I've many times visited Borobudur Temple but not Prambanan Temple, though they are both located at Jogjakarta area. It might be because Prambanan is smaller compared to Borobudur so I perceived the former as not as grandeur and inviting as the latter. Doesn't mean that I don't want to visit it, in fact my curiosity about the temple had been growing in time, until few days ago, finally I had my chance to visit the Prambanan Temple.
My curiosity was proven to be true.
I arrived at the temple under the punishing heat of Jogjakarta's mid-day, when the temple was crowded with tourists sitting and walking here and there, taking their selfies and wefies. I imagined what the atmosphere of the temple complex and its surroundings like in the past when the temple was still being used to submit prayers.
I imagined how was the atmosphere of the ritual held in the temple under a full moon or in the darkness of the dawn right before sunrise several hundred years ago. With flowers and offerings on the ground before the towering black silhouettes, the surrounding air was filled with the scent from burning incenses. People came and prayed in quiet while some other were chanting Vedic verses. A place built for men to meet their gods; to make peace and to surrender to their own limitation, incapability, and unknown.
Then sun illuminated the eastern horizon, from where the rays of light slowly bursted from behind the leaves of the trees on the hill. The rays washed the stacked stones of the temple, revealing the details of the dark silhouettes to the sight of the people, revealing the presence of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, and other deities, frozen in the sacred chambers of the temple.
Prambanan Temple offered us a sophisticated spatial experience. Prambanan is a flat field with a formation of towering high structures, where the highest is the 47 meters high Shiva temple in the middle. Different from other temple as well, Prambanan is not consisted of one single structure, it is a compound of 3 Trimurti temples, 3 Vahana temples; surrounded by smaller 2 Apit temples, and 4 Kelir temples; where all of them are surrounded once again by small 224 Pervara temples.
Our experience of other Javanese Hindu-Buddhist temples are usually separated between outside and inside experience. First we grasp the temple from outside, then we enter the chamber and experience the inside. Borobudur and Prambanan is different, we experience Borobudur mainly by climbing the temple to the top, encircle the terrace at every stages. In Borobudur, there is no 'outside' and 'inside'.
But the most striking feature of Prambanan Temple was the light-play of the interior chamber of the structures. The temple was designed not to let sun rays enter the interior of the chamber directly. The entrance of the chamber is narrow and very thick, while right in front of it there is gate that blocks the direct sun rays entirely. That way, light that enters the interior of the chambers are reflection from the entrance passage, resulting in very soft light and shadow composition on the stone statue in the chamber.
Architecturally, Prambanan Temple was not at all of lesser quality than Borobudur Temple. Borobudur might be grand in size, but in term of architectural complexity, I personally think that Prambanan is truly a masterpiece.