Only a single generation separates the pinnacle of Javanese Buddhism from its glorious celebration of Hinduism. I start trying to imagine a world in which the bedrock principles of social organization are suddenly swept away and replaced with another, and decide I would rather not. Especially since Islam swept in just a few years later, and changed it all again.
Once again, I can refer you to my earlier visit here. The big difference is that now the repairs are done, the scaffolding is gone, and we enter the temples with no fear of falling rocks.
After touring the central focal point of the temples, we move to another part of the site, where a theater complex has been built, primarily (if not exclusively) to perform the classic Ramayana ballet, which supposedly dates from the same period as the temples.
I have a hard time understanding the Javanese devotion to this version of the Ramayana. It stems from a culture which has been absent from the island for 1200 years. Imagine if Beowulf was still the most-enjoyed cultural artifact in England.
As depicted in the ballet, the hero, Rama, is revered in Hinduism as an incarnation of Vishnu– but he does nothing in this story remotely god-like. It’s more like a Homeric tale of a stolen bride, rival warriors, trickery, and a little magic. The designated trophy wife, Sita, is a passive victim throughout, and doesn’t seem worthy of a role as a goddess/consort–especially compared to the images of goddesses like Durga, seen in the temple here. Also, the primary diety at the temple complex is Shiva, so why the fascination with Rama? Oh, well, another twisted cultural appropriation.
When the music starts, I notice a big contrast from the music played at the Kraton. Whereas the Royal gamelan seemed to be depicting heavenly realms, like a Bach contata, this is a brassier sound, more like a Marvel Comics-based action movie. (The same quality infuses Balinese gamelan music; Bali is the only other place in Indonesia where an antique form of Hinduism is preserved. Hard to believe this is coincidence!)
Here’s a couple of interesting poses. On the left, Sita shows her submission to Rama, to whom she has been awarded. On the right, Hanuman instructs Rama and his brother in military strategy. The body language is fascinating: clearly the Monkey God is in charge, but he has to show deference to the prince, so he crouches while giving guidance.
Just for kicks: in the lobby, I pose with a statue of Hanuman.