The word 'candi' (temple) refers to buildings of various shapes and
functions, such as a worshipping place, a religious teaching
center, a funerary place for keeping ashes of kings, a dwelling
place of the divine, a royal bathing place, or a gateway.
Although temples once served many functions, they were built
mostly to accommodate Buddhism or Hinduism religious
The existence of temples is inseparable from the history of
Javanese kingdoms and the development of Buddhism and Hinduism
in Java from 7th century to 14th century. Since Buddhism and
Hinduism came from India, the design of most temples adopted
Indian style in many aspects, such as the constructing
techniques, architectural style, and decorations. However,
because of the ample influence of local culture and natural
environment, the design of Indonesian temples retains its unique
characteristics in the usage of building material, constructing
techniques and decoration style. The temple walls are commonly
adorned with relief sculpture depicting a story or religious
The Manasara book states that the design of a temple is the
basis for the art of designing gates. There are two functions of
a gate. Firstly, it marks the boundary of an area. Secondly, it
becomes an opening through walls that enclose a building
compound. As the outer part of a bigger building structure, a
gate plays a significant role since it echoes the grandeur of
the main building it encloses. The difference between a gate and
a temple lies on the design of the interior. The cella of a
temple is a chamber, while the inner part of a gate is a passage
that functions as an access way.
Some old Indian religious books such as Manasara describe canonic rules, which were firmly held by Indian
builders, for constructing a gate. Builders at one time believed
that the rules outlined in those religious books were sacred and
held a magical property. They maintained that a beautiful
building correctly constructed according to such rules would
benefit the builder and the ruler who ordered the construction.
Such building would bring welfare and happiness to the people.
This belief underlay the complex religious and technical
preparation made by builders.
One of the most essential technical preparations was rendering a
proper blueprint to ensure that the building to be erected fit
to what the builder had expected. The blueprint had to conform
to certain canonic rules and requirements that governed the
shape, size, or layout of the temple. Discrepancies from the
rules and requirements stated in the religious books would bring
the builder and the people around the temple tremendous
adversity. While the canonic rules and requirements stated in
the books were almost impossible to modify, influence from local
culture and natural environment was unavoidable. Moreover, every
builder had their own imagination and creativity.
Temples are still a common sight in many places in Indonesia,
most of which are located in Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java
and Bali. While most of the temples have fallen into ruin, some
still survive and even retain their function as a worshipping
place. A temple, as a product of a culture, reflects the golden
age of kingdoms in the past.
Most of Hindu temples in Indonesia were built by kings during
their lifetime. The statues of gods and goddesses, such as
Vishnu, Brahma, Tara and Durga, which were placed inside a
temple, were manifestation of their ancestors. A sculptured
stone was placed at the temple to mark the king’s devotion.
Sometimes a short account of the life of king who ordered the
construction of the temple was carved onto the stone. Unlike
Hindu temples, most Buddhist temples were built to highlight the
king’s religious devotion and to ask for blessings. Buddhist
temples in Indonesia preserve the teachings of Mahayana
Buddhism, to which the present Indonesian Buddhists belong,
while Buddhists in Myanmar and Thailand are Hinayanists.
In this website, temples in Indonesian are classified into:
temples located in Central Java and Yogyakarta, temples located
in East Java, temples in Bali, and temples located in Sumatra.
Although presently Central Java and Yogyakarta are two different
provinces under two separate provincial administrations, the
regions are historically connected since they were once under
the control of Hindu Mataram Kingdom. The then mighty kingdom
played a pivotal role in the construction of temples in both
regions. It is difficult to classify temples in both regions
into temples typical of Central Java and Yogyakarta. However,
there are characteristics by which the northern temples are
different from the southern temples. The northern temples,
mostly constructed under the command of Sanjaya Dynasty, are
Hindu temples with modest design. The platforms of these temples
are simple without ornaments. The temples are usually laid out
in clusters, with each cluster showing no specific arrangement
of temples. Dieng Temple and Gedongsanga Temple fall into this
category. Meanwhile, the southern temples, built under
Syailendra Dynasty’s sovereignty, are Buddhist temples,
characterized by the beautiful construction and ornaments. These
temples sit in clusters, and each cluster retains an identical
arrangement of temples, in which the main temple is always in
the middle of the compound, amidst ancillary temples. Prambanan,
Mendut, Kalasan, Sewu (Thousand), and Borobudur fall into this
category of temples.
Most temples located in East Java were built later than temples
in Central Java and Yogyakarta, since the former were
constructed by kingdoms such as Kahuripan, Singasari, Kediri,
and Majapahit, which were the successors of Mataram Hindu
Kingdom when its era was over. The period in which an East
Javanese temple was built determined the building material,
design, style and narratives depicted in the relief sculpture.
Temples built on Singasari Kingdom’s instructions, for example,
were made of blocks of andesite and decorated with fragments of
Tantrayana (Hindu-Buddhist) teachings, whereas most temples
built during the sovereignty of Majapahit Empire were made of
bricks and decorated mostly with Buddhist teachings.
Most Balinese temples are Hindu shrines, and they still serve as
a worshipping place to the present day. There are two temples
located in Sumatra Island, Portibi Temple in North Sumatra
Province and Muara Takus Temple in Riau Province.
Some temples in Indonesia were discovered and restored at the
dawn of 20th century. On June 14, 1913 the Dutch colonial
administration founded an agency for preserving ancient
heritages, which was called Oudheidkundige Dienst (abbreviated
as OD). Since then, the efforts to preserve temples intensified.