Candi Sukuh: The Naked Temple

27 comments
Asia, Indonesia

The Original Main Entrance to Candi Sukuh

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.

Lingga and Yoni at The Main Entrance

The Main Entrance Overlooking The Village Below

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.

The Main Temple

Roughly-Cut Stones Piled Up Together to Form The Pyramid

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.

A Statue of A Headless Man Grasping His Genital

A Carving of A Squatting Man and His Genital

A Statue of Giant Turtle Presumably as An Altar for Placing Offerings

A Hindu Deity

A Carving Depicting A Womb

A Fragment of A Story (There are Various Unrelated Stories Scattered Around Candi Sukuh)

Serpents

Offerings at The Top of The Main Temple

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.

Related Posts: The Great Heritage of An Ancient Javanese Kingdom, Cemoro Lawang: A Village in The Clouds

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

27 thoughts on “Candi Sukuh: The Naked Temple”

    • Yes, I did it! (with quite a lot of effort, in fact I missed my stop on my way back to Palur because I fell asleep in the bus!)

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  1. Wow! You travelled quite a long distance to arrive at the temple! That temple is definitely something. If someone asked me to name it, I’d definitely call it the Masturbation Monument! Those carvings are quite frisky! Lol. Enjoyed reading this post as your writing style is awesome. Keep posting! 😀

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    • Hahaha..actually nobody really knows what those nude men statues and carvings are for. More studies are still needed to understand the true nature of this temple, I guess. Thanks for reading, Jodi!

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  2. Fiona.q says:

    hey man, just drop me a msg if you will stop by europe later (cuz i’m gonna live there for a while)

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  3. Fascinating! It does look like a Mayan temple, especially with all those fragmented stories in stone. Sounds like you had quite the day trip from Semarang!

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    • I have wanted to visit this ancient site since a long time ago. So while in Semarang I tried my best to visit this place in a day trip. Took a lot of efforts indeed, but it’s really worth visiting.

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  4. This is a really fascinating piece. And it must have been gratifying for you to be able to enjoy the place in quiet, after all that effort. You’re right, it does look a bit like a Mayan temple, though I don’t think the Mayans have the erotic symbolism like here (I’m glad it wasn’t just my own interpretation, because when I first looked at the second photo, I thought, that can’t be… should have paid more careful attention to your post title)

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    • Nothing beats an ancient place without crowds! 🙂
      What fascinates me the most is the architectural similarity between this temple and those of the Mayans’ (I’m pretty sure the two civilizations had no contact with each other, though). Well, that and those explicit sexuality/fertility symbols.

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  5. Stunning pictures Bama! The structure does look Mayan! And your writing elucidates the atmosphere of the place!

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    • Thanks Madhu! I want to see Mayan ruins for myself and compare the architecture with Candi Sukuh. Thousands of miles away, yet so similar in architectural features.

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  6. myallegro31 says:

    That is awesome. Great pictures. I will be out this way staring in OCT for a year so I will be hoping for some good recommendations!! Nice work!

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  7. Hi Bama!

    This is a great post.. I’m squeezing Solo in between my Bromo and Yogya trip.. Can you please help me how to get to this temple in the cheapest way possible? 🙂 Thank you so much.

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    • Actually the cheapest way is by taking the bus just like what I did (you can read it at the bottom of this post). But if you come to Solo by car/bus, just ask which bus goes to Palur bus station. The rest will be the same with what I wrote. Good luck!

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  8. Sapto says:

    Additional info:
    in the main temple, exactly in your last picture, it was inserted ‘lingga’ with real penis sculpture height 2m (kept in Museum Gajah), and carving inscription as the veins. So, main temple as Yoni itself and the Penis Sculpture as the Lingga. And the symbol is similar to Candi Cetho, near this Candi, but the acces to main temple is locked cause the ‘real’ lingga is still there and more realistic. Great Photo!

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    • Thanks for the info Sapto! I wish one day I can go back and visit Candi Cetho as well — I decided to skip it because I didn’t have enough time as I had to drive back to Semarang.

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  9. Pingback: Venerating Gods and Spirits in Bali | What an Amazing World!

    • I was, too, surprised by the vivid depiction of lingam at this temple. It’s really intriguing to learn the history behind those ‘erotic’ sculptures.

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  10. haha ! The erotic temple is indeed a suitable name for that place. It’s nice to learn more about it. How did you manage to learn about all of that ? Did you do some research before going there ? Or did some locals recommend the place ? Did you hire a guide ? So cool!

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    • The most provocative statue is that well-endowed man holding his ‘treasure’. 😀 Usually before visiting a historical place I read a little bit about it so I know what makes that place special and its significance in the past. I didn’t hire a guide when I went to this temple, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

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