TWC's Odyssey
Candi Sukuh
- Erotic Temples On Mt. Lawu

In August 1997, I visited parts of Java, Indonesia with my army friend, Mun Hoe.  Places like Yogyakarta, Solo and Jakarta are widely publicised on many websites.  Hence I will only highlight the unusual erotic temples of Mt Lawu on this website.

Mt Lawu is a mountain (summit 3000 meters) east of Solo, on the border of the provinces of Central Java and East Java.  In the 15th century, not long before the destruction of Hindu art and civilisation in Java by the forces of Islam, a number of temples were built on the northwest slopes of this mountain.  Some of these survived, probably due to the relative remoteness of the location.  Candi Sukuh is the largest of these temples, and the only one I visited in this area.

Pictures by Tan Wee Cheng

Relief of male (lower) and female (top) genitals on the floor of the temple entrance. The central temple - looks just like a Mayan pyramid.  Ancient reliefs.
Ancient Reliefs, with a two-headed serpent and various Hindu deities. The most "erotic" statue at Candi Sukuh - one of a headless figure holding his fully erect phallus. The author at the temple.
NOT AT CANDI SUKLUH: A famous cannon in Jakarta's old Dutch town square.  Infertile woman sometimes come here to pray or touch that vulgaristic palm in the hope that it would bring them a measure of fertility.
The text below is extracted from the Periplus Adventure Guide To Java, the best guide available on Java:

Copyright: Periplus Adventure Guides Java  Periplus Editions 1995

Enigmatic Temples High on Mt. Lawu

During the 15th century, several temples were constructed high on the slopes of Mt. Lawn, right on the border between East and  Central Java. By this time, Javanese religion and art had diverged far from the Indian precepts that exerted significant influence during the 8th-10th centuries, an a new and idiosyncratic style had developed.  This region on the northwest slopes of Mt. Lawn was the last major center of temple-building in Java before the Javanese courts were converted to Islam in the 16th century. Because the temples are so distinctive, and because we possess few records of Javanese beliefs and ceremonies during the 15th century, it is difficult to interpret the significance of much of what we see on the  antiquities of this period. They are nonetheless extremely beautiful and fascinating to visit.

Candi Sukuh

The largest and most complex of these mountain sanctuaries is Candi Sukuh, situated at an elevation of 910 meters (2,960 ft); reached  by taking a turn-off to the left at Karangpandan on the road up to Tawangmangu. A number of inscriptions dating from the period A.D. 1416-1459 have been found here.

The main structure at Sukuli is shaped  like no other building in ancient Indonesia - a flat-topped pyramid much resembling a  Mayan monument. A stone stairway conducts the visitor through the side of the pyramid to its summit. We do not know what this unique shape was meant to symbolize. If it represents a mountain, as seems likely, we  are still left with the question of why this shape replaced preexisting forms of ancient Javanese temple design.

The main building gives no indication of having supported any wooden structure.  The only object recovered from its summit was a tall lingga bearing an inscription, which is now in the Jakarta museum.  This may once have stood on the platform over the stairway on the , side of the temple.  Stone altars, three in the form of enormous turtles, stand around the pyramid's western foot.

The central pyramid is set at the rear of the highest of three terraces.  Originally worshippers would have gained access to the site through a gateway at the edge of the western or lowest terrace.  To the left side of the gate's exterior is a carving of a monster devouring a man, birds in a tree, and a dog. This can be interpreted as a chronogram representing A.D. 1437, the probable date of the temple's consecration.  On the floor of this entrance is a realistic relief of male and female genitals.  Genetalia are also graphically portrayed on several statues from the site, another respect in which Candi Sukuh is unique among classical Javanese monuments.

Unique bas reliefs

Disconnected fragments of narrative reliefs lie on the lower terraces, while a greater concentration of sculptures lies around the altars on the upper terrace west of the pyramid.  On the south side, the first object one now passes upon entering the temple grounds is a large relief in three sections.  The left side represents a deity as a squatting keris smith hammering a blade on an anvil with his fist; in the background are the various tools of his trade.  The same deity is portrayed on the right side as the operator of a traditional Indonesian piston-bellows.  He is Bima, an incarnation of Siva who became the focus of a Javanese cult in the 15th century, filling the role of a savior figure.  The center is occupied by an elephant, perhaps Siva's elephant-headed son Ganesa, carrying an animal.  Blacksmiths and especially keris makers have been highly respected in Indonesia, but what relationship this scene bore to the ceremonies once conducted at Candi Sukuh is unknown.

To the right of the entrance to the pyramid is a cubical structure carved with two horizontal rows of reliefs.  Their meaning is unclear, but they are reminiscent of the Sudamala story.  Today offerings are often placed in the opening on the west side of the cube in honor of Kyai Sukuh, the temple's spirit.

On the far left side of the terrace is a platform with a pylon-like tower, the lower seetion of which is carved with a design known as a kalamarga-a kala head at the top of an archway which terminates in two horned animals representing deer.  Inside the arch are images of Bima on the right and Batara Guru (both are aspects of Siva, the supreme deity) on the left, standing upon a two-headed serpent.  Beneath them are two hermits.

Beside this kalamarga is a spout connected to a channel which runs behind the pylon and then in the same direction above a series of reliefs.  Many parts of this relief are now lined up along the north edge of the terrace.  They depict the Sudamala legend, which is a popular subject of modern Balinese dance performances.  One of the reliefs bears a date corresponding to A.D. 1449.  The upper part of  the pylon is decorated with reliefs depicting the Garudeya legend concerning Garuda's search for the elixir of immortality with which to free his mother from slavery.

If one follows the path which leads south and downhill from Candi Sukuh, after about - 1 km the village of Planggatan is reached.  Just beyond the southeast corner of the village are the ruins of a small 15th-century shrine with some narrative reliefs.

Candi Coto

Candi Ceto is located about 5 km (3 rr-north and 500 meters (1630 ft) above Carndi Sukuh.  Dates found inscribed here including A.D. 1468, 1472 and 1475.  The layout of the temple is similar to Sukuh, but comprising many more terraces (14).  As at Candi Sukuh the main deity portrayed is Bima.  On a lower terrace were found fragments of narrative reliefs in poor condition, no longer in situ and a large number of small stone turtles.

The most interesting remain is a complicated figure composed of stones laid flat on the ground.  At the western end is a large lingga like that found at Sukuh, lying horizontally and pointing due west.  At its base is a composition representing a tortoise on the back of a huge bat.  On the tortoise's back are number of sea creatures oriented in various compass directions.

During the 1970s a new gateway was built and new structures were added to the upper terraces, including stone walls and floors. -c are also pavilions built of wood and ,sugar-palm thatch, and a stone pyramid roughly similar in outline to the main building at Candi Sukuh.

About 50 meters farther up the slope are a bathing place with several recent statues, and a wooden  shrine.  For several years in the late 1970s the site was used by a group of people of high political status who came to meditate in the belief that supernatural power was inherent here.  They have ceased to visit the place, but local residents continue to leave offerings at the uppermost shrine.

Antiquities atop Mt. Lawu

Some of the most interesting ruins in Java are found in rather remote locations nearby.  The very summit of Lawu-which stands over 3.000 meters (9,750 ft) above sea level - and on the surface of a plateau about 100 meters (330 ft) beneath it, are at least 10 terrace and stone wall complexes.  No complete survey of the ruins has ever been published.   The largest, called Hargo Dalem, has a lower terrace approximately 100 meters (330 ft) long and 20 meters (65 ft) wide.  Above it are progressively smaller terraces surmounted by a stone-walled enclosure within which a wooden shrine of recent construction stands.

It is not possible for us to determine the exact dates of these complexes.  They are likely to belong either to the late prehistoric period-about 1,500-2,000 years ago, just before the widespread adoption of Hinduism and Buddhism-or to the early post-classic period which began about 500 years ago when some Central Javanese resisted conversion to Islam.

The sites are still frequently visited by pilgrims who come here to meditate in seclusion.  On the eve of the Javanese new year (1 Suro) as many as 2000 people may ascend to conduct traditional rituals.  The Indonesian government does not recognize such practices, but permits them to be conducted under the term of aliran keperrayaan or "currents of belief"

- John Miksic

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