Art of Java

The art produced in the island of Java is divided into three periods corresponding to a continuous emigration within the island from West to East. The first period was developed in the west of the island until the 7th century. The second period developed in the center of the island between the 7th and 10th centuries and corresponded to the classical moment in which the buildings expressed the Javanese taste for thick and protruding moldings that produced strong shadows as well as for the use of a very rich sculptural decoration. This second period is usually divided into two distinct moments: one of Brahmanic influence (between 625 and 750) in which several temples were built on the Dieng plateau all of them manifestly influenced by the art of Mahabalipuram of south India; the second (between 750 and 860) of Buddhist influence under the power of the Shailendra dynasty during which the Borobudur temple was built.

A view of the Dieng temple complex (Dieng Plateau, near Wonosobo, Central Java, Indonesia) with the Arjuna temple in first plane. This temple complex comes from ca. 7th-8th centuries. The site includes eight small Hindu temples that are among the oldest surviving religious structures ever built in Java and the earliest Hindu temples in Indonesia.
A sculpture found in the Dieng temple complex. It represents three-headed Shiva Trimukha, (Kailasa Museum, Banjarnegara, Central Java).
The Borobudur temple ground plan (seen from above) takes the form of a Mandala*.

Borobudur (founded around 800) is together with the Bayon temple at Angkor-Thom the largest Buddhist temple in the world which was built when this religion was disappearing in its homeland India under the advances of Neobrahmanism. Borobudur is a grandiose temple that has no interior, it is in fact an artificial hill built in gray trachyte rock of great hardness and seems like an over-developed stupa multiplied to infinity. Its general shape is that of a step pyramid with nine overlapping terraces, the lower six squared and the three highest circular. A staircase crosses each facade of the enormous pyramid and leads to the upper platform that has a huge stupa at its center. On the three circular terraces are 72 small, bell-shaped stupas. Above the nine terraces of Borobudur there are hundreds of Buddha statues in which the Gupta influence of the Sarnath style is visible. All these Buddhas appear very beautiful and elegant, impressive for what has been called their “spiritualized nature”. They can be grouped into six different types, the last of which, located on the circular terraces, makes the gesture of “Turning the wheel of dharma” with their hands. The walls of the terraces are decorated with more than two thousand high reliefs that together sum up a length of 6 kilometers, all of them admirable in their harmony, balance and clarity. In this way, the pilgrim could follow the whole life of the Buddha, with his pious incidents and fantastic episodes, as he/she slowly crossed the square terraces while climbing towards the upper circular platforms where the mystical forms of the Buddhist knowledge are reflected.

The 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple of Borobudur (Magelang Regency, Central Java, Indonesia) is the world’s largest Buddhist temple. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa. Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Shailendra Dynasty, the temple design follows Javanese Buddhist architecture, which blends the Indonesian indigenous cult of ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. The monument is a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage.
The circular terraces in Borobudur with the perforated stupas.
A statue of seated Buddha inside a perforated stupa located on one of the circular platforms of Borobudur. Here Buddha is represented in the Dharmachakra mudra symbolically meaning “turning the Wheel of dharma”.
A relief from the temple of Borobudur representing a ship. This type of ship was particularly used for inter-insular trades and naval campaigns by the Shailendran and Srivijayan empire that ruled Java around the 7th to 13th centuries.
A close up of a panel relief at Borobudur.
Relief at Borobudur representing Prince Siddhartha Gautama becoming an ascetic hermit. The first four square terrace walls of Borobudur are covered with bas-relief sculptures. The bas-reliefs in Borobudur depicted many scenes of daily life in 8th-century ancient Java, from the courtly palace life, hermit in the forest, to those of village commoners. It also depicted temples, marketplaces, various flora and fauna, and also native vernacular architecture. The reliefs also depicted mythical spiritual beings in Buddhist beliefs such as gods, bodhisattvas, apsaras, etc.
Bas-relief at Borobudur representing Queen Maya riding a horse carriage retreating to Lumbini to give birth to Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

The third and last period of ancient Javanese art developed in the east of the island between the 10th and 14th centuries, and on the adjacent island of Bali as early as the 15th century. It was a time in which the art of Java was becoming more and more autochthonous and consequently its local, indigenous characteristics progressively increased. Its fundamental monuments are the temple of Prambanan from the 10th century, dedicated to Shiva, and the group of temples of Penataran built around 1370. In the creations of this period there is less beauty and depth than in the glorious masterpieces of Borobudur, but there was maybe more intimacy, variety and originality. In the 15th century with the establishment of Islam in Java, the development of the ancient Javanese art was stopped.

A general view of the Prambanan temple complex from the 9th-century (Special Region of Yogyakarta, Indonesia). The temple was dedicated to the Trimūrti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Transformer (Shiva). The temple compound is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia, and one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. It is characterized by its tall and pointed architecture and by the towering 47 mt high (154 ft) central building inside a large complex of individual temples.
Aerial view of the Prambanan temple compound. The temple complex was laid out following a concentric mandala pattern. Originally there were 240 temples, most of them surrounding the central main shrines.
Statues of Dvarapalas guarding the entrance to the area with the main shrines at the Prambanan temple complex.
An image of Lokapala god located on the shrine of Shiva at the Prambanan temple.
In this relief panel from the Vishnu temple of Prambanan, Balarama (Krishna’s brother) is shown prying apart the jaws of Kaliya, a poisonous snake who had been infesting Krishna’s childhood pond on the Jamuna River, while Krishna dances in triumph.
In other relief panel, Krishna tears apart the legs of his wicked uncle, Kamsa. At the far right, Balarama catches the legs of the ass demon Dhenukasura, swinging him around and smashing him while the rest of the herd runs around in helpless panic.
The main temple of the Penataran complex took the form of a stepped pyramid. The Penataran temple is one of the largest Hindu temple ruins complex in East Java. It is believed to have been constructed between the 12th to 15th centuries. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and is notable for including one of the largest Indonesian collection of reliefs showing life stories of the Hindu god Vishnu in different avatars.
A candi* temple in the Penataran temple complex.


Art of Thailand

Finally we must refer to the art of Thailand a country dominated by the Khmer until the 13th century when the Thai arrived, thus giving the country its current name. In the 14th century the Thai founded the city of Ayutthaya which became its capital until 1767 when it was destroyed by the Burmese. It was during the Ayutthaya period that the type of roof in the form of a high and narrow cone was created. With the passing of time this conical roof became increasingly stylized until almost resembling an arrow. Another characteristic of the Thai art also appeared during this period: an immense pedestal on which the temples were built, this so that they had a greater height.

The Wat Chaiwatthanaram (“Temple of long reign and glorious era”) Buddhist temple in the city of Ayutthaya Historical Park, Thailand. The temple was constructed in 1630 by the king Prasat Thong as the first temple of his reign, as a memorial of his mother’s residence in that area. It has a central 35 mt high prang* in Khmer style with four smaller prangs. The whole construction stands on a rectangular platform. Along the wall, there were 120 sitting Buddha statues, probably painted in black and gold. After the total destruction of the old capital by the Burmese in 1767 the temple was abandoned.
View of the Wat Mahathat temple (“Temple of the Great Relic”) a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, central Thailand. The temple dates back to 1374 when King Borommaracha I erected a temple at this place. Later his nephew and successor Ramesuan (1369-1370, 1388-1395) expanded the site in 1384 to build a great temple, while he was here as a monk between his throne offices.
A statue of Buddha at Wat Mahathat.
The Buddhist temple of Wat Phanan Choeng (city of Ayutthaya, Thailand) was built in 1324. Depicted here is the large wihan*, the highest building within the temple complex, which houses an immense gilded 19 mt high seated Buddha from 1334 CE (pictured below). This highly revered Buddha statue is called Luang Pho Tho by Thais, and Sam Pao Kong by Thai-Chinese. The statue is regarded as a guardian for mariners.

The three Chedis* of Wat Phra Si Sanphet (“Temple of the Holy, Splendid Omniscient”), the holiest temple built in the XVth century on the site of the old Royal Palace of Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya until the city was completely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. It was the grandest and most beautiful temple in the capital and it served as a model for Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. During the Burmese invasion in 1767, the city of Ayutthaya including the temple compounds were completely destroyed with the exception of the three Chedis that can be seen today.
The Wat Ratchaburana Buddhist temple (wat*) in the Ayutthaya Historical Park (Ayutthaya, Thailand) was founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and built on the cremation site of his two elder brothers. In this temple, four Sri Lankan stupas surround the main prang (pictured below).

In 1767 the capital of Thailand was established in Bangkok and marked the beginning of the last phase of the Thai style which lasted until the end of the 19th century. The palaces and temples of Bangkok with an abundant use of painted and gilded wood are characteristic of this period. The gables and pediments on the roofs were topped by flames and horns that were a distant memory of the Buddhist Naga snake. The use of bright clear colors created a sumptuous decoration in which the influence of Chinese art was evident.

Wat Chiang Man is a Buddhist temple located inside the old city of Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. Wat Chiang Man was built in 1297 CE. In the picture in first plane, is the Chedi Chang Lom (or “Elephant Chedi”), the oldest construction within the temple complex. The square base supports a second level which has the front half of 15 life-sized brick-and-stucco elephants emerging from it. The elephants seem to carry the upper levels of the building on their backs. The gilded upper part of the chedi contains a bell shaped relic chamber directly underneath the pinnacle. Seen behind the Chedi is the main Wihan which houses a large mondop* structure for an altar surrounded by Buddha statues. The facade of the wihan features gilded carvings of Kirtimukha* between flower and plant motives.
A general view of Wat Phra Kaew also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. The temple is located in Phra Nakhon District, the historic center of Bangkok, within the precincts of the Grand Palace. The temple complex was completed in the XVIIIth century. Wat Phra Kaew has a number of buildings in the precincts of the Grand Palace covering a total area of over 94.5 hectares. It includes over 100 buildings. The main architectural style used in the complex is known as Rattanakosin style (or old Bangkok-style).
To the left a Thotsakhirithon or giant demon (Yaksha*) guarding an exit to the south-western gate of Wat Phra Kaew to the Grand Palace.
Pictured above and below: the central phra Ubosot* and the Emerald Buddha temple at Wat Phra Kaew complex. The roof is embellished with polished orange and green tiles, the pillars are inlaid with mosaics and the pediments are made of marble installed in the 18th century. The Emerald Buddha housed in the temple is a potent religio-political symbol and the palladium (or protective image) of Thailand. Below: The multiple roof tiers, shown here in the Emerald Buddha temple, are an important element of the Thai temple architecture. This use of ornamented multiple tiers is reserved for roofs on temples, palaces and important public buildings. The most common is to find two or three tiers used, but some royal temples have four.

View of one of the two golden Chedi of Wat Phra Kaew.
Garuda and Nagas decorating the exterior of the ubosot, the main building of Wat Phra Kaew.
A golden statue of a Kinnara* (a mythological creature, half bird, half man) at Wat Phra Kaew.
The Buddhist temple complex of Wat Pho (Phra Nakhon District, Bangkok, Thailand). The temple is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Wat Pho houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, including a 46 m long reclining Buddha.
The Phra Maha Chedi Si Ratchakan at Wat Pho.
The Buddha images in the cloister of Wat Pho. The cloister is intersected with four viharas, one on each direction.
The reclining Buddha statue at Wat Pho. The image of the reclining Buddha represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations. The figure is 15 m high and 46 m long, and it is one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand. The right arm of the Buddha supports the head with tight curls, which rests on two box-pillows richly encrusted with glass mosaics. The soles of the feet of the Buddha are 3 m high and 4.5 m long, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. They are each divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified, such as flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers, and altar accessories. At the center of each foot is a circle representing a chakra or energy point. There are 108 bronze bowls in the corridor representing the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Visitors may drop coins in these bowls as it is believed to bring good fortune, and it also helps the monks to maintain the wat.
The Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram, a Buddhist temple in the Dusit district of Bangkok in Thailand, is also known as the marble temple. It typifies Bangkok’s ornate style of high gables, stepped-out roofs and elaborate finials. It was begun in 1899 and was built of Italian marble. It includes Carrara marble pillars, a marble courtyard and two large singhas (lions, pictured below) guarding the entrance to the ubosot. The cloister around the assembly hall houses 52 images of Buddha.

The Mausoleum of Savang Vadhana at Wat Ratchabophit, a Buddhist temple on Atsadang Road, Bangkok. The temple was completed in 1869 CE. On the west end of the temple grounds is the Royal Cemetery which features many chedis and Khamer-face towers.
Inside the shrine at Wat Ratchabophit. The interior of the temple is inspired by gilded Italian architecture that king Rama V saw on a visit to Europe.
A carved and inlaid image decorating a door in Wat Ratchabophit.
The Buddhist temple of Wat Phra Singh (Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand) was begun in 1345 when King Phayu had a chedi built to house the ashes of his father King Kham Fu. A wihan and several other buildings were added a few years later.
The monumental seated Buddha statue at Wat Si Chum located in the Sukhothai Historical Park which includes the ruins of Sukhothai (“dawn of happiness”), capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries, in north central Thailand. This Park includes 193 ruins on a 70 km square area. The site of Wat Si Chum includes a massive mandapa in the middle of the complex built in the late 14th century. Inside this mandapa, there is a huge 11 meters wide and 15 meters high seated Buddha image called “Phra Achana”.


Candi: A Hindu or Buddhist temple in Indonesia, mostly built during the “Hindu-Buddhist period”, between the 4th and 15th centuries.


Chedi: An alternative term for a Buddhist stupa mainly used in Thailand.



Kinnara: In Hindu mythology, a kinnara is a paradigmatic lover, a celestial musician, half-human and half-horse. In South-east Asia, two of the most beloved mythological characters are the benevolent half-human, half-bird creatures known as the Kinnara and Kinnari, which are believed to come from the Himalayas and often watch over the well-being of humans in times of trouble or danger.

Kirtimukha: (From the Sanskrit meaning “glorious face”). The name of a swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, very common in the iconography of Hindu temple architecture and Buddhist architecture in South Asia and Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia it is often referred to as Kala, and in China it is known as the taotie, meaning (Monster of Greed).

Lamyong: The decorative structure of the roof finials in Thai architecture. The lamyong is sculpted in an undulating, serpentine shape evoking the naga. Its blade-like projection called bai raka suggest both naga fins and the feathers of Garuda. Its lower finial is called a hang hong, which usually takes the form of a naga’s head turned up and facing away from the roof. The naga head may be styled in flame-like motifs and may have multiple heads. Perched on the peak of the lamyong is the large curving ornament called a chofah, which resembles the beak of a bird, perhaps representing Garuda.

Mandala: (From the Sanskrit meaning “circle”). A spiritual and ritual symbol in the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, representing the universe. In common use, “mandala” has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe. The basic form of most mandalas is a square with four gates containing a circle with a center point. Each gate is in the general shape of a T. Mandalas often have radial balance.

Mondop: The Thai equivalent of a mandapa.

Prang: A tall tower-like spire, usually richly carved. They were a common shrine element of Hindu and Buddhist architecture in the Khmer Empire. They were later adapted by Buddhist builders in Thailand, especially during the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1350–1767) and Rattanakosin Kingdom (1782-1932).

Ubosot: Or phra ubosot or bot is a building in a Buddhist wat. It is the holiest prayer room, also called the “ordination hall” as it is where ordinations take place.



Wat:  (From the Sanskrit meaning “Enclosure”). A type of Buddhist temple and Hindu temple in Cambodia, Laos, East Shan State, Yunnan and Thailand.


Wihan:  The Thai equivalent to a Vihara.

Yaksha: A broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, but sometimes mischievous or capricious, connected with water, fertility, trees, the forest, treasure and wilderness. They appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist texts, as well as ancient and medieval era temples of South Asia and Southeast Asia as guardian deities.