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Candi Plaosan was not only one of the last major
religious foundations pertaining to Mahayana Buddhism to be constructed
during Java’s “Classic Age” but it was also the largest in scope,
at least among those that have survived into modern times. Because
of its somewhat isolated location, this amazing temple complex has not
received the same level of interest and care that has befallen Central
Java’s more famous temples of
Sited just over a kilometer to the Northeast of Prambanan village on the outskirts of modern Yogyakarta (110 deg., 30’, 11.07” E; 7 deg., 44’, 13” S), the entire temple complex was originally surrounded by a walled perimeter (Fig. 1 ) that had extended about 460 m. from South to North and 290 m. from East to West. 1)
On the interior side of this immense walled
enclosure is a moat that extends about 440 m. from North to South and
about 270 m. from East to West. A small portion of the moat’s
stone construction work can be seen by walking in the eastward
direction down the main road that passes through the middle of this
remarkable historical site (Photo 1).
Candi Plaosan Lor (Javanese for “North), which encompasses both the North and Central Groups of the temple complex, features a walled perimeter in the form of a rectangle (Fig. 2 ); it extends about 219 m. from South to North and 87.5 m from East to West. 2)
The Northern Group mirrors Candi Plaosan Kidul in that it also contains a quadrangular terrace that is surrounded by its own ring wall. In the North, however, both the raised terrace and its encircling ring wall are surrounded by stupas exclusively.
Although far from certain, the construction-works in the North may have been isolated from the Central Group by means of a dividing wall, which would have effectively created two separate yards measuring about 72 x 87.5 m. (North) and 147.5 x 87.5 m. (Central), respectively. However, the material traces for the proposed dividing wall are few and far between. The scant remains above ground level of a possible wall are all located on the East side of the yard.
The Central Group is the largest and most complete of Candi Plaosan’s three distinct divisions. The two largest buildings of the Central Group have been awarded their own encompassing walled perimeter, which features two gateways on the West side that serve as the courtyard accesses (Photo 2 ). An intervening wall has also been placed between these two viharas that features a third gateway that allows visitors to freely move between the two large buildings.The area between the Central Group’s inner courtyard and outermost walled perimeter originally had contained 116 stupas as well as 58 four-sided temples of similar dimensions. The outermost walled perimeter of this yard has two entranceways in the West over which pairs of dvarapala-images preside (Photo 3). Each of these stone directional guardians kneels on one knee. The left hand leans on a club for support while the right hand holds a snake. A short sword lies against the right hip; the caste cords are an ordinary cord and not a snake; and a decorated band has been chiseled for the head.
External View of the Plaosan Lor Viharas
The South-vihara measures 23 m. from North to South along the back side of the foundation and 22 m. from the middle of the back side in the East to the end of the small flagstone (36 cm. in width) in front of the building's singular staircase in the West. Two pairs of fully functioning windows are located on the first story level; they bracket the Northwest and Southwest corners and are all framed by kala-makara ornaments. Moreover, there are two pairs of false windows on this level that straddle the Northeast and Southeast corners. Although they appear to be normal windows from the outside, the interior walls actually cover over these openings to the outside world. In addition, there are three false windows along the back side of the first story in the East; in lieu of openings, each contains a flat panel that features the image of a vase out of which vegetation can be seen sprouting. Moreover, a small standing female figure is located on either side of all eleven windows at this level.
The base of the first story level measures 18.85
m from North to South along the back side and 11.17 m. from East to
West, not including the front projecting porch. A
narrow ledge projects out from the building's first story in the
East, North and South by 1.35 m; on the front side where the staircase
attaches to the basement, this ledge a slightly narrower depth of 1.15
m. Although this ledge is certainly wide enough to serve as a raised
ambulatory path, it is not surrounded by a low balustrade as is the
case at other Buddhist temples in
facing-walls of the first story feature a total of 18 panels (6 on the
East side, and 4 each on the remaining 3 sides), whereas there are 20
more on the walls of the second story as well as two more that flank
the entranceway on the building’s front-projecting porch. Flanked by
pilasters, each of these 40 panels contains a beautiful rendition of a
standing male figure (Photo
5), carved in the much the same style as is found at the nearby
Buddhist Candis such as Kalasan, Lumbung, Sewu and Sari. Generally
speaking, one hand of each figure holds a flower stem that springs up
from a plant near the feet, while the other hand holds the short stem
of a flower. In some cases, an attribute has been placed on top of this
flower, while in other cases one sometimes encounters a lamp burner
beside the standing figure.
It is not entirely clear whether the architect
had intended any of these figures to represent the Bodhisattvas of
Mahayana Buddhism. At Candi Sari in particular, figures in comparable
positions on the outside-facing walls of the temple have in some cases
been portrayed as naga serpent deities (Photo 6), while in
other instances there are figures which are equipped with sets of wings
(Photo 7). Moreover,
the inclusion of female portrayals in the mix at Candi Sari, among
others, further clouds the issue.
The vestibule’s partition walls have been
divided into three distinct components: in the middle is a blind window
that is flanked to either side by an ornamental panel. The window,
which rests on a beautiful pedestal, is filled with a hanging pattern
comprised of the tricoela chakra art motif, which is
also found at other Central Javanese temples, including Candi Sewu and
the main Prambanan
Continuing upward in the vertical domain, both
viharas possess a false third story that incorporates a total of 16
niches: 5 each in the East and West as well as 3 more in the North and
South. None of these third story niches features a tapestry design on
their back walls. We do not know whether or not these 16 niches had
originally been intended to house images. However, the architect of
Candi Kalasan had indeed included niches in that temple’s upper story
where images of the Tathagatas of the cardinal directions can still be
The roof and third story of each vihara
collectively support a total of 41 stupas. The main stupa at the center
of the roof is closely surrounded by two descending tiers of 8 stupas
each. These centrally located components are in turn flanked to either
side by five additional large stupas that feature their own elevated
platform: 3 each at the North and South ends of the roof plus 2 more
within the intervening space between the North and South end of the
roof and the roof center. A total of 5 much smaller stupas have been
placed in a line on both the West and the East sides of the roof, with
the central stupa on the East and West sides elevated above the other
four in each row. In addition, a small stupa has been placed at each of
the four corners of the third story. By contrast, the roof of each
vihara’s front-projecting porch is exclusively adorned by ratna
elements, as is also the case with the gates and the 58 prasadas.
Each vihara’s singular stairway features wings
to either side that are adorned with creeper-style ornaments. Moreover,
the banisters of the staircase terminate downstairs in makara heads of
the type that has a volute-forming proboscis. As is also the case at
the Buddhist temples of
Eight steps lead up to the landing of the front-projecting porch. The entranceway to the vihara, which is 1.26 m. wide and 1.52 m. in depth, features a kala-makara framework that portrays the makara heads resting on the backs of decumbent elephants (Photo 8).
Internal Review of the Plaosan Lor Viharas
The nearly identical internal layouts of the
viharas at Plaosan Lor (Fig. 3 ) caused Krom to immediately think of Candi
Sari. The main structures for all three buildings form rectangles and
all had a projection for the entranceway that is located in the middle
of one of the long sides. While the viharas at Plaosan Lor have
retained their original staircases, entranceways and vestibules, none
of these building components survived in the case of Candi Sari, where
today one enters the central cella by way of a short hallway. Upon
reaching the central cella, one encounters access-ways leading off to
two additional chambers located to the right and left, which is
precisely the same state of affairs to be found within the two viharas
at Candi Plaosan. But what is most uncanny is that all three buildings
that feature internal divisions that are all but identical.
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Each vestibule niche formerly contained the
image of a richly decorated Bodhisattva, seated with legs crossed, with
the right hand in the vara-mudra (bestowing charity);
the outer edge of each image’s stone backing is decorated with
According to Krom, the two corresponding
Bodhisattvas in either temple are as follows: Maitreya to the left when
entering the building (Photo
10), recognizable from the small stupa in the head ornament, and
from the stem of the blue lotus (utpala) that he holds
in the left hand; which undoubtedly carries the nagapuspa
emblem of Maitreya. 3)
In the opposite niche was established Manjusri (Photo 11)
a book established above his utpala in the same manner; behind the
Bodhisattva’s neck there is a crescent moon form in the halo, the
symbol of princely youth and the image also has a crossed cord at the
breast, both of which are singularities that belong to this particular
Bodhisattva. These images of Maitreya and Manjusri are today kept in
The passage that leads into the vihara’s inner
sanctum is located in the middle of the vestibule’s back side in the
East. This second portal has also retained the kala-makara theme, but
with the makara heads now resting on squatting raksasa-carriers that
have a bell hanging from both hands. In addition, the makara heads here
hold parrots in their mouths, which is also the case with the makaras
that adorn the vestibule niches.
The ensuing passageway is 1.25 m. in width and either 2.49 m. (North-vihara) or 2.29 m. (South-vihara) in length, and has floor that rises some 29 cm above the floor of the fronting vestibule. Having reached the far end of this passageway, one enters the vihara’s central chamber, which also features access-ways to side chambers on the right and left sides; narrower than main-entranceway these accesses are about 87 cm. in breadth and about 1.7 m. in length. In addition, the floors of these passages are elevated above the floors of the chambers they interconnect.
In the South-vihara, the cellas measure about
5.95 m from East to West. The raised floor in front of the altar
in central cella measures 2.06 m. from East to West (Fig. 3a ), a 71-cm extension with
respect to the other five cellas in the two buildings.
Perhaps this extension had something to do with the use of this
space for performing rituals. In the North
vihara, the cellas measure about 5.80 m from East to West and the
raised platforms in front of the altars are of similar dimensions in
all three rooms (Fig.
As has been said, two functioning windows have been introduced in each of the vihara side chambers of the first story at Candi Plaosan Lor, which are located adjacent to either side of the NW and SW corners. Moreover, there are two wall niches in each of the three chambers, one in either partition wall, together with an altar that lies against the back wall and runs along the whole breadth of it. These altars have a depth of about 1 m., not including a footer that extends by 15 cm (North-vihara) or 30 cm (South-vihara) to the West; these altars also have an average height of about 75 cm. During Krom’s time, the floors of all three chambers had been largely destroyed and sometimes dug out to a depth of more than 1.50 m. Now that the two viharas have been reconstructed, however, it is possible to make one additional observation that is worthy of our further attention. In all six chambers, the section of the floor immediately in front of the altar is raised by about 5 cm from the remainder of the floor area in each cella. In five out of six instances, the raised platform extend by 1.33 m. to 1.38 m from the foot of the altar to the start of the niches in the side walls, which are 60 cm. wide, 1.15 m. in height. Vacant since the time of Plaosan’s rediscovery, these niches are framed with kala-makara ornaments featuring cuckoo birds, and are all vacant. In the case of the central cella in the Southern vihara, however, the raised platform there extends by 2.06 m. from the foot of the altar to the other side of the niche-pairs (see Fig. 3a ).
The altar in each of the six chambers provides
enough space for the placement of three images. The Bodhisattvas on
either end of the altar turning out to be somewhat larger than what can
be estimated as the extent of the now-missing main image, presumably
that of a Buddha. Including the cushion and pedestal, they are
approximately 1.50 m. in height. As Krom has noted, the
Bodhisattva-images within the two viharas at Plaosan Lor are all seated
on lotus cushions that entirely break away from the images and against
which the ends of the waistband and the garment slip have been
chiseled. Their manner of being seated reflects the predominant
Bodhisattva-posture, with the left leg folded back towards the groin,
with the right leg fully extended, and with the right foot resting on a
lotus cushion, which at Plaosan is supported by a small standing lion.
In most cases, the right hand of each
Bodhisattva lies on the right knee in the vara-mudra, while the left
hand holds the stem of the lotus flower on which the Bodhisattva’s
identifying attribute rests. The stone halos attached to the back of
these images, which feature a flame motif on their edges, terminate in
a spade-like sharp point at the top. The styling and decoration of
these characters are exceptionally beautiful, particularly with respect
to the head-ornament. And as Krom pointed out, the sculptor has
succeeded in capturing something of the divine repose and serenity that
is uniquely appropriate for these lofty beings of Buddhism, which is
reflected in the noble lines of their faces.
Originally an image had occupied the space
between the two Bodhisattvas on each altar, one that was smaller, but
which had a higher lotus cushion that reached to the knees of the
side-figures. Only the cushions still remain, which measure
approximately 90 cm (North to South) by 50 cm (East to West). The seed
pod decorations covering a large part of their upper surfaces give us
an indication of the base dimensions for the images that have
disappeared, which must have been seated in the Indian manner. A
further indication of this presumption comes from the absence of any
chiseled garment slips and ornament bands on their cushion. As Krom
rightly noted, their placement on seats between two Bodhisattvas also
makes it rather certain that Buddha-images had formerly been in
attendance at these locations. T. van Erp suggested that plunderers had
removed the central figures of each triad because they had been made
out of valuable metals and therefore had disappeared into the crucible
at some point during the rise of Islam on Java.
In his “Introduction to Hindu-Javanese Art”
(1923), N. J. Krom attempted to establish the identity of the surviving
Bodhisattva images within the two viharas. He begins in the
South-vihara with the location on the right-hand side of the
Buddha-image in the Northern cella of each building, which he
identifies as Maitreya (Photo
12), which like the one in the vestibule has a stupa in the
headdress and carries the nagapuspa emblem on an utpala. On the
left-hand side of the Buddha is a Bodhisattva whose attribute is a bud
triad on an opened padma (Photo
13). Krom identified this image as Samantabhadra, even though he
had earlier indicated a preference for associating the emblem of the
three jewel buds at Candi Mendut with the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (Photo 14).
The central chamber contains the image of
Avalokitesvara (Photo 15)
Buddha’s right-hand side, recognizable from the
Amitabha-figurine in his head ornament and from the pink lotus (padma) he holds in one hand; a book may have originally
been placed on the top of this flower. Of its counterpart on the
Buddha’s left-hand side, Krom draws an analogy with some of the
bas-reliefs at Borobudur to suggest an identification with Vajrapani (Photo 16), even though
the emblem on the top of
the flower is no longer in evidence.
In the South chamber we encounter an image that
displays a triangle surrounded by flames, which the figure carries on a
lotus (Photo 17) on
the basis of this flaming attribute, which is also seen at Candi
Mendut, Krom has identified the image as the Bodhisattva
Sarvanivaranavishkambin. At the other end of the altar is Manjusri (Photo 18), which
displays the same characteristics as before, with the half-sickle moon
behind the neck, a crossed cord on the torso and a book on an
Concerning the images within the North-vihara,
there was not as much to see during Krom’s time, and still less to see
today. As for the remainder, Where no sufficient indications for making
an identification were present and in absence of any contrary
indications, Krom proposed that two identical groups of six
Bodhisattvas had originally been placed in the interiors of the two
viharas, together with the Maitreya and Manjusri images that appear for
a second time in the niches of the vestibule. 4)
For his part, the Dutch savant J.L. Moens believed that the two Plaosan viharas had originally contained a complete serial presentation of the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, therefore presumably rejecting Krom’s assumption that the figures of Manjusri and Maitreya were presented twice within each building. However, Moens’ presumption is difficult to accept in light of the fact that all eight figures in each building do not share the same seated posture. If a serial of eight had indeed been intended, then why incorporate differences in posture while at the same time presenting nearly identical attributes for Bodhisattvas that had been intended to be clearly differentiated? 5)
The Bas-reliefs on the Interior Partition Walls
One further finds some elevated relief work that
is exclusively portrayed on the partition walls of the North and South
chambers in each vihara, whereas the partition walls of the central
chambers in both viharas are smooth. Bas-reliefs featuring male figures
exclusively have been introduced on interior partition walls of the
South-vihara. One scene portrays two men seated with crossed legs
underneath a stylized tree (Photo 19); both are rendering homage by making the
sembah hand gesture. Their parasol carriers are
seated to either side underneath trees of a similar appearance.
Another relief panel in the northern-most chamber features two standing men who are likewise making a sembah (Photo 20); the one possesses a bonnet-formed headdress, while the other one is dressed in monk’s clothing. Both figures are accompanied by parasol attendants. On the opposite wall is the disfigured scene of a king and his surroundings; it accords with the one in a comparable position in the vihara’s southern-most chamber, which contains a standing male character with the right hand in vara-mudra and with a vase (for incense?) placed to the one side of his feet (Photo 21); he is surrounded by six smaller figures. Two heavenly deities float in the air above the main figure; an elevated parasol-carrier stands on his left-hand side; to his right is a servant with a great blade fan; and downstairs below the servants with parasol and fan one at last still finds two seated followers with both arms crossed over their chests.
On the interior partition walls of the
South-vihara, bas-reliefs have been introduced that exclusively feature
female characters. In one scene (Photo 22), the main female character holds the
right hand in vara-mudra; the small characters and their placement with
parasol, book, pallet, and vase, is in all respects completely in
accord with the relief from the South-vihara.
In another scene, the richly ornamented, standing female holds an elongated object between her folded hands that ends in a closed pointed loop; two female servants stand beside her, one holds the sunshade, while the other holds a bouquet; a third kneels while holding something indistinct in her hands; the upper left portion of the panel has been filled with cloud lines, in which lotuses and aureoles float. In the North-vihara one may notice that the sculptors there had evidently not yet finished prior to the suspension of building activity at the site.
With respect to the meaning behind these
particular bas-reliefs, Krom suggested that the primary male and female
figures in each of the aforementioned scenes could represent the
patron-supporters of the two viharas, with the standing male with four
servants and two heavenly attendants in the South-vihara representing
the royal founder of the sanctuary, while the leading female servants
in the North-vihara would be the royal princesses who had sought to
acquire merit by sponsoring the latter foundation. In support of this
hypothesis, Krom noted that not only did the main figures in question
all lack the halos normally accorded to Bodhisattvas and other divine
beings, they were also all portrayed in worldly scenes that included
Krom also thought it was entirely possible that
the other bas-reliefs at this religious foundation had included the
portrayal of other high dignitaries of the realm, including monks,
Brahmans, and high dignitaries of the royal court, either represented
as stipulated individuals or merely as representatives of their type.
However, the Dutch scholar saw something tempting in the assumption,
that the distinguished monk overshadowed by a parasol could be the
official head of the Buddhist clergy. If this had indeed been the case,
then the figure on the left wearing the bonnet might have been his
Shiva-priest colleague. But as Krom rightly noted, all this is pure
conjecture. To date, companion Buddhist and Hindu functionaries are
only known from the island’s younger East-Javanese period.
For his part, Moens thought it possible that the
South-vihara had at one time existed as monastic quarters for the
priests of the male royal family members, while the North-vihara had
served as a monastic residence for the priestesses of the female
members of the royal family line. This is suggested by the
appearance-bodies of the respective deity-populations of the two
temples, with one having exclusively male portraits, whereas in the
other temple only female elements are portrayed.
What remains to be discussed is the fact that
the interiors of both viharas also contain a second story that reflects
the same placement for the niches and access-ways to be found in the
three chambers below. It appears that a wooden floor had formerly
existed, which had beams that had rested on a broad cornice that has
been decorated with a running band containing birds with outstretched
wings. A similar art motif is also to be found in the interior of the
portal at Candi Mendut. On the first story floor of each vihara’s
southern chamber is the raised rectangular stone platform that measures
1.28 m by 63 cm; this structure presumably had served as the anchor
point for the wooden staircase that led up to a second set of chambers.
Krom has suggested that monks specifically charged with the service of
the vihara-images had perhaps resided in the upper story quarters of
both buildings, as well as in the upper story of Candi Sari.
Here we shall note in passing that the false windows of the first story have are replaced by fully-functioning windows at the level of each building's second story, with a total of four in the North and South chambers, plus one that fully pierces the East wall of the central chamber. Moreover, the upper-story Central chamber in both viharas features a recessed space in the center of the West wall that appears as if it might mark the start of the construction of yet another window for a building that did not possess a vestibule roof to the front of it. A fully functioning window is present at the equivalent location in the upper story of Candi Sari. It allows light in today because the vestibule roof that must have blocked this opening is no longer in the way. Is it possible that all three buildings were initially based on a design featuring a simple rectangular plan without a front-projecting porch?If so, then Candi Sari would represent the most likely prototype for the other two viharas because the window over the entranceway has been completely finished on the outside of the building.
As has been said, the two viharas are surrounded by a walled enclosure that measures approximately 102.5 m. from North to South and 41.8 m. from East to West (the latter figure does not include the staircases of the two gates in the West). Although the inner courtyard has been divided into two compartments of equal dimensions, the wall separating the two viharas is pierced by a third gateway that enables movement from one vihara to the other without having to exit the inner courtyard itself. This connecting gateway is dimensionally comparable in all respects to the two pierce the courtyard’s walled enclosure in the West. In addition, all three gateways feature ratna-adorned rooftops that are identical with those that appear on the 58 sanctuaries with square foundations located between the central courtyard and Plaosan Lor’s outermost walled perimeter.
(1) According to modern survey results, the entire complex is skewed 4°, 20’ to the West of True North (355°, 40’, 00”).
(2) The layout of Candi Plaosan Lor is reportedly skewed 3°, 54’, 36” to the West of True North (356°, 5’, 24”).
(3) Photos 10-17
were taken by IJzerman for his "Description of the antiquities close
to the border of the residencies
(4) In the
North-vihara, the image that occupies the place corresponding to the
one that Krom had assigned to Samantabhadra in the South-vihara, has a
right hand here that appears to hold lotus buds but has been deprived
of his identifying attribute; his right-hand had gone missing in the
South-vihara. Also in the North-vihara, the image that corresponds to
the placement of the one that Krom had assigned to Vajrapani in the
South-vihara seems to have held its right hand up to the breast. Pieces
and scraps were also stolen, such as the head of the Maitreya from the
North-vihara, which later emerged in
(5) Moens also
had attempted to identify the Bodhisattva bearing the lotus with three
jewel buds at Mendut with Avalokitesvara. “Although this ordinary
attribute is not one which we would expect for Avalokitesvara, there we
see no objection in assigning this characteristic to him, where also in
"The Great Miracle at Saravasti," English translation by L. A. and F.
W. Thomas in Beginnings of Buddhist Art (1914).
"Barabudur, Mendut dan Pawon." T.B.G. 1950. My thanks to Dr. Roy
Jordaan for his help in translating the passages and
references from this volume that have been cited above. The title
to the present work is fully intended to parallel that of Jordaan's
pioneering work on Candi Prambanan, which cites the work of a number of
early Dutch scholars with the goal of shedding further light on Java's
largest Hindu temple complex.
Moens, J.L. "Barabudur, Mendut dan Pawon." T.B.G. 1950. My thanks to Dr. Roy Jordaan for his help in translating the passages and references from this volume that have been cited above. The title to the present work is fully intended to parallel that of Jordaan's pioneering work on Candi Prambanan, which cites the work of a number of early Dutch scholars with the goal of shedding further light on Java's largest Hindu temple complex.
Moens, J.L. "De Tjandi Mendut." T.B.G. 1921.
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