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Greater India's magnificent heritage

Rajeev Srinivasan on India's cultural empire

The earthquake that struck Indonesia's Java island late in May was especially tragic. Not only in terms of the many victims of the quake, but also in the damage done to the temples at Prambanan.

In the vicinity of Java's cultural capital, Jogjakarta, stand two of the greatest treasures of Indonesia's Indic heritage, the temples at Borobudur and Prambanan. I visited them both about fifteen years ago, so I was anxious about any potential damage to them from the quake, and alas, there was quite a bit.

Borobudur is the Buddhist temple built 1300 years ago; and Prambanan, originally Brahma-vana, is the Hindu temple built 1,100 years ago. The two could not be more different, architecturally speaking. Borobudur is squat, hulking, powerful, a giant stupa that is a man-made mountain; in fact, it is the largest structure in the entire Southern Hemisphere. Prambanan is tall, slender and ethereal.

Prambanan consisted originally of three slender towers reminiscent of the North Indian style, as well as over a hundred smaller, subsidiary temples which are generally in ruins. The three major towers were dedicated to each of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva; only the central temple, the one for Siva, was mostly intact even before the quake. It was also known as Lorojonggrang ('slender maiden' in Bahasa Indonesian). Now it too is apparently badly damaged in the quake.

Image: Angkor Wat at sunset, seen from the outer moat

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