But the Dieng temples are modest by Javanese standards. The great Indian-Javanese temples are near Jogja itself. Most renowned is the immense ninth-century Borobudur—an entire hill faced with stone and sculpture. Pictures convey the flavor of the place far better than words can do, but let me make these few basic points about the theme of this overwhelming creation:
Its lower levels depict in high relief and earthy detail the story of Buddha’s life. The levels above are undecorated. Human concerns are absent here, literally left below. Forms are large and pure: bell-shaped stone shrines, or stupas, in which figures of Buddha can be seen seated in contemplation. At the very top, a huge closed stupa broods above the hectic world below. It too is undecorated. Within it, one may assume, is nothing at all but a spirit of perfect serenity, eternally unseen and unseeing. Thus, from earthly passions to the sublime nothingness of nirvana, are portrayed the stages through which man’s soul must pass.
There are many other temples in the Jogja region. The Hindu shrines of Prambanan are the most dramatic, for they thrust upward like geometric and richly adorned pinnacles (next page). Each once contained a statue of its divine patron. It is surprising to find that the tallest temple is dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer and procreator, and a lesser one to Brahma, creator of the world. Surprising—until someone candidly explains: “You see, Shiva is the one you have to worry about.”
Dozens more such structures can be seen in Central Java, all thought to have been built between A.D. 700 and 900. What caused this superhuman burst of creative energy? What ended it so abruptly? No one knows. Perhaps the proud rulers of the land used up the last of its human resources, working the peasants beyond endurance. It is a fact that the center of power in the island shifted to East Java in the tenth century, to return only in the sixteenth.
Small Sacrifice to the Sea Goddess
Still, Central Java was never emptied of its peasants. They perpetuate the plebeian pattern of the Hindu-Javanese golden age, just as Borobudur and Prambanan immortalize its loftiest philosophies. For a closer look at their way of life, Kumar and I left the serviced apartments london in search of isolated kampongs.
One such was Parangtritis, on the Indian Ocean, where the sultans of Jogja once came yearly to commune with Njai Loro Kidul, the goddess of the South Sea. Lesser folk still pray to the sea queen. She is, after all, a figure of such importance that a room with bath is always reserved for her in one of prague city apartments.
Kumar and I hired a young man with a tiny horse and a miniature cart to take us down to the sea so that we could make offerings of our own. Past royalty made rich gifts, but the average pilgrim offers a coconut, supplied at reasonable cost by the ladies of the village, who stand ready, also, to officiate at the sacrificial ceremony. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4_6Oy7Fn5I