Refreshing breeze of Mount Lawu touches my skin. Verdant hills and clear blue sky make a perfect combination of eye-soothing colors. My senses are definitely tickled and spoiled, I think. It is a nice welcome after three-hour drive from Semarang, two-hour two-bus rides, half an hour minibus hop and a back seat ride on a motorcycle – locally known as ojek. The slope of this relatively remote mountain offers what any other mountain slopes have: quiet ambiance and fresh air. But there is something ancient perched at this very place, 910 m above sea level and kilometers away from the nearest town, waiting to be explored.
The ojek ascends to my destination through a very steep road while I am trying to adjust my ears to the noise from the old motorcycle’s roaring engine. When I feel the way up takes forever, suddenly the ojek makes a sudden turn into a small parking area with a ticket counter nearby. There I am, all the way from Semarang to witness an Indonesian ancient heritage like no other: Candi Sukuh (Sukuh Temple).
Unlike the more well-known massive temples of Borobudur and Prambanan which were built by intermittently ruling Hindu and Buddhist Javanese royal families from the kingdom of Old Mataram during its heyday, Candi Sukuh seems like contravening every single rule and pattern of previously built temples all around Java and Sumatra. Supposedly Hindu, Candi Sukuh bears no architectural resemblance with other Hindu temples which normally have spires symbolizing Mount Meru, the mystical mount in Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Looking more similar to a Mayan temple, this rather small temple compound catches people’s attention for having some explicitly genital-showing statues, hence the nickname “erotic temple”. Though I do not agree with this erroneous perception but I can understand why some people think of the temple that way.
In the 15th century when the once vast Hindu kingdom of Majapahit was on the brink of collapse while newly established Muslim kingdoms gained control of more regions across the archipelago, some groups of devout Hindus fled the coastal areas and moved to higher and safer mountainous regions in Java, just like Tengger people in East Java. A group then settled at the slope of Mount Lawu (today in Central Java Province) and flourished for the next few decades. As the necessity to have a place of worship emerged, then they built a temple made from andesite stones but with less of a craftsmanship, hence the rough cuts and carvings of the statues and reliefs of this temple.
However, various studies showed that Candi Sukuh lacks some principles or distinctive features of a Hindu temple but showing more of animism traditions instead – the old belief of Javanese people before the arrival of Hinduism from India. Hence the pre-Hindu megalithic architecture. Moreover, some fertility-related symbols adorn many corners of the temple compound. From a carving of lingga and yoni (male and female genitals) at the main gate, a half-man-sized headless statue of a man grasping his genital, a carving of a squatting man exposing his genital to a carving which resembles a womb with mythological creatures in it. Other than those, when discovered in the 19th century by a British official, a large phallus sit on the top of the main temple making it the highest point at the temple compound. However now it had been removed to the National Museum in Jakarta.
Having the whole temple compound for myself with no other visitor, I take the liberty to stroll from one side of the temple to the others and climb the main temple only to admire the modesty yet profound meaning of this compound. In fact, Candi Sukuh was one of the last temples which were built during the ancient time on the island of Java.
In my broken Javanese, then I tell the ojek driver to take me back to Kemuning village, where I later do the long ride again, only this time in reverse sequence. The roughly-cut stones of Candi Sukuh slowly disappear from my sight as I descend to the village. Probably that is also the same sight seen by the last Hindus who left this unique temple and let nature claim the compound, only to be discovered centuries later.
How to get there:
The last time I checked Wikitravel there has not been any article yet about Candi Sukuh. However basically you can rely on the information written in Lonely Planet Indonesia about getting to this temple by public transport. Nevertheless, if you come to Solo/Surakarta (the nearest city from Candi Sukuh which is served by Adi Sumarmo Airport with daily flights to and from Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur) by plane, take a Damri bus at the airport’s parking area to Palur Bus Station (Terminal Bis Palur) then continue with any bus heading to Karang Pandan bus station. At Karang Pandan, look for a purple minibus which goes to the village of Kemuning, then take an ojek from Kemuning to Candi Sukuh.