Sacred in the sun

By Budsarakham Sinlapalavan, The Nation, ANN

There’s plenty to see in Yogyakarta town but it’s the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur that really enthrall visitors to Central Java.

Sitting in the centre of Indonesia’s Java island, Yogyakarta, or Yogya as it’s affectionately known, is the heart and soul of ancient Javanese culture.

The centre of the highly civilised Mataram Kingdom back in the eighth century AD, today this vibrant city buzzes with energy, as students from all over Indonesia flock to town to attend one of the many state and private universities that call Yogyakarta home.

Our first stop is Malioboro market located 800 meters from Kraton, Yogyakarta Sultan Palace, the former residence of the sultan and his family as well as hundreds of abdi dalem, palace servants.

Named after the flowers that were used in abundance during the ceremonies held by the palace, the street was designated a trading area in 1758 by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono I. These days, it’s crowded with vendors offering local handicrafts, batik, leather puppets and silver.

As dusk falls, food stalls set out bamboo mats on the pavement and the area is transformed into one large restaurant. Local favourites are served along with oriental dishes and seafood as well as West Sumatra’s Padang cuisine.

Yogyakarta’s signature dish is the sweet and savoury tasting gudeg, a green jackfruit stew served with rice, chicken, hardboiled egg and a side dish of spicy beef skin and tofu. The sweet and tender texture of the soft jackfruit in coconut milk plus aromatic herbs and spices makes it a real gastronomic delight.

Visiting the kraton offers us a better understanding of Javanese philosophy.

The palace was built over a 14-year period starting in 1756 by Sultan Hamengku Buwono. It lies between Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia and the kingdom of Nyai Loro Kidul or Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea. In the mind of the Javanese community, Kraton is defined as the centre of the world. That imaginary path symbolises spiritual continuity, the process of human life from birth to death when one meets the Supreme Creator.

Two kilometres south within the grounds of the Sultan Palace is Tamansari Water Castle. Tamansari, which means fragrant garden, has multiple functions such as a resting area, a meditation area, a defence area, and also a hiding place for the sultan and his family.

The Bathing Pool area consists of two pools that are separated by a two-storey building. From this building, the Sultan watched all the women swimming in the outer pool. If any took his fancy, he would ask them to accompany him to the inner pool.

Our next stop is Prambanan, a huge Hindu temple complex, 15 kilometres northeast of Yogyakarta. The Prambanan temple is dedicated to Trimurti, the three Hindu gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper and Shiva the Destroyer. The complex was built in the ninth century with 224 temples in total but most of them have deteriorated.

The temple was constructed to honour lord Shiva and indeed the original name of the temple is Shiva-grha or the house of Shiva. That’s the reason the Shiva temple is the highest and is in the centre. It’s flanked to the north by the Brahma temple and to the south by the Vishnu temple.

There are four chambers in Shiva temple, with the main chamber housing Shiva’s statue, the northern chamber houses the statues of Durga (Shiva’s wife), the southern chamber the statues of Agastya (Shiva’s teacher), and the western chamber the statues of Ganesha (Shiva’s son).

Eight hundred metres to the north is Sewu temple, the second largest Buddhist temple in Central Java after Borobudur and also well worth a visit.

The next day, we need to be up well before the sun, which we will see rising from Borobudur temple but thoughts of an early night vanish when the dancers in the Ramayana ballet make their entrance on an open stage at Prambanan. The colourful traditional Javanese dance and the acrobatic performance showcase the vibrant and rich Javanese culture.

Walking up the gigantic Borobudur, 35-metres high with a base that stretches over 14,641 square metres is tough in daylight but it’s has to be easier than making our way up the huge stupa while the sun is still sleeping.

The first birdcalls across the valleys announce the arrival of dawn.

We grab our cameras determined to catch that magical moment when the sun rises over the ancient temple. Slowly the first rays touch the sky and the rosy light unveils the famous Borobudur with Merapi and Merbabu mountains as the background.

Everything seems to freeze and in that mystical moment, we feel a real blessing.

If You Go

AirAsia flies from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Jakarta International Airport every night. From there, it’s a short hop on a transfer flight to Yogyakarta.

The writer travelled as a guest of AirAsia.

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