Wildflowers can be interesting and pretty. But if there is an orchid sitting next to them, people’s attention would almost certainly be fixated on the latter due to the extravagant colors and shapes of its blooms.
The same thing can be said about two ancient temples situated just a short walk away from Prambanan. Built around the ninth century CE when this part of Java was the capital of the powerful Medang kingdom (also known as Ancient Mataram), Candi Bubrah and Lumbung were Buddhist shrines constructed during the rule of Medang’s Hindu kings, a telltale sign of a relatively peaceful coexistence between both religions that is believed to be the norm on the island at that time. Even more interesting is the location on which they were erected: exactly in the middle between Shivagrha, the largest Hindu temple compound ever built in Maritime Southeast Asia, and Manjusrigrha, an even older Buddhist temple designed in a concentric layout that predates the mighty Borobudur. Both are now known as Candi Prambanan and Candi Sewu, respectively.
In Javanese, bubrah means completely collapsed. That is probably why the locals called the northern of the two temples Candi Bubrah because only the base of the structure was still discernible upon its rediscovery. Not much is known about it since no inscriptions mentioning this temple have been found, which is also the case with Candi Lumbung. Why this temple compound directly south of Candi Bubrah was named after lumbung, the local name for a rice granary, is a mystery. Unlike its northern counterpart which is basically one big structure, Candi Lumbung consists of one main temple and 16 smaller structures encircling the former. Although it is impossible to completely reconstruct the history of both, what is clear is their Buddhist origins, thanks to the surviving architectural elements as well as statues that are related to Buddhism.
In 2016, the government decided to begin a restoration project at Candi Bubrah, and a year later what was once in ruins was reconstructed to look almost like its original appearance. When I returned to Prambanan last year, I was pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful ancient Buddhist temple standing in place of what was for many years an incongruous pile of stones. Buddha statues adorning the outer niches of the structure, beautifully-carved makara guarding the stairs to the sanctum, and a curious depiction of a lion standing atop an elephant – among other decorative elements – were for a long time overlooked by those visiting the Prambanan temple compound, including me, thinking that there was nothing to see at Candi Bubrah.
A few steps to the south, through a grass-covered pathway, lies Candi Lumbung, which, at the time of my last visit, was almost deserted despite the huge crowd exiting the main courtyard of Prambanan a few hundred meters away. While many of the 16 perwara temples were in good condition, the central shrine still looked as if its upper structure was chopped off. Carved around the façade were images of bodhisattvas, human beings who are on their way to attain Buddhahood.
Leaving these two ancient temples made me wonder. Had they been built further away from Prambanan, would people today have paid more attention to them? Like wildflowers sitting at a distance from much flashier orchids.