Buddhism is one of the ancient religions that is still widespread all around the world. Like all other religions, Buddhism has also not failed to strengthen its relevance in the sands of time through various religious structures and buildings that have all survived so many living ages. Among these structures, predominantly monasteries and stupas can be seen standing tall all around the globe. These structures functioned as the chief worshipping place for the Buddhist monks to pray and meditate to attain enlightenment. Due to this, these monasteries are usually located far away from populated areas with a lot of commotion. Various such prevalent temples are revered for their art, architecture, and the impact of Buddhism’s religion on the built and social environment. One such temple is one located in Indonesia by the name of – Sewu Temple.

Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet1
Ancient Buddhist Temple complex in Bagan, Mayanmar_©https://witragtravel.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/bagan-temples-sunrise-header-730×350.jpg?x69553

Sewu Temple 

Sewu Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in central Java, Indonesia. The temple complex, consisting of 249 temple structures originally called ‘Manjusrigha’ translated to – “The House of Manjusri.” The temple complex, which encompasses diverse structures, each depicting a unique architectural style, is often compared with the beauty of the Borobudur temple complex in Java. Sewu Temple is the second largest of all the Buddhist temples situated in Java, Indonesia. Most scattered structures around the Sewu temple complex are undergoing restoration to revive the damage caused by several natural calamities or human invasions. Despite being such an old structure, the temple complex is revered for its religious impact, inviting devotees and visitors from all around the world to offer their prayers. 

Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet2
Sewu Temple, Indonesia_©https://cdn.wisata.app/diary/7de36808-cd7c-4306-9b8e-61c599900a49_xs.jpg

I. History 

As per the inscriptions from the 8th century CE, the Manjusrigha temple complex was commissioned for construction at the end of the 8th century and completed during the reign of King Indra. The construction of a Buddhist temple was the idea of Rakai Panangkaran, who was a devotee to Gautama Buddha, due to which he was also known as the “Devoted Mahayana Buddhist King.” The building complex was later expanded and completed during the reign of Rakai Pikatan, who married a Hindu princess, gradually increasing the impact of Hinduism in the court. This can be considered the reason for the similarity between the temple and the Hindu temples located in its vicinity. 

Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet3
Ruins of temples as discovered in the Sewu temple complex_©https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/ci/ALr3YSE0NjCJ2QfuIFGB03xRAs-YbqxTBShRiiR7U7GEdu8zs__hzdANAvZNfjDHp1NI1vPzsR4t1A

II. Site and Surroundings 

Sewu Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in the Prambanan region of central Java, Indonesia. The Prambanan plain, where the temple complex is situated, lies between the Merapi Volacano’s eastern slope and the Sewu mountain range. The discovery of some dilapidated houses around a mile from the temple complex suggests that the particular plain might also have been an important urban center during that era. 

The temple was the royal temple of the whole empire and was a center for conducting various religious ceremonies. The temple site has many other temples nearby, the nearest being the Gana Temple on the east side of Sewu Temple. These surrounding temples are regarded as the guardians of the Sewu temple; they are all arranged according to the four cardinal directions, two of which are not in good condition and are undergoing restoration. 

Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet4
Hindu temple near the Sewu complex_©https://memoriesandsuch.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/img_5817.jpg

III. Art and Architecture

The Sewu temple, despite being a historic structure, does not fail to astound with the art and architecture it holds and reflects. The temple complex resides on 185 m x 165m rectangular ground, with entrances provided through all four cardinal directions. Each gate around the complex is guarded by the statues of a pair of Dwarapala facing each other. Outside the complex, there are four tall standing temples located in every cardinal direction, namely Bubrah Temple on the south, Gana Temple on the east, Kulon Temple on the west, and Lor Temple on the north. Out of these temples, Lor and Kulon temples are in a dilapidated state and are in the process of revival. 

Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet5
Main temple Structure_©https://www.photodharma.net/Indonesia/24-Candi-Sewu/images/Candi-Sewu-Thumb-00016.jpg

The main temple complex lies between the four entrances, which, according to some inscriptions and old testaments, were built as a giant mandala, symbolizing the universe in Buddhist cosmology. This structure has one main room, and the east door serves as the main entrance to the sanctum. All nine roofs in the temple building are adorned with a stupa on top, denoting its historical and religious significance.

Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet6
Sewu Temple Replication_©https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/04/Candi_Sewu_Model_2.jpg

IV. Significant features 

The temple has been carrying forward its long history and reflecting it through generations. Some of the significant features of this historic and heritage structure are discussed below.

  1. Lion Sculptures: According to the history written in the sands of time, the 8th and 9th centuries saw a rise in contact between India and Southeast Asia, resulting in various similarities between the two regions in art and architecture. One of the most prevalent examples of this connection is the lion sculpture located in the temple complex. These Lion sculptures are also predominantly used in temples in Tamil Nadu, India.
Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet7
Lion Structure in the temple complex _©https://gretastravels.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/DSC_0447.jpg.webp
  1. Buddha Statues: Another feature of the temple building is the presence of several sitting Buddha statues. These statues have their heads lost during any natural calamity or loot by the invaders. These statues now lie amidst the temple complex, reflecting the religious significance of the place. Some of the stolen heads have been revived and are stored either in the museum or under the ownership of private collectors with an interest in Buddhist art and culture. 
Sewu Temple Complex: The 8th century Buddhist Temple - Sheet8
Headless Buddha Statue_©https://i.pinimg.com/736x/e2/f4/18/e2f418728eb66b728e63d114c38e0bbd–ancient-architecture-buddha.jpg
  1. Kala Ornamentation: Carvings on the wall have stood on the temple walls through the sands of time and have a significant role in depicting its rich cultural and architectural heritage. The ornamentation in the temple complex is known as Kala Ornamentation, which is seen prominently in the Pambanan temples near the site. Kala ornamentation also consists of a stylized form of the lion’s face known by the names Banaspati, and Kirtyamukha. These ornamentations are used in places such as the top of the door, upper arches, or in the capitalization of the pillar. 
Kala Ornamentation in Sewu Temple, Indonesia_©https://png.pngtree.com/thumb_back/fw800/background/20221223/pngtree-bodhisattva-statue-at-candi-sewu-buddhist-complex-in-java-indonesia-photo-image_7732146.jpg
References: 
  1. Sewu Temple Compoung (Manjusrigrha) (Wikepedia, The Free Encyclopedia) en.wikipedia, Availablee at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewu (Accessed: 10 October, 2023)
  2. Sewu Temple The second Largest Buddhist Temple (13 August, 2023) javaheritagetour, Available at: https://www.javaheritagetour.com/sewu-temple-thuddhist-temple/ (Accessed: 10 October, 2023) 
  3. Sewu Temple (1998-2019, Indonesia Tourism) indonesia-tourism, Available at: https://www.indonesia-tourism.com/yogyakarta/sewu-temple.html (Accessed: 10 October, 2023) 
  4. Sewu Temple (2023, Expedia) expedia.co.in, Available at: https://www.expedia.co.in/Sewu-Temple-Prambanan.d553248621532738453.Attraction (Accessed: 11 October, 2023) 
  5. Sewu Temple, Historical accounts of the temple (2013, Buddha Heads) buddha-heads.com, Available at: https://www.buddha-heads.com/blog/sewu-temple/ (Accessed: 11 October, 2023) 
  6. Sacred Sites in Southeast Asia – Candi Sewu (2013, National Museum of Asian Art) asia-archive.si.edu, Available at: https://asia-archive.si.edu/collections-area/southeast-asian/sacred-sites-in-southeast-asia-candi-sewu/ (Accessed: 12 October, 2023) 
  7. Giant Mandala Named Sewu Temple (29 August, 2017) borobudpark, Available at: https://borobudurpark.com/en/giant-mandala-named-sewu-temple/ (Accessed: 12 October, 2023) 
  8. Kala Ornament of Prambanan and Sewu temple (2nd International Conference on Arts and Culture (ICONARC 2018), by Syafii) atlantis-press, Available at: https://www.atlantis-press.com/article/125911174.pdf (Accessed: 12 October, 2023) 
Author

Sameeksha, currently pursuing her architecture degree, is also inclined towards writing and pouring out her thoughts. Being an writing enthusiast as well as an architecture student, she constantly tries to grab every opportunity for writing and express her views for the built environment.