“The crystal temple was comparable to Mount Mandara,
the square to the Milk Ocean.
Gems and pearls represented the foam, so to speak;
the clear cold water was like nectar
(rising from the churned ocean)….
“Outside there were…small and exquisitely fine temples,
all carved out of black precious stones…
[that contained] gold statues comparable to
the gods and demons attacking each other
in order to obtain the elixir of immortality (amrita)….”

–The Old Javanese Ramayana Kakawin

Table of Contents

Hindu Shrines

Candi Banon
Candi Canggal
Candi Prambanan (Loro Jonggrang)
Candi Ratu Boko
Candi Sambisari

Buddhist Shrines

Candi Kalasan
Candi Mendut
Candi Ngawen
Candi Pawon
Candi Plaosan
Candi Sari
Candi Sewu
Candi Sojiwan

The only central Javanese temple complex to approach the magnificence of Borobudur in terms of overall size as well as both the extent and the beauty of its narrative bas-reliefs is the Loro Jonggrang templex complex at the town of Prambanan, which is located to the east of the modern city of Yogyakarta. The central courtyard of this Hindu religious foundation features three tall shrines dedicated to Brahma (south), Shiva (center) and Vishnu (north), respectively.


Balarama looks on as his brother Krishna defeats his opponent in a wrestling contest

At Prambanan, the narrative reliefs portray episodes from two of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations in human form. The bas-reliefs pertaining to the Hindu deity Vishnu’s incarnation as Lord Krishna appear on the interior-facing walls of the balustrade that surrounds the Vishnu shrine, while episodes from Vishnu’s incaration as Rama encircle the main shrines at Prambanan that are dedicated to Shiva and Brahma.

rama relief

Rama slays King Sugriva’s foe Subali.(A scan from Monumental Java by J. L. Scheltema)

An inscription has been discovered locally that describes the consecration of a temple complex called the abode of the Hindu god Shiva (Shiwagrha). Carved in 856 CE, the inscription not only includes a series of Old Javanese verses that describe a temple complex with many similarities to the one at Prambanan but also presents the earliest known example of the island’s indigenous literary tradition.

“Like most Javanese inscriptions, it is a legal document — confirming the granting of a freehold by a king to a village official; unlike the others, however, it is written in verse. It is a short poem of twenty-nine stanzas written in a Sanskrit poetical form called Kakawin in Old Javanese–a derivative of the Sanskrit-derived word kawi (‘poet’). Within these twenty-nine stanzas the poet demonstrates his ability to use no less than six different meters, as well as his mastery of difficult literary devices from the Indian tradition.”(1)

“It was a beautiful dwelling for the God.
At the gateways two small buildings had been erected
that were different in construction from all the others.
Beautful were the number of small buildings
that were there to be used as hermitages,
and which might, in their turn,
serve as an example for others.

“A Tanjung tree was located on the eastern side.
Although its stem was only a year old,
it was able to achieve matchless growth
by residing in the neighborhood of the Lord.
Its extraordinary beauty was equal
to that of the divine Parijataka tree.
Under its very branches the God would descend
so that it might serve as His parasol.
Was it not a veritable God for the Gods?

The smaller buildings were of equal height,
All serving the same purpose and expressing the same thoughts,
but each different from the others by their number.
Who would ever hesitate to worship here?
Out of reverence the people gave.

“In a moment, the temples with their gateways
and innumerable, immoveable carved figures of women,
were completed by the surveyors working by the hundreds.
What would be comparable with this divine ediface,
which was there for a deification?
Was this the reason why the spectators
were overwhelmed at seeing it
and why their every-day sensations failed to come back?

“The worshippers came in rows and in groups,
by the hundreds without saying a word.
Extraordinary were their names,
a token that they the images they worshipped
would bring them refreshment.
Who, then, would not be the very first to go and see?
It was very charming….”

And after the abode of Shiva had been completed in all its divine splendor, the course of the nearby river was altered so that it would ripple along the temple grounds. “There was no danger from the evil spirits, for they had received their due (offerings); then the grounds were inaugurated as temple grounds….” (2)


The statue of Lord Vishnu at Prambanan

One puzzling aspect of Prambanan’s architectural design is the inescapable fact that the temple’s three main shrines present narrative reliefs pertaining to Lord Vishnu’s human incarnations as Sri Rama and Hari Krishna. If, as the above-quoted inscription proclaims, Prambanan was indeed dedicated to Shiva then why didn’t the temple’s architect portray episodes illustrating Shiva’s spiritual career?

“The fact that these reliefs were carved into the holiest of holy edifices of the period should of course in itself be a caution to exercise particular care and resignation where the actual disposition does not entirely meet our expectations…. Their interpretation is especially fraught with difficulties. To begin with, we find the story of Rama distributed over two of the three temples located here, namely the Shiva and the Brahma temple, while actually we would have expected the Vishnu temple to be a pre-eminently suitable candidate for adornment with stories of the Vishnu avatar Rama. By the same token we would have expected to find tales of Shiva depicted on the Shiva temple, whereas the first figures to be noted in the reliefs adorning this temple are those of Garuda (Vishnu’s half-man/half-bird vehicle) and the second Vishnu himself!” (3)

A possible answer to this question can be found in the Ramayana Kakawin, an indigenous rendition of India’s legendary account of the life of King Rama that many scholars believe was composed during the mid-ninth century CE at the close of central Java’s temple-building period. Like Prambanan’s instription of consecration, the Ramayana Kakawin describes a temple consequence that is similar in many respects to the one at Prambanan.

In the Old Javanese Ramayana Kakawin, the temple description combines elements from India’s most beloved literary epics–the Mahabharata and the Ramayana–in order to portray the temple in terms of the Hindu creation story known as the Churning of the Milk Ocean, which is prominently featured in the architecture of the temples of Angkor in north-central Cambodia.

“Apparently this association was also made in Java during the central Javanese period, for the only text dating from this period, the Old Javanese Ramayana, contains a description of a Siva temple which is compared to Mount Meru, or Mandara. The passage refers to the story of the cosmic mountain which was used by the gods to churn the ocean in order to produce the elixir of life (amrita). If we pursue the comparison further, it suggests that the Siva temple, like Mount Meru in the myth, was considered important in the production of the elixir of life, and, more generally, was deemed to have a life-sustaining effect. This passage has been thought to refer specifically to the Siva temple at Loro Jonggrang. It has recently been suggested that the Loro Jonggrang temple was flooded so as to make the comparison with Mount Meru standing in the ocean more manifest. Whether the passage in the Old Javanese Ramayana can be taken literally is not yet very clear.” (4)

The Churning of the Milk Ocean in the Mahabharata

Before we turn our attention to the temple description that appears in the Old Javanese Ramayana Kakawin, we shall review in brief what the Hindu scriptures have to say concerning the Churning of the Milk Ocean. According to the Mahabharata, the churning operation takes place at the beginning of the Golden Age (Krta Yuga), at which time the celestial forces of light (Devas) and the forces of darkness (Asuras) agree to cooperate in an effort to generate the elixir of immortality known as the amrita by churning the great ocean that surrounds the world. The Devas uproot Mount Mandara (Sanskrit for “cream” or “clarified butter”) from its resting place at the Earth’s north pole and transport it to the center of the great ocean. The celestial king of the naga serpents (Vasuki) consents to allow his body to be used as the churning apparatus. Vishnu assumes the form of the king of tortoises (Kurma) in order to support the pivotal mountain on his back, which prevents Mandara from sinking beneath the ocean waves.


The captain of the Asuras Bali upholds the naga king Vasuki’s head in the bas-relief portraying the Churning of the Milk Ocean at Angkor Wat

As the Devas and Asura engage in their cosmic tug of war, the trees covering Mandara’s slopes crash into each another and burst into fire, which causes a black cloud to hover over its peak. The magical herbs that grow on the mountain combine with the resins of the trees, creating a river of juices to flow down into the great ocean, transforming it into a Sea of Milk.

Despite their best efforts, however, the Devas and Asura are unable to generate the amrita. When the churners grow weary, Vishnu grants them the strength to complete their churning task.

Eventually a Sun of a hundred-thousand rays emerges from the ocean accompanied by the Moon, which radiates a tranquil, cool light. The celestial orbs are followed by the Goddess Sri, the Goddess Liquor, a White Horse, and the resplendent Kaustubha jewel that Vishnu thereafter was upon his breast. The celestial procession is completed when the divine physician Dhanvantari emerges from the Milk Ocean carrying the white gourd that contains the amrita. (5)

The Temple Description from the Ramayana Kakawin

“It was evening, [late] and almost at the point of one.
Now at the time of the waning moon,
the darkness fled with the rising Moon God (Candra),
just like the Daitya upon the appearance of the God Hari.
Hanuman looked in the direction of the city,
which was clearly visible.

prambananThere was a temple, tall and large,
which looked as if it was made of crystals and precious stones.
There were animals depicted in its carvings: golden hares, elephants, lions, tigers, gazelles, wild boars, and rhinoceroses.
The picture of a forest was carved out in it as well.

prambanan“The temple resembled a mountain.
The temple square was fashioned out of gems and candrakanta stones.
The sand consisted of splendid fine pearls.
When the moon rose they turned liquid and cold,
melting in the square and shining brightly….
The crystal temple was comparable to Mount Mandara,
the square to the Milk Ocean.
Gems and pearls represented the foam, so to speak;
the clear cold water was like nectar (rising from the churned ocean)….

“Outside there were…small and exquisitely fine temples,
all carved out of black precious stones…[that contained]
gold statues comparable to the gods and demons attacking each other
in order to obtain the elixir of immortality (amrita)….

rahu“There were suwuk over the doorways of the temple
…beautifully carved…[with eyes that were] round, staring and protruding…like Rahu, as it were, who also tried to steal the amrita….

There were also temples made of gems…
vehicles for those who did the churning…
with which they flew through the air.

prambananOutside there was a high wall of white silver
surrounding the entire complex.
It was comparable to the snake Vasuki,
recovering from the fatigue of churning the ocean.
The gate of sparkling gems and red lustrous stones
was comparable to the shining head gem (of the snake),
while (the two) rakshasa acting as doorkeepers
were comparable to its sharp, pointed, poisonous fangs.

“Such outwardly was the temple there in Lanka.
It shone beautifully, sparkling; a shining splendour.
The higher the moon rose, the greater became the light;
and the more beautiful became the temple,
its beauty was illuminated.

rakshasa“‘Dewa Sita, I think, will certainly be there.’
Thinking on this notion, he reflected
and decided that he should go.
Then Hanuman took a leap and lo! he was there!
He saw troops of rakshasas uncountable, on guard….
And draughts pure and fragrant to suit the wish of everyone
were placed in the hall which was as clear as glass.
Brilliant indeed (shone) the moon there.
The young men were like Rahu drinking.” (6)

The Location of the Island of Lanka


Rama (right side) and his brother Lakshmi (left side)

India’s Ramayana narrative tradition refers to an island called Lanka somewhere in the southern ocean beneath the Indian subcontinent. Scholars initially sought to forge a link between the island of the Ramayana with the former British crown colony of Ceylon, which is known today as Sri Lanka.

Despite this interpretation, however, there is a valid reason behind the consideration of an alternate location for Lanka that is based on the contents of certain Hindu astronomy texts. During ancient times, all Indian astronomical observations were made with reference to a prime meridian–a line of longitude extending from one pole of the Earth to the other and also passing directly through the center of the Indian subcontinent. India’s prime meridian was the precursor to the prime meridian (0 degrees longitude) of modern times, which by international agreement is conceived to pass through the Greenwich observatory in England.

Ancient India’s prime meridian was conceived to pass directly through the city of Ujjain, which is one reason why many historians believe that this central Indian city was the birthplace of Hindu astronomy. The Hindu astronomical texts also state that the termination point India’s prime meridian was an island called Lanka located at the Earth’s equator. With reference to our modern system of designating medidians of latitude and longitude, the ancient city of Ujjain is located at 76 degrees East Longitude and 24 degrees North Latitiude. The island known today as Sri Lanka is located at approximately 81 degrees East Longitude and 7 degrees North Latitude. Even if we allow for a degree of measurement inaccuracy on the part of the early Indian geographers, the difference in longitude between the astronomical site for Lanka and the island of Sri Lankza is considerable.

Sita’s repose is disturbed by the appearance of two giants (detail from Panel no. 10)

Ujjain’s latitude of nearly 24 degrees North was important to early Indian astronomers such as Varahamahira, who observed that in the Kingdom of Avanti the sun formerly passed directly overhead around the time of the summer solstice. The Indian astronomer probably used a a vertical stick called a gnomon to measure shadows cast by the sun. This instrument would have allowed him to see that the gnomon would cast no shadow whatsoever as it passed directly overhead at thetime of the June solstice. Since he and other Hindu astronomers held that the island of Lanka was located at the earth’s equator, the sun would have to have been directly overhead in Lanka at the time of the two equinoxes each year.

The modern globe and atlas show no island in the vicinity of the Earth’s equator that would suggest an actual geographic location for Lanka in the vicinity of India’s ancient prime meridian. Our difficulty in locating Lanka, however, can be plausibly resolved by assigning Lanka a celestial location rather than a geographical location on the surface of the Earth itself. This is an idea which compels one to evaluate the role of the hero of the Ramayana story in a whole new light.

rama relief

Ravana, Lord of Lanka, abducting Sita – Panel no.13, second scene (A scan from Monumental Java by J. L. Scheltema)

Rama’s arrow mortally wounds the giant Kabandha (last scene of Panel no. 13)

The fact that the hero Rama bears solar attributes is indisputable for at the very outset of the story that is portrayed at Prambanan proclaims him to be an incarnation of the Hindu solar deity Vishnu. Rama’s descent to the island of Lanka to battle the Lord of Lanka at the earth’s equator, as well as his return to the city of Ayodhya in the north, has its celestial parallel in the form of the sun’s annual journey between the equinoxes and the solstices. According to the Dutch scholar Wilhelm Stutterheim, the placement of the Ramayana reliefs at Prambanan suggest that they were intentionally organized to coincide with the position of the Sun’s movements at various times of the day as well as during the course of its annual solar cycle.

“Taking the nature of these points into consideration, it does not seem to me too wild a supposition that the transition and turning-points in Rama’s career as depicted on the Siva temple are associated with the corresponding points in the course of the sun. It is surely no accident that Rama’s rise, decline and second rise coincide with the rise, decline, and rise of the sun in its daily course, if we speak of the eastern, southern, western, and northern points in that order, or in its annual course, taking the labels spring, summer, autumn and winter points to be appropriate….

Rama and Laksmana go with Hanoman to meet the king of the monkeys Sugriva (right-hand side of Panel no. 15)

“As we know, each quarter of the series as a whole is divided into six panels, making twenty-four panels in all. Provisionally assuming that it is the annual course of the sun that is symbolized here, the conclusion seems warranted, to my mind, that each panel represents a 1/24th part of that course. This then is half a month, or, more accurately, a paksa….” (7)

Rama slays King Sugriva’s foe Subali (detail from second scene of Panel no. 18, previously presented above)

At Prambanan, the eastern entranceways to the Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu temples may have been meant to coincide with Java’s spring equinox, which occurs during the month of September at all locations south of the Earth’s equator. The final panel of the Rama series, which is located just to the northeast of the entranceway, portrays Hanuman’s monkey army crossing the bridge they have built to connect the mainland to the island of Lanka. This panel also serves as the “bridge” between the opening Rama reliefs on the Shiva temple and the remaining reliefs that are displayed on the low balustrade of the Brahma temple to the immediate south.

When Rama decides to dry up the ocean, the god of the ocean begs him to build a bridge between the shore and Lanka instead (detail from Panel no. 23)

The organization neatly ties Lanka’s mythical location at the Earth’s equator at the time of the vernal equinox, when the sun at the time of its zenith passes directly overhead all locations on the equator. A possible solar organization can also be discerned in the Lalitavistara reliefs at Borobudur, where the panel that portrays the Bodhisattva announcing his impending descent appear’s next to the gallery’s eastern entrance, his birth in close proximity to the south gate, the end of his life as a householder next to the western gallery entrance and his arrival at the Bodhi tree in the north. (8)

As modern geography demonstrates, the Lanka of India’s early astronomers must be a mythical, or perhaps celestial, location rather than an actual physical place. For this reason, it may be regard to be of the same order as the cosmic mountain Meru of Indian cosmography, in which case it would not be unreasonable to presume that the island’s location could be rightfully claimed by any islanders living in the vicinity of the Earth’s equatorial region. Even if one hold fervently onto the notion that the Lanka of the Ramayana is none other than the island of Sri Lanka, there are other factors that will allow us to Java with the Lanka of the Ramayana Kakawin.

For example, an inscription discovered at the hilltop site of Ratu Boko overlooking Prambanan not only appears to suggest the presence of Mahayana Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka on the island toward the end of the eighth century CE, but also tells us that the monastery that the inscription commemorates was named after one of Sri Lanka’s famous Buddhist relgious foundations: the Abhayagiri. The Indonesian scholar Poejerbarta has also suggested that the Ramayana Kakwin contains poetic allusions to the social conditions that prevailed in central Java at the time of Prambanan’s construction during the mid-ninth century CE. These allusions possibly refer to the reigning monarch thought responsible for Prambanan’s construction, Rakai Pikitan, as well as the seductive influence that certain Buddhist monks may have had over the affairs of the kingdom.

“The metaphoric equivalencies between certain birds and historical figures, among which that of Pikitan, are worth mention. The Pikitan bird can only refer to Rakai Pikitan. Thus it is said of this bird that it had allowed itself to be seduced by the call of the cuckoo (kuwong), which portrays the Buddhist clergy. The cuckoo represents a Buddhist monk, who, with the support of the female of his species, tries to persuade his Javanese audience to follow his admonitions by cleverly appealing to Hindu ideas about the transience of life. The spell is not permanent, however, for [the poet informs his audience] that the cuckoo would do better to follow his own lofty teachings and retreat into the forest as a monk.” (9)

Whether we regard Lanka to be a mythic location or the real-world island of Sri Lanka, it is clear that Javanese poets were engaged in the intentional transposition of “…what are basically Indian narratives into a Javanese setting. All the names of the kingdoms and places where the stories are set and those of the heros and the heroines of the stories are, to be sure, Indian, and a great many of them, in particular the principal heroes and their kingdoms, are known from the Indian sources…. Yet when we come to the description of the environment where the actions took place, the scenery…is definitely Javanese….

“With all the kakawin stories set in such an environment, it is not surprising to find that people eventually believed that all those events narrated in the kakawin actually took place in Java and that those places with Indian names were situated in Java. The story of the removal of Mount Mahameru from India to Java, which is found in various Old Javanese works such as the Tantu Panggelaran and the Korawasrama…may have been created to justify such beliefs…. Although both were probably written after the fall of [the east Javanese kingdom of] Majapahit…the contents could be from a much earlier period. Such a story may also have had to do with the indigenous cult of a mountain deity, which seems to have been in vogue throughout Javanese history.” (10)

The Churning Saga at Angkor Wat

The monkey king Sugriva is stationed at the tail of the king of the naga serpents (Angkor Wat)

In Angkor Wat: Spare, Time and Kingship, author Eleanor Mannikka has sought to demonstrate the many ways in which the temples of Angkor symbolize the Churning Saga in material form. Within the bas-reliefs located on the east-facing wall of the temple of Angkor Wat, for example, the pivotal axis is occupied by Vishnu, who directs the teams of devas and asuras as they strain in their attempt to Churn the elixir of immortality. The research of Ms. Mannikka also indicates a correspondence between Vishnu’s role as the celestial pivot and the reigning king as the pivot of the kingdom.

Lord Vishnu occupies the central pivot of the churning operation (Angkor Wat)

According to author Eleanor Mannikka, the figures that are portrayed in the relief of the Churning of the Sea of Milk at Angkor Wat collectively represent the number of days between the Winter and Summer solstices.

“In the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat, the position of the churning pivot would correspond to the position of the Spring equinox. The 91 asuras in the south represent the 91 days from equinox to winter solstice, and the 88 northern devas represent the 88 days from equinox to summer solstice. In fact, there are either 88 or 89 devas in the scene, 89 is the Deva atop mount Mandara is counted with the others. There are 88 or 89 days from the spring equinox, counted from the first day of the new year, to the summer solstice.

“In Cambodia, the spring lasted for 3 or 4 days…. Mount Mandara as the churning pivot would symbolize the 3 or 4 days of the equinox period, the northernmost Deva would represent the summer solstice day, and the southernmost assure would correspond with to the winter solstice day. In other words, the scene is a calendar. It positions the two solstice days at the extreme north and south, counts the days between them….” (11)

Elsewhere at Angkor, the Churning of the Sea of Milk has more often been numerically expressed through the representation of two groups that each contain 54 images, or 108 in total. This numerical theme is in evidence at each of the five gates leading into the ancient city of Angkor Thom. On either side of the roadway the images of 54 asuras and 54 devas can be seen tugging on the body of a massive naga serpent. The gateway tower that serves as the pivot of the churning tableau is crowned by a head with four faces that gaze outward toward the cardinal points.

Ms. Mannikka attempted to account for the numerical discrepancy between the Angkor Wat reliefs and the symbolism at each of the city gates by noting that 108 is the most sacred number in Hindu/Buddhism cosmology. However, an alternate explanation can be tendered that not only takes into account a solar cycle that is relevant to Angkor’s geographical location, but also one that can equally be applied to Prambanan as a possible explanation for why its central courtyard is surrounded by a total of 224 smaller temples.

The Great Straight-Upward Path

With respect to the Sun’s annual movements, there are two other significant days that take place within the annual solar cycle upon which the sun passes directly over the head of the observer at the time of local noon at which time the Sun casts no shadow and a stark white light illuminates the temple and the surrounding landscape. The number of intervening days between the two Sun Zenith events is a direct function of the latitude of the location from which the event is observed. The closer that the observer’s location is to the Earth’s equator, the greater the number of days. At sites near the Tropics of Cancer or Capricorn the duration of this period will only amount to a few days.

Due to the polar tilt of the Earth’s axis, Sun Zenith events can only occur at locations between the Tropic of Cancer, and the Tropic of Capricorn. At the Earth’s higher north and south latitudes, the Sun never passes directly overhead at any location.

The first known written documentation of Sun Zenith events in India occurs in the Pancasiddhantika, which was written by the Varahamahira in the sixth century CE. The famous Indian astronomer observed that in the kingdom of Avanti at the latitude of 24 degrees north the sun passed directly overhead at the time of local noon “at the end of Gemini” when that constellation houses the sun at the time of the summer solstice each June.

“At the end of Gemini, the sun revolves for the gods [on Mount Meru] at a height [no higher than] 24 degrees above the horizon, while at Avanti he then moves right overhead. In the same place there is then no shadow at noon, while the shadow falls toward the north for all who dwell to the north of Avanti, and to the south for the inhabitants of the countries south of Avanti. (12)

Buddhist communities in southern Asia were also well aware of this phenomenon. The Chinese pilgrim I-Tsing record his own sun zenith observations during his sojourn on the island of Sumatra during the late 7th century CE. The significance of I-Tsing’s remarks have misled the scholastic community through the translator’s confusion of the sun zenith events with the equinoxes. His misunderstanding of the text is borne out by the fact that shadows are indeed cast at the time of local noon on the equinoxes, but no shadows are case at the time of local noon on the two sun zenith days each year.

“In the country of Sribhoga (the Sumatran kingdom of Srivijaya), in the middle of the eighth month and in the middle of spring (second month), the dial casts no shadow, and a man standing has no shadow at the horse-hour (i.e., local noon). The sun passes just above the head twice a year.” (13)

Future translators will need to keep in mind the translator’s fundamental misunderstanding of the sun zenith phenomena because it is entirely possible that other early translators have also missed the possible significance of similar descriptions. (14)

I-Tsing not only noted the existence of the two sun zenith events each year but even provided an indication of the dates upon which they occurred during his stay on the island of Sumatra during the late 7th century. At the latitudes in the vicinity of Palembang (about 3 and a half degrees south latitude) that modern scholars believe was the center of the kingdom of Srivijaya, the two sun zenith events occurred on September 29, 687 CE (when the full moon was on the 27th) and March 8, 688 CE (when the full moon was on the 5th). These dates match up with the above quoted comments of I-Tsing.

Sooner or later, all Buddhist monks had to have become acquainted with the existence of sun zenith events in the tropics. They all used a vertical stick call a gnomon or its the sun dial derivative on a daily basis to determine the time of local noon, when all Buddhist monks and nuns had to complete their daily meals according to the monastic rules.

“If the shadow (of a dial) has passed as little even as a single thread, it is said to be an improper time (for the meal),” wrote the Chinese monk I-Tsing during his stay on the island of Sumatra during the late seventh century CE. “If a person who guards himself against the fault (of missing the time) wants to get the exact cardinal points, he has to calculate the north star at night, and at once to observe (the quarter of) the south pole; and (doing this), he is enabled to determine the exact (north-south) line. Again he has to form a small earthen elevation at a suitable place. This mound is to be made round, of one foot diameter, and five inches high, at the center of which a slender stick is to be fixed. Or, on a stone stand, a nail is to be fixed, as slender as a bamboo chop-stick, and its height should be four fingers width long. At the exact moment of the horse-hour (local noon) a mark is to be drawn along the shadow (that the stick casts onto the stand). If the shadow has passed that mark, one should not eat…. The way of measuring the shadow is to observe the shadow of the stick, when it is shortest. This is exact mid-day.” (15)

Given the existence of the common practice of measuring the time of local noon as outlined by I-Tsing above, we may presume that the Buddhist monks of Java would have been well familiar with the occurence of sun zenith events, having had to take the phenomena of the “time of no shadows” into account in making their daily determinations of the time of local noon.

Go to: The Javanese Temple, Part Two


(1) Illuminations: The Writing Traditions of Indonesia by Ann Kumar and John H. McGlynn, The Lontar Foundation, 1996, p. xvi.

(2) This is a free rendering of the more literal translation that appears in Prasati Indonesia, volume II, by J. G. de Casparis. Bandung, 1956, pp. 323 – 329.

(3) “The arrangement of the Rama reliefs” by W. F. Stutterheim. In Praise of Prambanan, Roy Jordaan Editor, p. 162.

(4) The Art of Southeast Asia by Marijke J. Klokke, p. 346. For further information on the proposition that the Prambanan temple complex may have been intentionally flooded, see “In Praise of Prambanan” by Roy Jordaan.

(5) After the version of the tale that appears in the Mahabharata, J.A.B. van Buitenen translation, pp. 75-76.

(6) The opening stanza of the selection quoted above comes from “The Old Javanese Ramayana (OJR): An Exemplary Kakawin” by C. Hooykaas, p. 23; the temple description itself comes from “In Praise of Prambanan” by Roy E. Jordan. pp. 48-49; the concluding paragraph is from “The Old Javanese Ramayana: An Exemplary Kakawin” by C. Hooykaas, p. 24

(7) “The arrangement of the Rama reliefs” by W. F. Stutterheim, In Praise of Prambanan, Roy Jordaan Editor, pp. 165, 167. See also “Rama-Legends and Rama-Reliefs in Indonesia” by Wilhelm F. Stutterheim. Likewise, the organization of the Lalitavistara reliefs at Borobudur (as well as the reliefs containing images of the Sun and Moon from the Bhadracarya series on the fourth gallery walls) coincide with Java’s spring (Sept.), summer (Dec.), fall (March) and winter (June) points of the sun’s annual course.

(8) Other similarities can be discerned between Prambanan’s Ramayana reliefs, and the Lalitavistara and Manohara reliefs at Borobudur. for example, the initial panel of both the Ramayana and Lalitavistara reliefs features the deity in heaven in preparation for his descent to Earth. Rama, Sidhartha and Sudhana also obtain their spouses bt exhibiting their prowess in an archery contest. In addition, all three stories prominently feature the role of a ring in the hero’s winning of, or winning back, his spouse.

(9) The Sailendras in Central Javanese History by Roy E. Jordaan, Penerbitan Universitas Sanata Dharma, Yogyakarta 1999, p. 69. The Old Javanese Ramayana may also include a covert reference to the Sailendra Prince Balaputra “…who, as a stork (bala), suddenly scoops many unsuspecting fishes from the water. The announcement that this bird had been eliminated fully corresponds with the historical data about Balaputra’s defeat and flight to Sumatra.”

(10) Illuminations: The Writing Traditions of Indonesia by Ann Kumar and John H. McGlynn. The Lontar Foundation, 1996, p. 29.

(11) Angkor Wat: Space, Time and Kingship by Eleanor Mannikka, pp. 37-39.

(12) The Panchasiddhantika by Varahamihira translated by G. Thibeau and M. S. Dvivedi. Cosmo Publications copyright 1988, pp. 83 and 104. It is also well known that the two “sun zenith” days once played an important role in other ancient cultures located in the tropics. For example, the Mayans built an astronomical observatory at El Caracol in Mexico that includes architectural alignments to the horizontal position of the setting Sun on the two days of the solar zenith passage at that site. In addition, there is a hypothesis that the origin of the 260-day almanac that the Maya used for divinitory purposes may have been based on the 260-day sun zenith cycle that takes place at the latitudes surrounding the ancient city of Copan in Honduras.

(13) A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago by I-Tsing, copyright 1896, pp. 143-144. See also p. xlv.

(14) I-Tsing’s translator also cites his confusion concerning a reference in the Chinese Chronicles which reports that on the day of the summer solstice in the kingdom of Ho-ling, an eight-foot vertical stake caused a shadow to be cast to the south side of the stake that was two feet long. The information actually provides us with a mathematical means for determining Ho-ling’s latitude: 6 degrees, 8 minutes. In this instance, the translator’s confusion concerns the term “summer solstice,” which leads him to suggest a location for Ho-ling on the Malay peninsula corresponding to 6 degrees, 8 minutes north latitude.

If the Chinese Chronicle report is referring to the summer solstice for locations south of the Earth’s equator, then the shadow cast by the gnomon would have to fall to the north. But if the report refers to the summer solstice from the Chinese point of view, i.e., for locations north of the Earth’s equator, then the measurement would have had to be made in June at the time of the winter solstice. The only part of Java that spans the latitude of 6 degrees, 8 minutes south is located on the island’s northwest tip. See A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago by I-Tsing, copyright 1896, pp. xlvii.

(15) A Record of the Buddhist Religion as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago by I-Tsing, copyright 1896, pp. 143-144.