Chapter 1, Part 10
Pramodhawardhani, the daughter of Samaratungga of the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty, as well as the wife of Rakai Pikatan, the new Hindu king of Medang, ruled the kingdom in a conciliatory period between the two religions in the mid-ninth century AD. During her husband’s reign, Prambanan was commissioned, while the queen consort herself became the patroness of Buddhism. Not only did she oversee the construction of new Buddhist temples, but she also exempted some villages in Kedu Plain from tax in return of the preservation of Bhumisambhara, a magnificent temple what we now call Borobudur.
About two kilometers from Shivagrha, an elegant Hindu temple his husband built to mark the return of Hinduism to the royal court of Medang, Pramodhawardhani commissioned the construction of a Buddhist temple compound, consisting of two main temples surrounded by smaller shrines, and another group of temples a few hundred meters to the south.
Plaosan Lor, as the northern group is called today, is an ensemble of two main temples with identical architectural style in a walled enclosure with hundreds of small stupas and shrines encircling the wall. The two main temples, albeit looking the same, are in fact adorned with different sculpted figures. The northern of the two have female characters carved on its outer walls, while the other have male characters. Both are adorned with reliefs of bodhisattvas.
Some people speculate this male-female distinction was in fact a symbol of Rakai Pikatan and Pramodhawardhani’s union. In other words, not only was the temple used for religious rituals, but they were built as a manifestation of love between the king and the queen consort, a true Javanese romantic monument. The architecture itself reflects a marriage of Hinduism and Buddhism, a portrayal of the contemporary political situation during its construction.
About six kilometers south of Plaosan, a small Buddhist temple sat in solitude, hugged by verdant hills with a view of rice paddies to the front. Little is known about the history of this temple, but it is believed that Candi Banyunibo, as how it is now known, was built in the ninth century, probably around the time when Rakai Pikatan ruled Medang.
A much smaller temple than Plaosan, Candi Banyunibo’s most distinctive feature is its curved rooftop, reminiscent of ijuk (black fibers) roofs found in Balinese and ancient Javanese vernacular architecture. Similar to other Central Javanese ancient temples, a set of Kala and Makara was added at the base of Candi Banyunibo’s entrance – a feature later disappeared in East Javanese temples.
Richly decorated with ornate reliefs, a panel depicting Hariti – the goddess of child protection and family happiness in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism – can be found on the wall leading to the inner sanctum. The same character can also be found at another, and older, Buddhist temple called Venuvana (Candi Mendut).
Candi Banyunibo is a small, surviving temple from a period when harmony was of utmost importance in the kingdom of Medang, even more of a priority than expanding influence beyond its borders. Its story and philosophy, as well as those of other temples from the same period, is a reminder from the past for people today what it means to coexist in peace.
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