252,000 students with ID  IDR 126,000
Locals IDR 30,000
Tourist Guides IDR 75,000
Ramayana Ballet   IDR 100,000 – 350,000

Check this site: for samples of Prambanan Itineraries

Tip: There is a Borobudur and Prambanan Temples package ticket for 30$ that is valid for 2 days. It is a very good deal which is probably why it is not advertised on the ticket counters. Be friendly when you ask about it!

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