Dharanindra: King of Medang and Srivijaya

50 comments
Asia, Indonesia, Southeast
Candi Sewu, the Second Biggest Buddhist Temple in Indonesia

Candi Sewu, the Second Largest Buddhist Temple in Java

Chapter 1, Part 7

Panangkaran’s reign in the kingdom of Medang ended in the year 775, leaving a legacy of a new Buddhist kingdom as well as starting the era of Hindu-Buddhist temple construction within his realm. His successor, Dharanindra, emerged as an even more powerful ruler than Panangkaran. Thanks to Sailendra’s turn to Buddhism and intermarriages with the ruling family of the Sumatra-based Buddhist kingdom of Srivijaya, the Medang-Srivijayan union became a major power in Maritime Southeast Asia.

During his reign Dharanindra, also called King Indra, commissioned the construction of Manjusrigrha, ‘House of Manjusri’ after the most important bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The design of the temple, however, is believed to have been made during Panangkaran’s rule. Taking the layout of a mandala – a symmetrical shape symbolizing the universe in Buddhism cosmology – the main temple at the center of the plan is a tall structure topped by a distinctive Buddhist stupa. More than 200 smaller structures used to surround the main temple in four directions. However the present name of the temple compound, Candi Sewu or ‘Thousand Temples’, owes to a Javanese folklore of Roro Jonggrang and Bandung Bondowoso.

Once upon a time in Java a prince from a powerful kingdom was mesmerized by the beauty of a princess from a rival kingdom. Bandung Bondowoso, as the prince was called, wanted to marry Roro Jonggrang, the princess, who did not have the will nor the desire to be united with the prince. Instead of saying no, she said to him that she would marry him only under one condition: the prince must build one thousand temples within one night, an impossible task she believed. He agreed.

Summoning demons and other supernatural creatures, the prince sought for their help to finish the otherwise preposterous task for humans. When the 999th temple was completed, the princess and her maids rushed to the barn and began pounding rice, a typical morning activity in Java to start the day. Upon hearing the sound, the spirits returned to their lair thinking dawn was about to break, and left the last temple unfinished.

The Main Temples and Hundreds of Unrestored Smaller Shrines

The Main Temple (left) and Hundreds of Unrestored Smaller Shrines

Avalokitesvara and Buddhist Stupas

An Almost Unrecognized Relief of Avalokitesvara

Gems of the Sailendras

Gem of the Sailendras

At the Center of the Mandala

At the Center of the Mandala

Makara at the Staircase

Makara at the Staircase

Kala, Dwarf and Floral Patterns, Ubiquitous in Javanese Hindu-Buddhist Temples

Kala and Floral Patterns, Ubiquitous in Javanese Hindu-Buddhist Temples

A Small Sanctum inside the Main Temple

A Small Sanctum inside the Main Temple

Looking Through

Looking Through

Missing or Damaged Parts were Replaced by Plain Stones

Missing or Damaged Parts were Replaced by Plain Stones

A Dwarapala at One of the Ancient Entrances

A Dwarapala at One of the Ancient Entrances

His Head Might Be in A Museum or Someone's House

His Head Might Be at A Museum or Someone’s House

Historians believe after its completion Manjusrigrha was used as the official temple of Medang for its beauty and grandeur. It was at the time the largest Buddhist temple in Java, and it is believed that a statue of Manjusri once resided at the main sanctum.

Dharanindra’s construction spree did not end despite having built a temple of Manjusrigrha’s scale. To the far northwest of the royal temple he built another shrine called Venuvana, present-day Candi Mendut. Housing the statues of Vairocana, Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani, Venuvana was also embellished with bas-reliefs of various bodhisattvas, celestial creatures, Mahayana Buddhist deities, as well as panels of Jataka fable – animal stories of Buddhist teachings found in many temples in Asia.

However Dharanindra’s ambition to project the power of his kingdom was not only limited to building impressive Buddhist temples. He was also keen on conquering foreign lands and incorporating them into the Medang-Srivijayan realm. A multitude of inscriptions discovered throughout the region describe his raids and conquests of Ligor, Champa and the Mekong delta in modern-day southern Thailand, southern Vietnam and Cambodia, respectively, lending him the title Wairiwarawiramardana, ‘the slayer of courageous enemies’. When the Sailendras controlled the Mekong delta, the local ruler was Jayavarman II, the same person who would later establish the Khmer Empire, a kingdom with unrivaled architectural legacy in Southeast Asia.

At home, to further showcase the power of his kingdom, Dharanindra commissioned the construction of a colossal Buddhist temple unlike anything the region had ever seen, one that would become the world’s biggest Buddhist shrine even more than a millennium after its construction. But the king did not live long enough to see its completion for it would take decades to finish Borobudur, how the temple is known today.

Candi Mendut, Originally Known as Venuvana

Candi Mendut, Originally Known as Venuvana

Bodhisattva and Geometric Floral Patterns

Bodhisattva and Geometric Floral Patterns

One of the Bodhisattvas

One of the Bodhisattvas

A Relief of Jataka Fable

A Relief of Jataka Fable

Hariti, Buddhist Goddess of Child Protection and Happy Family

Hariti, Buddhist Goddess of Child Protection and Happy Family

The Statue of Vairocana, A Primordial Buddha

The Statue of Vairocana, A Primordial Buddha

Apsaras, the Celestial Nymphs

Apsaras, the Celestial Nymphs

Bodhisattva, Another Angle

Bodhisattva, Another Angle

Fragments of Venuvana

Fragments of Venuvana

Click here for the full list of stories from the Spice Odyssey series.

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

50 thoughts on “Dharanindra: King of Medang and Srivijaya”

    • Thank you for reading. It’s always interesting to learn the history of less-known places, and sometimes it helps us understand the bigger picture of events that happened in the world.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, it boggles the mind what creative power humanity has:-) Definitely enriches our perspectives on many fronts. Thank you. Best. Chevvy.

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    • Thanks! The eclectic amalgamation of animist belief, Hindu-Buddhist philosophy, Javanism, and Islam makes Java truly a unique place in the country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m lucky enough to have visited Prambanan again last year – there is never enough time though and so much to see.

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      • I have been to Prambanan at least five times and I never get tired of it. The next time you come you should also visit Sewu, it’s less than 1 km from Prambanan but only receives a trickle of tourists who flock the latter.

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  1. Fascinating history, as always. Seems like similar prince/princess stories exist in many cultures throughout the world – as well as those self serving rulers.

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    • History always repeats itself, even among cultures separated thousands of miles away from each other. Power and religion will always play a central role in human history. Thanks Marilyn.

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  2. A wonderful post, Bama! The photos leave me amazed at the incredible craftsmanship that has survived through the centuries. I had no idea Candi Sewu, Mendut and Borobudur were all commissioned by the same king. As Marilyn mentioned in her comment, it seems that most ancient rulers were obsessed with leaving some sort of monumental legacy – from the Pyramids of Giza to the temples of Southeast Asia.

    You already know that Sewu is my favourite Javanese candi, and I’d love to revisit it the next time we go to Jogja. I was astonished that we had the entire place to ourselves even at 10-11 in the morning!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks James! In most history books Samaratungga (Dharanindra’s successor) is credited as the king who finished the construction of Borobudur, but little is known about the one who commissioned all the candis you mentioned. You see, most of the world’s ancient, grand monuments are religious structures — churches, temples, mosques. Religion, power, and economy will always be the main drive for human to build impressive structures, from ultrahigh skyscrapers to massive stadiums and enormous churches/mosques, world powers always try to outdo one another.

      The next time we go to Sewu we have to arrive even earlier!

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  3. Selama ini aku pikir legenda Roro Jonggrang berhubungan dengan Candi Prambanan, dan baru kali ini aku dengar kalau legenda itu justru dihubungan dengan Candi Sewu. Tapi entah ya, kok tiba-tiba aku merasa legenda itu memang lebih pas untuk Candi Sewu.

    Sama seperti James, aku juga gak berpikir kalau Candi Sewu, Mendut dan Borobudur dibangun atas perintah raja yang sama, yaitu Dharanindra. Selama ini pula aku taunya Borobudur cuma dibangun oleh Dinasti Syailendra, mungkin karena dimulai oleh Dharanindra dan selesai pembangunannya pada masa raja-raja penggantinya.Aku juga belum sempat membuat riset untuk menceritakan kembali candi-candi yang kita kunjungi ini, dan selama ini aku bertanya-tanya kira-kira Candi Mendut itu nama aslinya apa ya? Karena kisah mengenai Roro Mendut itu khan terjadi pada masa yang jauh berbeda setelahnya. Ternyata namanya Venuvana tho. Thanks infonya Bam ,,, menarik banget.

    *dan lalu aku bingung mau ambil sudut penceritaan yang mana kalau mau nulis tentang ini* 😀

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    • Sebenernya masih berhubungan kok Bart. Jadi cerita lengkapnya setelah para makhluk halus itu kembali ke sarangnya sehingga candi terakhir tidak selesai dibangun, Bandung Bondowoso marah dan mengutuk Roro Jonggrang menjadi patung, yang tidak lain adalah patung Roro Jonggrang (yang sebenarnya adalah patung Durga) di Candi Siwa. Jadi memang legenda Sewu dan Prambanan ini saling terkait.

      Nah selama ini memang raja dari dinasti Syailendra yang paling sering disebut di buku sejarah adalah Samaratungga, karena di mana pemerintahannya lah Borobudur selesai dibangun. Jarang sekali yang mengebutkan mengenai Dharanindra.

      Sama-sama Bart. Kamu ambil sudutnya coba dari kanan bawah, agak miring ke kiri dikit deh. 🙂

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  4. Great info….and beautiful pics! Its true there is always more to notice when you visit again. Im wondering if you have ever been inside the the Tara temple not far from prambanan. It was closed when I was there….and I gather its even older than the temples @ Prambanan….I just remember it having a special feeling about it. : )) Trees

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Alison. It is indeed believed that the Khmer kings were inspired by the temples in Java to build those magnificent temples of Angkor. So the Javanese were inspired by the Indians, and the Khmer by the Javanese. Even today we also inspire each other, don’t we?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am particularly fond of any type of archaeological ruin. But, I am always drawn to ones like this. You have beautifully photographed them. The architecture is amazing and so different than elsewhere in the world. I would love to go some day. Thank you for the detailed post.

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    • Thanks! There are so many ancient temples in Java, and each has its own distinct characters. Sewu is definitely one of my favorites, not only because of its architecture but also the fact that it is far less popular than nearby Prambanan (I will post about this temple soon). Hope you’ll get the opportunity to visit this part of the world sooner than later!

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    • Thank you, Indah. Javanese ancient temples are always a source of inspiration and fascination for me.

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  6. Such a magnificent piece of history you show here Bama with both words and photos. The story about Bandung Bondowoso being mesmerized by the beauty of Roro Jonggrang adds so much excitement to the past. Stories like you’ve passed on here are just the type of thing that makes me want to go visit and feel those mysterious pieces of the past.

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    • History and legend intertwine and form the local belief in many parts of the world. It’s always interesting to learn how temples, volcanoes, caves etc perceived by the local people, and there is always wisdom in every story. I would love to read your stories on Javanese temples one day, Randall.

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  10. Thanks for another outstanding post Bama! The Hariti Goddess relief reminds me of the reliefs in Angkor Thom. That’s a strange sitting posture for Vairocana. Don’t think I have seen that one before.

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    • Thanks again, Madhu. Angkor Thom is one of my favorite temples in the area, but somehow I missed the Hariti reliefs there. The sitting posture of Vairocana at Candi Mendut is indeed unconventional. I have yet to find the meaning of this.

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