Ratu Boko’s Palace, the Melting Pot of Hindu and Buddha in Java Island

Long before Indonesia becomes the most populous moslem country in the world, Hindu and Buddha were the main religions in the country. Therefore, ancient temples and shrines still remain in several parts of Indonesia, including in Java Island. Ratu Boko’s Palace, however, is one of the Buddha and Hindu heritage performed neither in a temple nor a shrine.

on the way to ratu boko

On the way to Ratu Boko’s Palace

Located 196 meters above sea level, on a plateau of Boko, between Sambirejo and Bokoharjo Village in Sleman Regency, Yogyakarta, Ratu Boko’s Palace is a 160,898 square-metered archaeological site, rather than a grandiose residence with lots of lavishly decorated rooms and portraits of the rulers and their families like many other palaces.

The real name of the site is still unknown, but the locals name it after the leader of Boko kingdom, Prabu Boko, the father of a Javanese folk legend character Roro Jonggrang. At first, I thought that it’s a queen’s palace since “ratu” means “queen” in Indonesian. Nonetheless, in Javanese, “ratu” means “group leader”, without specifying any gender.

ratu boko gate

One of the gates in paduraksa form and ratna rooftop form made of andesite.

One of the inscriptions found on site called Abhayagiri Wihara (ca. 792 AD), mentioned that Rakai Panangkaran built a Buddhist vihara complex called Abhayagiri Wihara, meaning “a vihara on top of the hill free from danger”, located where Ratu Boko stands today, to dedicate his life for spiritual purposes. Shivagrha inscription mentioned that approximately in 856 AD, Ratu Boko became the residence of Rakai Walaing Pu Kumbhayoni during Hindu kingdom settlement, with an additional hilltop fortress used for defense and struggle in later years of Mataram Kingdom.

It implies that Ratu Boko’s Palace was once occupied by the kingdom of Buddha, as well as Hindu, between 8th and 9th century. However, you may overlook its existence since Borobudur and Prambanan are more well-promoted, thanks to their inclusion on UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Frankly speaking, wandering around Ratu Boko’s Palace feels like being in an amphitheater of Greece, an Apollo temple in South Turkey, Pompeii in Italy or Macchu Picchu in Peru. Though I haven’t been to the latter. Soon after my sister and I walked the stairs of the main gate, the sense of mystery and curiosity began to arise.

Wide-angled view of a (giant) soccer field with scattered relics and ruins made us wonder how each compound and overall architecture looked like when all the stack of stones were still in place. How about the empty spaces among the compounds, what were they?

I let my beautiful mind recompose the old glory and put myself in ancient people’s shoe, counting on a few information on faded signboards caused by continuous sun exposure. Strangely, the only renewed parts are stickers on each board mentioning “Kementerian Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan” (The Ministry of Education and Culture) that actually don’t mean much for visitors.

I realize that vivid imagination is not enough to conclude everything, even though the tour leader may be a good story teller (and we didn’t use the service, so it makes it harder). But still, imagination is one of the ways to enjoy a visit to ancient places that are almost flat to the ground.

Despite that, we chose freedom when time wouldn’t chase us, wandering haphazardly around the site. The only craftsmanship left are stone constructions, some marked with carvings, while organic materials attached, such as woods and straws, are completely vanished. Buddha and Hindu statues, inscriptions, old Chinese ceramics and a golden plate are already moved to museums.

ratu boko ruins

Ruins viewed from the crematorium (Candi Pembakaran)

ratu boko ruins

Remains of the stairs

ratu boko ruins

Floral engraving on the ruins

ratu boko ruins

Ruins in front of the audience hall (pendopo)

ratu boko ruins

Ruins in front of the audience hall (pendopo)

shrines

The 3 shrines. The red sign says, “no climbing”.

cave

Wadon cave has a Yoni relief (female genital symbol) on top of the entrance. Paired with Lanang cave, having a  Lingga relief (male genital symbol), both caves are one of the representatives of God Siwa in Hindu religion.

The Barong carving, possibly attached on top of a gate

DSCF0296 copy

floral and fauna carvings

There was no security guards in the area. No fences to separate the archaeological site and the village nearby. In my opinion, you can trespass easily and don’t have to bother paying the entrance fee if you know the shortcut through the village.

The most exciting part, to go down and walk on the narrow paths around the pool complex, turned into an uncomfortable situation when a crazy old man wearing a torn shirt and pants kept following me and my sister, trying to make a conversation with us. For safety reason, we decided to leave the complex before we had a chance to explore any further.

The north and south pool complex are connected with a gate. The north has 7 pools and the south has 28 pools.

The palace does not only offer history of Hindu, Buddha civilization and relics, but also a magnificent sunset view from the entrance gate. Therefore, it is advisable to come after 3.30 pm when it’s no longer too hot, to get everything in a single visit.

Unfortunately, as the sun went down, my camera battery suddenly went dead. In seconds, the “it” moment was gone after my smartphone’s camera was ready. But I was happy enough to see the gradual changing colors in the sky solely with my naked eyes.

Ratu Boko’s Palace is one of the heritage to remind us that differences can actually live peacefully, just like Hindu and Buddha in that era, though it does not always come easy.

2 comments

  1. Very interesting observations.

    Like

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