Ratu Boko: A Palace of Conundrum

Asia, Indonesia, Southeast
Gate to the Palace

Gate to the Palace

Chapter 1, Part 11

Perched on a hill in the Kewu Plain, an unassuming compound of ancient structures made from andesite rocks is a beauty shrouded in mystery. Its roofed gate stood elegantly, in contrast with the austere walls surrounding the vast complex. Unassuming it is compared to the rich embellishments that adorn the Hindu-Buddhist monuments in the temple-studded plain, from Shivagrha to Manjusrigrha, which were constructed more than a thousand years ago.

Ratu Boko, also called Kraton Ratu Boko, is in fact the only surviving non-religious heritage built during the Medang kingdom period in Central Java. Most historians agree that a vihara (Buddhist temple) was first built on the hill. Taking the name Abhayagiri, it was indeed modeled after the other vihara in Anuradhapura by the same name, although the Javanese version was most likely more modest in size compared to its Sri Lankan counterpart. What we see today, however, resembles more like a palace complex than a Buddhist monastery.

A few steps after walking through the roofed entrance way, the crematory comes into sight on the left hand side. Despite its name, no human trace has ever been found within its rectangular niche, suggesting that woods were the only things that had been burned inside. Walking past a vast grass field, dotted with purportedly remnants of a building’s foundation, the four of us – Badai, Bart, James and I – reach the far end of the compound after walking down an ancient staircase through a gate whose lintel probably had collapsed many centuries ago. There, a walled enclosure – called the pendopo – with pear-shaped decorative pieces aligned on top of the andesite stone walls hide a handful of small shrines and chambers inside. Two secret bathing premises, each with its own walls, are visible from the elevated platform inside the pendopo from which one can get a sweeping view of the surrounding forests.

Based on the inscriptions found around the hill it is believed that during the reign of Rakai Pikatan, a local Hindu ruler by the name of Rakai Walaing challenged his authority. The king’s son and crown prince, Rakai Kayuwangi, pushed the recalcitrant patrician to the hills. Not only did Rakai Walaing defend the palace at the hilltop, he also made inscriptions bearing his name and his great grandfather, the king of Halu who, some historians believe, was related to Sanjaya, the king who reestablished Sailendra’s reign in much of Central Java. Hence the theory that Rakai Walaing was trying to usurp the throne of Medang.

During the restoration work, Buddhist and Hindu cultural artifacts were found within the palace compound, including statues of Dhyani Buddhas and Shaivite deities. They suggest either coexistence or syncretism between the two religions, at the time dominant in Central Java. In fact, a theory emerged, suggesting a historical connection between Kraton Ratu Boko and Balaputra, the Buddhist prince who fled to Srivijaya in Sumatra following the return of Hinduism to the royal court of Medang in the ninth century.

The union of Medang and Srivijaya was in fact broken. The former continued to assert Hindu influence in Java, while the latter was about to witness its power greatly challenged by an imminent threat across the Indian ocean in the beginning of the 11th century. An event that would forever change the political landscape in Southeast Asia.

An Entrance Decoration

A Decorative Beast at the Entrance

Kala (?) and His Tongue

Ratu Boko’s Gate Ornaments

Candi Pembakaran

Candi Pembakaran (Crematory)

Vishnu (?)

A Statue of Vishnu on the Hill above the Crematory

Gate to the Inner Compound

Gate to the Inner Compound

Steps to A Well

Steps to A Well

Ruins of A Structure

Ruins of An Unidentified Structure

Entrance to the Keputren (?)

Entrance to the Pendopo (the Audience Hall)

Small Shrines

Small Shrines outside the Audience Hall

Keputren (?)

The Keputren (Enclosed Bathing Compound for Princesses)

Another View

Pools outside the Keputren

Water Spout

Jaladwaras (Ancient Hindu-Buddhist Water Spouts)

Another Water Spout

Weathered by the Elements

Another View

Another View of the Pendopo


Flying above the Ancient Ruins


Sunset at Ratu Boko

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

Posted by

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

37 thoughts on “Ratu Boko: A Palace of Conundrum”

  1. Ada sumber yang mengatakan bahwa kompleks Ratu Boko dulu merupakan tempat tinggal Roro Jonggrang yang didirikan ayahnya, Raja Baka. Meski akhirnya keraton diserang oleh Pangeran Bandung Bondowoso dari Kerajaan Pengging karena perselisihan Prambanan dan Pengging akibat keserakahan Raja Baka ingin menggabungkan kedua wilayah tersebut. Kisahnya sendiri antara sejarah dan legenda. 🙂


    • Yes, betul. Jadi Kraton Ratu Boko, Prambanan, dan Sewu semuanya terkait satu sama lain dalam cerita Roro Jonggrang, cerita yang muncul jauh setelah bangunan-bangunan tersebut ditinggalkan dan penduduk setempat tidak mengetahui dengan pasti sejarah dari bangunan-bangunan itu. Akhirnya tercampur lah sejarah dan legenda. Sekarang pun kecenderungan seperti ini masih terus terjadi kan? Banyak orang-orang yang mencapuradukkan fakta dan mitos. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The ability of ancient people (throughout the world) to build huge structures of stone blocks is truly astounding. Thanks for the great photos and history!


    • That never ceases to amaze me either, Marilyn. It’s mind-boggling to visit this kind of ancient site and think of how it was built many many centuries ago, let alone those in places like Egypt, Greece, and the Levant. Really appreciate your kind words. Thanks!


  3. Oh, I just love the close ups of the decorative ornaments. You really are talented because you make me want to go and see everything for myself! Also the photo of the plane above the ruins and the sunset shot are truly great 🙂 I don’t have the time to read about the history (sorry, I know how much effort goes into researching and writing it all down) but the photos I can’t miss! Thank you!


    • Thank you, Katha. That’s very kind of you to say. The airport is located not too far from the city center, so spotting airplanes flying over those ancient sites is fairly easy. No worries for not having the time to read the post thoroughly, as long as this sparked that wanderlust within you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bama what a capture of the plan over the ruins. As always your photos are superb. In a previous post or comment you spoke of the numbers of photos you take. How do you make the final decision on which make the cut to the article?


    • Thank you, Sue. Usually for the photos of a place, I choose the ones that most people are familiar with, as well as those that are rarely seen, 20-80 respectively.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sepertinya waktu paling pas untuk mengunjungi Keraton Ratu Boko ini memang di kala senja hari ya? Terasa banget mistisnya, terutama ketika kita memasuki area pendoponya yang kebetulan waktu itu sudah mulai gelap. Meskipun letaknya memang agak masuk ke dalam, adri jalanan utamanya, tapi aku gak nyangka kalau peninggalan bangunan keraton ini mudah untuk dicapai. Aku pikir bakal mblusuk-mblusuk gitu.

    Btw selamat ulang tahun ya Bam, semoga panjang umur dan makin keren ngeblognya 😉


    • Sepertinya sih iya. Pas aku pertama kali ke Ratu Boko entah gimana aku gak jalan sampe ke pendoponya dan baru tau kalo kompleks Ratu Boko ini cukup luas beberapa lama setelah trip selesai. 😀 Makanya aku cukup puas pas kemarin kita ke sana bisa liat pendopo sama keputrennya, meskipun agak buru-buru dikejar hari yang mulai gelap. Mengunjungi candi yang mblusuk-mblusuk kayaknya seru banget ya, berasa kayak Indiana Jones.

      Thank you, Bart. Amiiin. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think sometimes these simpler places make for even better photos. One can really focus on small details, as you did with those tremendous up-close pictures of the gate ornamentation, states, etc.


  7. Ratu Boko is such a mysterious ancient complex – I wonder what it would have looked like with all the original wooden pavilions intact. And how its stones glowed in the late afternoon light! I’m glad we were there in time to see that, before the skies darkened and the sun set.


    • I wonder if the layout and architecture of the ruins of Taman Sari bear any similarities with those of Ratu Boko, with the walled bathing compound and all. And that view of the Kewu Plain from the hill above the crematory, truly a view only royalties could afford — which reminds me, in a way, of Sigiriya.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Darcy! It is indeed my purpose to write this series: to show people the long-lost connections among nations in Southeast and South Asia. Today ordinary Indians rarely hear about Indonesia, or ordinary Indonesians don’t know much about Sri Lanka, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. nicostudenttraveler says:

    I really enjoyed this. It was so cool and you have incredible photos. Adding this to my travel list


  9. Bama, you are such a wealth of knowledge! I learn so much from your posts, and your photos tell an intriguing story — the Pendopo and princess baths are particularly compelling. I find the complexes and ruins you visit in Indo to be as fascinating as anything in Greece or Turkey. Thanks for your insight.


    • Kelly, you’re so kind. What I’ve been doing is basically collecting the knowledge other people have gathered and learned, and share some of it on my blog so we all can learn a thing or two from history. Many ruins here are not quite well-known to people, let alone to foreigners. There are more intriguing ancient temples and ruins in East Java which I have yet to visit, so I’ve been hoping to be able to go see them myself in the near future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and it’s always nice to hear from you, Kelly.


    • Hi Vika. Sepertinya ketenaran Ratu Boko dan tempat-tempat lainnya didukung oleh media sosial juga, salah satunya Instagram. Kalau ke Jogja disempatkan ya, apalagi kalau suka dengan sejarah dan candi-candi.


  10. Pingback: Sabang and Hikkaduwa: After the Tsunami | What an Amazing World!

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