Everyday life leaves little room in one’s mind space to explore new frontiers of knowledge. Voracious readers or watchers of infotainment are fortunate that way because they are able to, at the least, absorb the thoughts and explorations of fellow human beings.
There is a third category of fortunate people. Avid travelers. Because traveling to different places arouses curiosity, expands knowledge and opens the mind to new quests.
And that’s exactly what happened to me on my recent visit to Prambanan in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
More, in fact! Not only did the visit arouse my curiosity about ancient civilization in Indonesia but I would go to the extent of saying that the visit to Prambanan succeeded in evoking a sense of universal consciousness in me.
Yogyakarta is known for 3 main tourist attractions – Mount Merapi (a still active volcano), the mystic Buddhist temple of Borobudur and Prambanan. Do check out A 8th century voyage in Borobudur and Borobudur – A Mountain of Combined Virtues.
Prambanan is the biggest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia and is reputed to be one of the largest in South-East Asia.
Built in the 9th century (predating Angkor Wat), the complex is a symmetrical marvel of temples dedicated to the holy Hindu trinity of Brahma, Siva and Vishnu.
In front of each of the main temples are temples dedicated to the vahanas (animal vehicles) – The Eagle (Hamsa) for Brahma, the Bull (Nandi) for Siva and Swan (Garuda) for Vishnu.
The bas-reliefs on the temples narrating tales from The Ramayana and Bhagavata Purana are a sight to see. I only wish I had a highly knowledgeable historian accompanying me to explain each relief.
But never mind. One can appreciate beautiful carvings for their sheer beauty!
Plus, my visit to Prambanan aroused my curiosity as to why Hindus don’t worship Brahma but continue to worship Siva and Vishnu.
Looking it up, the first thing I learned that Lord Brahma, the creator, is not to be confused with Brahman – the Supreme One Consciousness.
The second thing that I gleaned was that Lord Brahma has 4 heads, and it is believed that the Vedas came from each of the four heads.
The third discovery was that there are several myths surrounding the cessation of Brahma worship – myths involving Brahma falling prey to his infatuation for Shatarupa, the woman he created to aid him in his creation of life, or how Brahma lied to gain victory over Vishnu in a quest to find the end of an infinite Siva Lingam (a symbol of divine generative energy – Siva in a phallic form). Read the latter story here. Both the myths end by Siva punishing Brahma by decreeing that he would no longer be worshipped.
Personally, I prefer the explanation that Brahma is no longer worshipped because it is deemed that his work of creation is over. Whereas Lord Vishnu (the preserver) and Lord Siva (the destroyer, also known as the God who oversees the path of cosmic reincarnation) still have a role to play in human fortunes.
What has everything I am sharing with you to do with Prambanan evoking a feeling universal consciousness?
Well, let me try to put it as simply as I can.
Seeing three temples side by side, representing creation, preservation, and destruction or cosmic reincarnation, evoked an acute awareness of the cycle of life down the ages.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter….Spring again!
Sowing, tilling, harvesting, fallow fields till they are ready for sowing again.
Birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, ageing, death….life anew in the next generation.
Freedom to create, responsibility to preserve, innovation to progress…the death of the old and redudant.
That’s how I have always personally interpreted the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. They symbolise the different phases in the cycle of life. Together, maybe, they are Brahman – universal consciousness.
And every living being is part of that cycle with a role to play.
Today, I am writing these thoughts – creation.
Maybe, they will be preserved by instilling thought in others’ minds.
Tomorrow, someone may build on this line of thinking or negate it with a more logical thought process.
Destruction only to recreate!
Be that as it may, it’s a continuum which gets embedded in collective universal consciousness.
That then is the feeling and thinking that Prambanan evoked in me.
Sadly, the Brahma temple was closed for further restoration when I visited. But here are some pictures I took of the other temples.
If these images interest you, may I add that the Prambanan temple complex has a fascinating history, and interested readers would be well advised to refer to Wikipedia for further information.
And oh, don’t miss the legend of how 1000 temples were built overnight by a prince who wished to win the hand of a princess. This is the legend of Rara Jonggrang, the princess who was purportedly turned to stone and is today manifest in the image of Durga in the Siva temple.
Featured Cover Image Credit: Prambanan Temple Complex. Image by Lata Subramanian.