As you drive east along Jalan Adisucipto from Yogya, you’ll catch sight of three giant, rocket-shaped temples, each smothered in intricate narrative carvings, which suddenly loom up by the side of the highway. This is the Prambanan complex, the largest Hindu complex in Java and a worthy rival to Borobudur.
The complex consists of six temples in a raised inner courtyard, surrounded by 224 minor temples, which now lie in ruins. The three biggest temples are dedicated to the three main Hindu deities: Shiva, whose 47-metre temple is the tallest of the three, Brahma (to the south of the Shiva temple) and Vishnu (north). Facing these are three smaller temples housing the animal statues – or “chariots” – that would accompany the gods: Hamsa the swan, Nandi the bull and Garuda the sunbird respectively.
The Shiva Temple is decorated with exceptional carvings, including a series along the inner wall of the first terrace walkway that recounts the first half of the Ramayana epic. At the top of the steps is the temple’s inner sanctuary, whose eastern chamber contains a statue of Shiva, while in the west chamber is Shiva’s elephant-headed son, Ganesh. A beautiful sculpture of Nandi the Bull stands inside the temple of Shiva’s chariot. Just as painstakingly decorated, the first terrace of the Brahma Temple takes up the Ramayana epic where the Shiva Temple left off, while the carvings on the terrace of Vishnu’s temple recounts stories of Krishna, the eighth of Vishnu’s nine earthly incarnations.