Cultural amalgamation in Yogyakarta makes it an interesting and vibrant city. The city at the heart of an Islamic country is home to world’s biggest Buddhist temple and an equally big Hindu temple. The city is administered by the Sultan who is also the Governor. Jogja, as it is popularly known in Indonesia, has beautiful art and architecture.
Hindu kingdom of Indian origin ruled the region for almost ten centuries, starting in 4th century. Buddhist influence followed with a strong sway that can be seen in the mega World Heritage temple complex at Borobudur. Islamic rule since 17th century have continued to use adopted traits of earlier religions. Dutch rulers have left their traits behind as well.
Buddhist stupas at Borobudur temple
Our guide Kabul Adrianta seemed a perfect representative of tolerant Islam in Indonesia’s culture capital. His sons’ Ahmed Ubaida Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammed Krishna Baihaqi were lovably called Gandhi and Krishna at home.
Tour of the educational town in central Java with Kabul’s inputs was interesting . One of the many universities and schools of Jogja is named Gadjah Mada University. It is named after the king of Magapahit, the mighty Hindu kingdom that was sopposed to be bigger than present day Indonesia itself at one time.
We passed many stone artists carving beautiful artifacts out of the volcanic stone as we head to Borobudur in northern outskirts of the city. Atleast 7 of the 400 volcanoes of Indonesiaare still active and the cooled lava stone is also utilised in buildings. The tip of the top stupa came into the scene as we walked through the vast complex in natural, mountainous surroundings. 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple at Borobudur is an impressive lotus shaped mega structure.
Multilayered terraces at this World Heritage site temple are built in beautiful Indian architecturalstyle on top of a majestic hilltop. It is built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. Stone carved relics depicting Jataka tales of Buddha’s life adorn the walls and balustrades. It was quite a climb of steep stone stairs to get to the higher terrace with hundreds of identical stupas. Perfect assembly of stone blocks of carves on individual stones is amazing. On higher circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha. Stone blocks are artistically bound to reveal the hidden Buddha figurine inside, through regular, diamond shaped gaps.
A section of Sultan’s palace in Yogyakarta
A view of surrounding mountains, farms and villages from the top terrace of the temple is magnificent. A flex stand at the ticket center stated the availability of a sunrise tour with a special early entry and a light breakfast. Mini train and elephant rides are available to tour inside the Borobudur complex. The temple is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and the annual Vesak festival is celebrated at the monument.
Hawkers with stone and wood artifacts thronged us, as we descended down the temple. Wepicked a small lava stone statue to get rid of them and move away from light showers that had just started. On the contrary, many more thronged to us with wood puppets, colorful masks, batik fans and more. Prices got slashed as we tried to walk past, and became irresistible by the time we reached the park gate. A stop later at the artifact store proved that we had got a good bargain. Shopping is value for money in Indonesia and Jogja is a treasure trove of Asian artifacts.
Prambanan temple, another World Heritage site built by Sanjaya dynasty during the same period as Borobudur temple, stands testimony to the major influence of Hinduism that the country continues to adopt. Prambanan is a beautiful temple complex on the Eastern outskirtsof Jogja. It has three main yards-the first yard of 16 temples includes the imposing main temples of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu and three vahana temples of nandi, garuda and hansa. The second yard has 224 smaller temples, including a few Buddhist temples and most of these are in ruins. The third yard of the complex just has lawns and gardens. Guide Kabul said that there were marital relationships between the Sanjaya and the Buddhist Shailendra Dynasties.
Prambanan Temple at Jogyakarta
The tallest, Shiva temple is more than 150 feet high and the other two on either side are 108 feet high. Shiva temple also has three more chambers, one in each direction dedicated to Durga, Ganesha and Agastya. Temples in the first yard have rich ornamental stone carvings.Shiva and Brahma temple have Ramayana(Indian epic) relics. Vishnu temple has chiseled Krishnyana(stories of god Krishna) relics. There is no worship taking place at the temples but they attract many tourists for their architecture and for that memorable sight of beautiful Prambanan silhouette through long jasmine lined pathway. Of course, there is plenty of shopping option at shops lined along the exit gate.
Cycle rickshaws add colour to the streets of Yogyakarta. The rickshaw peddler sits on a highseat at the back, while his riders are seated on a low seat facing the street. Pengeman, a group of street artists are seen playing traditional instruments like gamelan, angklung at traffic signals.
Keraton, the grand palace complex of the Sultan and Governor of Yogyakarta is in the adjoining city of Sulu and faces north towards volcanoes. The first hall at the entrance is a musicalarena with many indigenous music instruments like gamelan and kendhang and also some royal furniture. Current one is the tenth generation sultan. Sultans have an active role in politics and the previous sultan was the vice-president of Indonesia. The palace museum has many royal artifacts, coronation costumes, jewellery and some portraits of sultans, most of which are of the ninth Sultan. Sultan’s residence at the right corner. A huge function hall withattached dining is the venue for festivals, functions and royal weddings. Traditionally dressed palace guards offer a good photo opportunity. We were told that there were more than 2000 staff working at the palace and those with a dagger hanging in a pocket at their waist had served for more than ten years at the palace.
Malioboro Street in the city centre is a happening place with at evenings. Shops and street side outlets sell t-shirts, souvenirs, batik, leather footwear, bags, masks and puppets. Many restaurants here are popular for their local dishes of gudeg (peanut powder dressed salad),Baebia and other seafood fare.
Ramam and Sita pose for photos after the Ramayana Ballet
We also savoured some of the traditional sweets made of jaggery and peanuts and rice cakes with coconut filling during buffet dinner at the restaurant next to the Ramayana open air theater. The Ramayana ballet after dinner was a perfect way to end the memorable day. Rama, Rahwana and Sita had exquisite crowns. Rama and Sita made delicate movements as the story of Sita’s kidnap by demon king Rahwan were played. Hanuman is the powerful white monkey who played havoc on stage as he set fire to Rahwanas kingdom of Alengka (Lanka). Ramayana ballet is a daily show with the venue shifting to Prembenan complex during scheduled dates.
We had to say goodbye to Kabul as we left behind the beautiful town of Yogyakarta, the heart of Indonesia, with wonderful memories with a vow to return back for more experiences.
Written by Anand & Madhura Katti