Published in Now! Jakarta, February 2009



The sumptuous municipal garden setting of Candi Kidal, the prettiest candi in Java, in Tumpang, near Malang.

On the Antiquities trail in East Java:
Part II (Final)

Last month I continued my East Javanese odyssey, visiting, for the first time in twenty years, the once quaint hill town of Malang, and then the bustling towns of Blitar and Kediri.
I am searching for archaeological evidence of links between Bali and East Javanese architecture—through a study of the bas-relief carvings on the ancient candi monuments to be exact—but I am very much a dilettante  amongst the true scholars (as I discovered my first day out).


East Java’s Coat of Arms.

16th January 2009: To Candi Kidal (the pretty candi) and Candi Jago in Tumpang, South of Malang. 
I am staying at the boutique-style Tugu Hotel on the park in the only remaining leafy corner of old Malang.
The owner has a wondrous collection of Javanese, Balinese and Chinese antiques which are sort of thrown at the architecture, and scattered about in a nice not a nasty way. The service is excellent and the East Javanese food better.

•           •           •

At Candi Kidal, one hour’s drive away, I meet Drs. Lufti Fauzi, a local archaeologist and lecturer with a passion for East Javanese candi architecture.
Candi Kidal has a such gorgeous silhouette, and so many sensual corners that it’s hard to reconcile the abundance of scary fanged demons built into the tomb-shrine as decorative motifs, and door lintels (see photo below).



Charming bas-relief duet of demons canoodling on the base of Candi Jago in Tumpang, near Malang.

Lufti explains how the Hinduism of Daha (Kediri) and Singosari (Malang area) are the ancestors (9 – 13th century) of the Majapahit culture (Trowulan area) which envelops Bali today. The religion was essentially ‘Siwa Bhairawa’, or the worship of Siwa as The Terrible mixed with Buddhism, always. Even in Bali, Bhairawa architecture is always somewhat ‘ayu’ or beauteous/feminine.  (The new villa development area of Brawa, near Canggu, in Bali is where the first Javanese Bhairawa influence came ashore, I am told. There’s certainly a lot of terrible architecture there today……… and Lord Siwa shure aint got nothin’ to do with it!!! ).


A Hindu-Javanese immortal guards the main Malang-Blitar Road.

I am fearful that the new trend for blocky, andesite shrines and gates in Bali will lay waste to the ‘screaming ayu’ look so important to a healthy Hindu temperament. The tendency of tropical Hindus to ego-centric excess—exemplified in the plethora of palace-style gates on serf homes over the past three decades—has always been tempered by Shiwa-Bhairawa rituals (the wild trances and general ‘controlled frenzy’). I am going to propose to the Governor of Bali, that the only way to address this architectural-theological imbalance is to redo all this month's ghastly road-side 'CALEG' (election) posters so more wild, freaky and nge’jreng.  

From Malang I take the scenic route to Blitar, home of Soekarno’s tomb and site of the great temple complex of Candi Penataran, Majapahit Era, East Java’s, answer to Pura Besakih, the Mother Temple, in Bali.
Along the way I encounter village after village of subtle beauty, quaint architecture and many fishing contests (the latest rural trend). I find that the village Javanese’ reverence for his unique  culture—be it Kejawen (old Java), Muslim, Christian, or Hindu—is still alive and kicking, as  evidenced  by the preponderance  of Majapahit-style village gates, road-side statuary and even the village seniors’ elegant fashion sense. Sprinkled among all this reverence are a few road-side demonstrations for the Palestinians cause—wild eyes and plastic buckets—but not enough to upset the general impression of tolerance and harmony.
Just north of Blitar in the ancient village of Wringi I visit a small but important ruin―the classic-Majapahit style house gate of a 14th century court official still intact. On the other side of the road the local Hindu community have built a Balinese-Javanese hybrid temple for their community.

•           •           •


Archaeologist Drs. Lufti Fauzi at his beloved Candi Kidal in Tumpang outside Malang.

Fishing contests are all the rage in the rural villages of East and Central Java this year.

Domestic tourists admire the sacred spring behind Candi Penataran Temple in Blitar.

At Candi Penataran in Blitar—blanketed these days with female tourists in bright satin kerudung headdresses, (the candi is near an important Islamic pilgrimage site) — I visit the newly restored Spring of the Holy Waters (patirtan) on its own terrace at the back of the magnificent 14th century temple complex (see photo). The water is crystal clear, and home to all sorts of amphibians (possessed of mystical powers according to Javanese beliefs). The back of the pond features amazing bas-relief carvings of Tantri tales, Java’s answer to Aesop’s fables.

•           •           •

The temple complex itself is magnificent—rather like Pura Penataran Pejeng, Bali, but much bigger, and without pavilions of course. I realize that the ruins of a giant temple gate—the entire stone roof portion in fact—setting in the grounds, resembles, in form, the roof of the gate at Wringi, and another I had seen in miniature flanking the mouth of the main  shrine at Candi Kidal! My amateur-archaeologist quest is yielding some results.


This house gate, called Candi Plumbangan (in Doko, near Blitar in East Java) was once the house gate of a high court official (Adipati) during the area’s Hindu-Javanese Majapahit era.

Between Blitar and Kediri I come across an extraordinary ‘procession’ of school children: in marching bands, on trucks, propped up in tri-shaws and crazy train carriages, all celebrating the first day of Muharram (the Islamic new year day, called Suro in Java). Typically the Central and East Javanese seem to throw every ceremony they have at Suro—pre-Hindu, Hindu, Nationalistic—and it has become a bit of a theatrical-theological mishmash, but a spirited one!


The Lord of the Mountain and his queen, in miniature, on a rickshaw, as part of a colourful Suro Parade near Blitar.

Reog trance-dancer gives attitude on pile of coconut husks.

In the middle of a giant market place awash with marching bands and drag artists I find a Reog group―from Ponorogo―relaxing on piles of coconut husks, after a mid-morning performance.  Their mystical tiger effigy trance dance is the highlight of today’s festivities.


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