We visited Yogyakarta for Borobudur, but little did we know that it will come with such added perks. We got to see the mighty Merapi, the majestic Borobudur, the smaller temples of Pawon and Mendut and also the mystical Prambanan. With such numbers of temples, Yogyakarta seemed to be a temple town and our tour a religious one. But Jogjakarta was much beyond and here I will share my experience exploring some of it.
It started with the fearsome Merapi. Read my post on Merapi. In course of the travel, I came to see the roads, the towns and the villages. I had the opportunity to meet and interact with the Javanese people. A place is known through its streets, its economy, its culture, its tradition, its food and its people. I couldn’t explore every bit of it but I did manage to make some memorable experiences exploring some of these.
The city has busy roads with a lot of people, vehicles and traffic jam. Yogyakarta, also known as Jogjakarta, is often referred to as Jogja by the locals. Jogja is a perfect blend of modernism infused with traditions and rituals. It is regarded as the cultural centre of Java with many universities and schools.
The city continues to maintain its custom and tradition. The Sultan is the symbolic head who maintains his office from his Kraton (the sultan’s palace). Apart from this, the city preserves its rich old heritage of producing Batik work, Puppet making and Silverwork. Beyond the traditional aspect, the city has all modern amenities along with shiny shopping malls and food joints.
Becak are often seen on the roads near the old city and the adjoining areas of the Kraton. Becaks are cycle rickshaws, where the driver seat is behind the passenger seat. This is a common mode of transport for short distances. Just like the Rickshaws in our country and many other Asian countries. Rickshaws were invented in the Asian country of Japan in 1869 and since then it has been a reliable companion for the Asians. 🙂
I did not miss the opportunity to ride in this rickshaw of a different style – the Becak. Within the heart of the city is the Royal Palace or the Kraton. The half of the palace compound is open to the public while the other half is the residence of the present Sultan. The Sultan does not possess the same power as before but yet hold the honorary position the country.
The palace has chambers for the Gamelan (musical instruments), which are being played every morning. There are the other chambers with the display of artefacts, photographs, medals and other items used by the ancestors of the present Sultan. A large team of dedicated Royal guards in their traditional uniform were seen around.
I requested an aged guard to pose for me. He along with his colleagues gave a traditional pose sitting on the ground. The architecture of the Kraton is a beautiful union of different religious and cultural style. The glass chamber with contrasting gold and black painted roof attracted me the most. Our driver worked as our guide and tried his level best to explain and show every part of the palace.
The museum is situated near the palace. It contains various artefacts, musical instruments like Gamelan, weapons and other things for display. The Batik home and the puppet making industry are all located nearby. The traditional puppet making art is carried on until today. Every step is done by hand. The puppets are made with buffalo skins. The dry skin is beaten to form a thin firm sheet, then it is intricately cut to meet the design specification and finally, it is delicately painted and dried.
Various mythological characters are thus created within the puppet houses. The wooden masks are carved and painted by hands. Then moving on the nearby Batik making industry, we saw how a plain piece of cloth is coloured and painted in a beautiful way. The artists use wax to draw the pattern and then dye it in various colours through different processes to give the final product – the amazing Batik print.
Then moving from the bustling city to the idle village roads the landscape changed gradually. The roads turned traffic free and the surrounding sparsely populated. The beautiful paved and painted roads took bifurcated the green farmlands of the villages. The surrounding buildings too looked interesting. I noticed the fields were lush with certain crop and a majority of the farmland were cultivated with the same crop. I suspected them to be tobacco cultivation which was later confirmed by our driver.
On reaching the vast compound of Prambanan Temple we were astonished by the enormous temples. Walking through the green laws of the Temple complex we further realised the vastness of the compound. This is a Hindu temple dedicated to the Trimurti was built during the 9th century. The temple compound originally had 240 temples. The high temple structure in contrast to Borobudur Temple is typical in Hindu architecture. Similar to Borobudur the temple compound stands in a concentric mandala.
The compound is divided into three zones. The open area or the outer zone, called Bhurloka signifies the underworld and is a place for common folks (including humans, animals and demons). The middle zone within the square wall called the Bhuvarloka is the place for holy people who have deserted their worldly possessions. The most important innermost zone called the Svarloka is the holiest and is considered the place of the Gods. This division of zone ran horizontally across the layout as well as vertically from the base to the top of each temple. Thus signifying the Hindu cosmology of Lokas.
The Bhurloka had no temples. The Bhuvarloka has 224 Pervara Temples arranged in four concentric rows. The Svarloka has a total of 16 temples. Of which four small Kelir Temples are located by the main gates in the four directions. Four small Patok temples are located on the four corners of the inner square. Two Apit temples are located each in the north and the south of the inner zone. The temple in the north is believed to be dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and the one in the south is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati.
Then comes the three Trimurti temples located in a line. The central largest temple is the Shiva temple. The other two large temples are dedicated to Vishnu and Brahma. The temple to the left of the Shiva temple is dedicated to Vishnu and the one to the right is to Brahma. Three consecutive temples in a row in front of the Trimurti temples are dedicated to their respective Vahana – Nandi, Garuda and Hamsa. The main temple of Shiva has five cells. Four cells in four corners and the big central cell, all connected to the central cell.
Among these three cells were dedicated to Ganesha, Goddess Durga and Rishi Agastya. Goddess Durga is portrayed as Mahishasuramardini. The central chamber houses the large statue of Shiva on a lotus placed above the yoni. As a rare sight, the statue of Vishnu and Brahma too were standing on a lotus on the yoni.
The Prambanan temple was abandoned during 930s. It was rediscovered much later during the British rule. The proper reconstruction and restoration started even later. Presently all the 16 temples within the inner zone are reconstructed. Only two of the Pervara temple has been renovated.
Our temple tour in Yogyakarta started with the magnificent Prambanan. Then it was followed by the sunrise tour of the majestic Borobudur Temple. Read my post on Borobudur. The three Buddhist temples Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut are situated in a straight line. After visiting the Borobudur temple we did visit the Pawon and the Mendut. Some restoration work was in process in the Pawon temple. It was guarded by a screen with the image of the temple.
The evening was spent in a different way. We were roaming and shopping at the famous Malioboro street. It was a busy road with glittery malls and big to small shops of various items. Moving vendors were also seen selling their items on the roads. There were numerous fast food joints and restaurants. Dokar or the horse-drawn carriage were also moving with their passengers. Form Batiks to masks to puppets to shoes to everything you want is found in Malioboro street.
Tourist, as well as locals, flock to this market. The evening is the busiest time of the day. The tourists visit here after the day-long trip to the tourist attractions. Locals visit after their work hours. Some for shopping and others to hang out with friends and family and enjoying a tasty dinner in any of the fast food joint or a restaurant.
In our short trip, we did explore some parts of Jogja and enjoyed knowing the Javanese culture and tradition. The experience of being in these majestic monuments was magical and beyond any words to express. We had an adventure, we did seek solace in religion, we witnessed the rich tradition of Batik and Puppet making and had fun shopping and thus enjoying our stay in Jogja to the fullest.