What the Tem­ples of In­done­sia Tell Us

Indonesia Expat - - Contents - BY ANI SUSWAN­TORO

We live in a vast ar­chi­pel­ago na­tion along­side 129 ac­tive vol­ca­noes. Tra­di­tional wooden houses in this re­gion have with­stood the many mas­sive earth­quakes and tremors ei­ther trig­gered by vol­canic erup­tions or tec­tonic plate shifts over cen­turies, even mil­len­nia. How then did the early for­eign cul­tures who in­hab­ited this re­gion along with the indige­nous peo­ple cre­ate such long-last­ing and ma­jes­tic struc­tures in the form of tem­ples and sites of wor­ship? What were some of the early tech­nolo­gies that tack­led the prob­lems sur­round­ing the for­ma­tion of these sites? The fol­low­ing ar­ti­cle pro­vides some in­sight into the fas­ci­nat­ing world of an­cient mon­u­ment con­struc­tion.

In the an­cient past, strength lay in mar­itime trade and cities built close to sea to take ad­van­tage of com­mer­cial or strate­gic mil­i­tary lo­ca­tions. The most fa­mous of the sea-far­ing dy­nas­ties were the Sri­wi­jaya and Ma­japahit, two king­doms that reigned in suc­ces­sion from the sev­enth to fif­teenth cen­turies. Sri­wi­jaya sovereignty cov­ered whole ar­eas of mod­ern- day In­done­sia plus some parts of Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore, Thai­land, Cam­bo­dia and Brunei. Ships from the Sri­wi­jaya pe­riod are be­lieved to have reached the south­east­ern is­land na­tion of Madagascar in Africa, as in­di­cated by DNA tests con­ducted there.

How was it then that the peo­ple of this mar­itime king­dom man­aged to sail 4,000 miles of per­ilous sea even be­fore Euro­pean ships were able to reach the Cape of Good Hope on the south­ern tip of Africa? One an­swer might be pro­vided by re­liefs carved at Borobudur Tem­ple.

In the eighth cen­tury, ship tech­nol­ogy as por­trayed on Borobudur’s walls fea­tured a wooden dou­ble out­rig­ger, a typ­i­cal fea­ture of the sea­far­ing Aus­trone­sian ves­sels. These ships were cre­ated for in­terin­su­lar trade and naval voy­ages, which meant they needed to be fast, steady and sturdy. More re­cently, Bri­tish ad­ven­turer Phillip Beale be­came fas­ci­nated by this fea­ture and en­deav­oured to recre­ate the jour­ney. After fin­ish­ing a replica of the out­rig­ger, he and his team sailed it from Jakarta to Madagascar and fi­nally to Ghana thereby con­firm­ing an­cient in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal trade was pos­si­ble.

Dur­ing the same dy­nas­tic pe­riod, candi (Bud­dhist or Hindu tem­ple) ar­chi­tec­ture was in full swing. The con­struc­tion of candi usu­ally em­ployed a so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem of stone pil­ing. To form joints be­tween stones and pre­vent­ing the stones from shift­ing they used knobs, in­den­ta­tions, dove­tails and pro­tru­sion meth­ods to bind stones with­out mor­tar; and cor­belling to con­struct the roofs and arched gate­ways. Borobudur and Pram­banan tem­ples are solid ex­am­ples uti­liz­ing these types of con­struc­tion meth­ods.

The ar­chi­tec­ture of these grand tem­ples may have been in­flu­enced by vastu shas­tra, a tra­di­tional Hindu sys­tem of ar­chi­tec­ture. How­ever, an early twen­ti­eth cen­tury Dutch his­to­rian named Jan Fon­tein has spec­u­lated that al­though an­cient In­done­sia was in­deed in­flu­enced by In­dian cul­ture, they only picked el­e­ments that aligned with their own cul­ture, in­stead of ab­sorb­ing in­dis­crim­i­nately.

The sheer di­men­sion and the num­ber of del­i­cate re­liefs carved on Borobudur in­di­cate that the an­cient Ja­vanese pos­sessed so­phis­ti­cated so­cial and po­lit­i­cal net­works to co­or­di­nate and or­ga­nize such a grand project, with plenty of skill­ful crafts­men and nat­u­ral re­sources to sup­port them.

Pro­fes­sor Agus Aris Mu­nan­dar, an ar­chae­ol­o­gist from the Univer­sity of In­done­sia ex­plains, “Ma­te­ri­als to build East Java tem­ples dur­ing Ma­japahit era as well as Kadiri and Sing­hasari – the king­doms which pre­date Ma­japahit, con­sist of an­de­site stone, red brick, wood, bam­boo, fi­bres, etc. The ma­te­ri­als were re­trieved from their sur­round­ings. The tem­ple stones are con­nected with­out mor­tar or glue. In­stead, meth­ods such as di­rect con­nec­tion, chisel con­nec­tion, key-stone con­nec­tion, trench con­nec­tion and di­rect-stack­ing were used to join the stones. With re­gard to tem­ples made of red bricks, a unique pro­ce­dure is ap­plied: rub­bing the sur­face of one brick against the other then sprin­kling some wa­ter on it.”

THE FRONT VIEW OF PENATARAN TEM­PLE IN BLITAR, EAST JAVA ONE SUN­DAY AF­TER­NOON. THE CON­STRUC­TION OF PENATARAN TEM­PLE SPANNED FROM KADIRI KING­DOM TO MA­JAPAHIT KING­DOM.

A DE­TAILED DE­PIC­TION OF A SHIP IN A RE­LIEF OF BOROBUDUR TEM­PLE, WHICH PHILLIP BEALE STUD­IED.

THE UP­PER RE­LIEF DE­PICTS QUEEN MAYA, ON HER WAY TO A PARK TO DE­LIVER PRINCE SIDDHARTA. PRINCE SIDDHARTA LATER BE­CAME THE BUD­DHA. SUCH A FINE, DEL­I­CATE RE­LIEF MUST RE­QUIRE SO­PHIS­TI­CATED EX­PER­TISE OF CRAFTS­MEN.

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