The Prambanan Temples And The Legend Of The Slender Virgin.

Prambanan Temple Yogyakarta Indonesia

The Prambanan temples sometimes feel like the unwanted relative at a party compared to the world recognised and spectacular Borobudur, but this UNESCO world heritage site is more than worth a visit based on its own merits.

Prambanan is often a tagged on option on many of the tours and sightseeing trips offered by the agencies in Yogyakarta, a half day option added to the end of an activity rich itinerary, which is a huge shame as many tourists just don’t give it the time it deserves to explore this 9th Century Hindu temple in its full and complete glory. In fact many people miss it off their lists altogether.

Thanks to my earlier visit to Borobudur a day earlier, I had gotten rid of the temple fatigue I had been feeling and was looking forward to visiting this monument and it did not disappoint. Even given the grandeur of Borobudur it is difficult to see how this grand complex of temples can be so overshadowed by anything at all. There are only a dozen or so main temples and shrines left of the original two hundred and forty, with much of the complex still in ruin. But Prambanan is far from a shadow of its former self. In any other country the ruined complex would be an iconic national treasure, on the scale of the Sphinx, Big Ben or even the Eiffel Tower.

In one respect that just shows how underappreciated the history and adventure rich Indonesia and Java in particular are undervalued by travellers. In another much more positive note, it meant that the entire complex wasn’t anywhere nearly as busy as Borobudur was.

It had coach loads of tourists of course, usually being bussed in and out in hour or two hour segments as part of their package deal and many of them completely oblivious to the sanctity of the site as they took their selfies, but being alone and by travelling independently to the site, I got to appreciate it all the more, with definitive quiet periods that gave me just a hint of the serenity and peace that would have surrounded these temples in their prime.

Prambanan temples in Indonesia entrance

Arriving At Prambanan.

Arriving early at the site, I made my way through the pretty modern and impressive visitors centre after a brief  browse around the exhibits and models and strolled through the manicured gardens that made up what used to be the outer zone of the temple complex. It was there I got my first glimpse of the temples themselves, surrounded by numerous smaller shrines in various states of repair and restoration.

Apart from a short disruption of giggling schoolchildren trying to practice their English and take photographs with the huge westerner, I was left alone on my exploration of the site. No touts, no beggars, nothing. It was bliss!

Prambanan temples in Indonesia shrine ruins

It was the middle zone, with its collection of over two hundred smaller shrines and temples that held my attention at first. Many of these shrines – referred to as guardian temples – were in ruin or in the process of being restored and were therefore off limits, but by taking time to read the history as I explored what little of the section I could, it surprised me at just how many conflicting theories there were of what this part of the complex was used for. Everything from the simple and mundane, decorative pieces used for aesthetic reasons, to the more esoteric, where each layer was a representation of the caste system with as many strict rules imposed on their use. Archaeology is quite often guess work mixed in with theory and the occasional dramatic flair, until of course someone digs up the next piece of evidence that changes everything, but to have so little definitive knowledge of such a grand structure is staggering.

Prambanan temples in Indonesia

The central zone was always however going to be the most impressive. It would have been the holiest and most sacred part of the complex during Prambanans prime, and the temples reflected that. A myriad of jagged, saw toothed pinnacles reaching out from the sky toward the heavens, the eight remaining temples and their respective shrines were built to reflect various dieties in the Hindu belief system and reflected the cardinal points of north, south, east and west perfectly.

The temples themselves were impressive when viewed as a whole complex, but it was up close that Prambanan really let you see a part of her. The level of detail on each temple was more than worth the majority of the day I spent wandering around and just admiring the art, an indulgence that I enjoyed even more thanks to my brief stop at the visitors centre at the start of the day, where I learned of the legend attached to Prambanan by the Javanese, the legend of the slender virgin.

Prambanan temples in Indonesia cat carving

The Legend.

The Javanese princess Loro Jonggrang – the eponymous slender virgin – was to be taken as a bride to Prince Bandung after he defeated her father King Boko in battle. She reluctantly agreed, but set the prince a challenge first. She would only agree to marry him if he built one thousand temples before sunrise. The prince agreed, and called on spirits to help him. With the help of the spirits he quickly built nine hundred and ninety nine temples. Not wanting to marry the man who had killed her father, the princess called on her people to help save her and light a large fire to the east of the temples. Fooled into thinking it was dawn, the spirits that had been helping the prince fled before building the final temple and he failed in his task. Prince Bandung was furious when he discovered the deception, and curse princess Jonggrang and turned her into stone. Making her the final, and most beautiful of all the temples. The temples that eventually became known as Prambanan.

Prambanan temple in Indonesia

This is exactly why I love travel, discovering new cultures and learning about their history and legends. The architecture, archaeology and physical artwork of Prambanan were both fascinating and stunning in equal measure, but it was the local legend that brought the history to life.

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Etiquette For Visiting Buddhist Temples In South East Asia.

Hotel Review: The Ministry of Coffee, Yogyakarta.


Temple Revival In Yogyakarta.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Destinations
10 comments on “The Prambanan Temples And The Legend Of The Slender Virgin.
  1. Demetrius says:

    What an amazing article, thank you! We’re heading to Indonesia ourselves soon and this just brought a whole new level to one of the places we are looking forward to seeing!

  2. lompatlompat says:

    You didn’t stay to watch the Ramayana show after sunset at the temple? I really recommend it!

  3. Julie Hayes says:

    Really enjoy reading your write ups, so interesting, thank you !

  4. John says:

    Those temples looks stunning, huge props on your photography skills.

  5. Sara says:

    Such an interesting story! It’s so nice to know the legends about the temples before we visit. (We are planning our Indo adventure for early next year, so excited!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

Get notified about all the latest travel tips, advice and inspiration as well as amazing competitions and exclusive discounts! Don't worry we will never send you spam or unwanted mail.

Join 18,224 other subscribers
Copyright notice.

© Bemused Backpacker and the gecko logo is owned and copyrighted by Michael Huxley 2023. Unless stated, all blog and website content is owned and copyrighted by Michael Huxley 2023.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Michael Huxley is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Huxley and Bemused Backpacker with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Protected by Copyscape DMCA Copyright Detector

%d bloggers like this: