About three kilometers south of the famous Prambanan temple dedicated to the legendary princess Loro Jonggrang, the curious visitor will discover another temple complex built on top of a hill plateau. The site named Ratu Boko is a ruined complex encompassing stone foundations of temples and residences, gateways, pavilions, meditation caves carved in stone cliffs and several bathing holes, the whole enclosed by massive remnants of stone walls. Since the history of the site itself is still clouded in mystery, the dating of the main buildings is linked to the Sailendra Dynasty which ruled over Central Java in the 8th to the 10th century AD. It is Buddhist in iconography yet Hindu elements have been found there as well, and it is related to several other hilltop temples scattered nearby (Candi Barong, Banyujibo, Candi Ijo).


Javanese legends and folkloric tales (dongeng) attribute the building of the Ratu Boko site to the human eating ogre-King Boko who had a daughter, a princess named Loro Jonggrang. The cruel King Boko was defeated by a young Prince Bandung Bondowoso from the Pengging kingdom who then fell in love with the beautiful princess. After an impossible task of building a thousand temples in condition for her hand, Bandung Bondowoso cursed Roro Jonggrang who ended up materialized as a stone statue on the Prambanan temple complex. To this day she is still considered to haunt both sites and is feared by local Javanese pilgrims during occasional offering ceremonies at these places.

The origins of this complex is clouded in mystery as several experts argue against the fact of this being an ancient Palace, despite the names linked to royal Javanese palaces which are given to several of the remnants. An interpretation that is often accepted instead is that it served as a spiritual abode and meditation place for the successive Sailendra Buddhist kings of the period. This interpretation is largely based on dated stone inscriptions as well as a unique gold inscription dated to the year AD 792 found nearby the ruined premises by Dutch archeologists during colonial times.
According to these inscriptions, the whole complex should be regarded as a monastic Buddhist site dedicated for meditational and esoteric Tantra practices. The reason being that the main building named ‘Pendopo’ (a Javanese term for a King’s innermost audience hall) features the classic architectural characteristics that associate it with Abhayagirivihara forest-monastery located in Anuradhapura in north-central Sri Lanka.

The golden inscription and a Buddhist mantra found near the northern gate reveal that an embassy of Abhayagirivihara forest monks were invited to Java in the early 8th century by the Javanese Sailendra king Panarabwan (reigned 784-803) because they were the foremost masters of the Yoga Tantras, custodians and skilled commentators on the doctrines of secret tantric texts given directly by the Buddha himself to his disciple Kasyapa. The teachings of this sacred lineage of forest yogis were sought by Buddhist rulers all over Asia in order to educate their own Mahayana Sangha (Monastic orders).

The Ratu Boko golden inscription is actually a mantra named the Scripture for humane kings who wish to protect their states. It is clear that this must have attracted the early Mataram dynasty kings to Tantric teachings, as empowerment and purification would be guaranteed. A Sailendra king thus founded a branch of the Abhayagirivihara on the southern platform of the Ratu Baka. At least one of the buildings was placed on an artificial plateau, as conspicuous and prominent a position as any imaginable on the plains of Sorogedug and Prambanan, signifying that the Sailendra regent who placed it there had an extraordinary respect for the Abhayagiriviharins and commemorated their coming to Java. Actually, the whole southeastern compound of Ratu Boko appears to have been conceived as a replica of Anuradhapura’s rocky hermitage.


Esoteric and tantric practitioners including patron kings themselves would have probably utilized the carved caves in the southern cliffs, the cremation funeral platform and the bathing holes in typical Yoga Tantra practices designed to purify and empower the practitioner. The presence of meditation caves in the northern part of the compound already suggested that Ratu Boko was the dwelling of Buddhist hermits and ascetics. Meditation halls and residences would have completed the site to provide ease in acquiring the teachings from the masters.

Nowadays, the place is still visited by Javanese mystic’s performing night rituals and semedi (meditation) in typical Kejawen tradition as the site is considered to wield considerable energy suitable for such goals. Kungkum meditations in Ratu Boko’s waterholes fed by natural springs are a usual form of union with Nature’s essence, here through the element of Water. The whole premise of Kejawen and its kebatinan application is indeed centered on the core Buddhist ideas of Wisdom and Compassion, as related through the sutra of the Eightfold noble path teaching. Ratu Boko could be considered by these Javanese mystics, much as their Tantric forefathers 11 centuries earlier, as a perfect spot to reflect and deepen oneself in these teachings. A Javanese pepatah or saying rounds up nicely what this spot signifies for the Javanese mind that is known for its levels of tolerance: Rukun Agawe Santosa, Crah Agawe Bubrah which advocates for solidarity as it brings strength and growth, whereas looking for enemies brings only destruction. Philosophically it also advocates for a more humanist view of the several types of beings created by the God conscience and not get stuck too deep in strict conventional categorizations of humans.

By Patrick Vanhoebrouck & Moko Pramusanto


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