In the eighth century, several centuries after Hinduism arrived in Java, the fertile island where towering volcanoes took lives but replenished the soil saw the beginning of temple construction in earnest. The central part of Java in particular witnessed the proliferation of Hindu and Buddhist temples. Many were modest in size, but some were constructed on an unprecedented scale. As the most powerful kingdom on the island at that time, Medang was responsible for the building spree, a telltale sign of the thriving religions that had taken root far from the land where they were born.
However, what happened on the eastern side of the island around the same time was more obscure until the discovery of the Dinoyo inscription which shed light on a kingdom called Kanjuruhan. Centered around modern-day Malang (East Java’s second largest city), Kanjuruhan was ruled by a wise king called Dewasingha (Devasimha). His son, Liswa, succeeded him and took the title Gajayanalingga Jagatnata, or better known as Gajayana, and then had a daughter called Uttejana. A Hindu temple dedicated to Agastya, a resi (rishi) or revered sage in Tamil Hindu tradition – suggestive of the past connections between the Javanese and the Tamils from southern India – was built at the heart of the kingdom. Today it’s better known as Candi Badut.
Despite its construction very far from what was considered the center of classical Javanese art in the capital of Medang, Candi Badut bears a striking resemblance to Central Javanese temples. Its bulky structure is an oddity compared to typically tall and slender Hindu temples built across eastern Java centuries later. Kanjuruhan in fact fell under the control of Medang, albeit peacefully as the kings of the East Javanese kingdom were still allowed to rule their people directly. As a friendly gesture, Kanjuruhan donated a small perwara (satellite) temple within the expansive Shivagrha compound, or modern-day Prambanan.
After the demise of Java’s Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, which resulted in the abandonment of Hindu temples all over the island, the once beautifully adorned shrines were gradually reclaimed by nature – covered in volcanic ash, destroyed by earthquakes, or slowly broken down by thick overgrowth. Candi Badut itself was only rediscovered in 1923 and reconstructed a few years later. The lack of original stones, as suggested from the missing upper structure above the temple’s sanctum, means a complete restoration is virtually impossible. At least for now, the lingga and yoni pair, a statuette of Durga Mahisasuramardini (the multi-armed goddess Durga slaying the buffalo demon Mahisasura), and a headless Nandi (the mount of Shiva) are all suggestive of the temple’s Shaivist nature – and the belief practiced by the people in Kanjuruhan more than 12 centuries ago. Candi Badut might be incomplete, but it is still an invaluable treasure that provides us with a glimpse of the little-known kingdom of Kanjuruhan.