Borobudur is a terraced temple surmounted by stupas, or
stone towers; the terraces resemble Indonesian burial foundations, indicating that
Borobudur was regarded as the symbol of the final resting place of its founder, a
Shailendra, who was united after his death with the Buddha. The Prambanan temple complex
is also associated with a dead king. The inscription of 856 mentions a royal funeral
ceremony and shows that the dead king had joined Shiva, just as the founder of the
Borobudur monument had joined the Buddha. Divine attributes, however, had been ascribed to
kings during their lifetimes. A Mahayana inscription of this period shows that a ruler was
said to have the purifying powers of a bodhisattva, the status assumed by the ruler of
Shrivijaya in the 7th century; a 9th-century Shaivite inscription from the Kedu Plain
describes a ruler as being "a portion of Shiva."
The divine qualities of these kings, whether of Mahayana or of
Shaivite persuasion, had important implications in Javanese history and probably in the
history of all parts of the archipelago that professed the forms of Indian religion. The
ruler was now and henceforth seen as one who had achieved union with the supreme god in
his lifetime. Kingship was divine only because the king's soul was the host of the supreme
god and because all the king's actions were bound to be the god's actions. He was not a
god-king; he was the god. No godlike action was more important than extending the means of
personal salvation to others, always in the form of union with the god. The bas-relief of
the Borobudur monument, illustrating Mahayana texts and especially the Gandavyuha--the
tale of the tireless pilgrim in search of enlightenment--is a gigantic exposition of the
Mahayana path to salvation taken by the king; it may be thought of as a yantra, or
instrument to promote meditation and ultimate union with the Buddha. But Borobudur can
also be identified as a circle, or mandala, of supreme mystical power that signified the
Void of the Vairocana Buddha according to the Vajrayana persuasion of Tantric Buddhism.
The mandala was intended to protect the Shailendra realm for all time. The pedagogical
symbolism of the Prambanan temple complex is revealed in its iconography, dominated by the
image of the four-armed Shiva, the Great Teacher--the customary Indonesian representation
of the supreme deity. Prambanan affirms the Shaivite path to salvation; the path is
indicated in the inscription of 856, which implies that the king had practiced asceticism,
the form of worship most acceptable to Shiva. Shaivism in Java as well as Mahayana
Buddhism had become hospitable to Tantric influences. An almost contemporary inscription
from the Ratu Boko Plateau, which is not far from the Prambanan complex, alludes to
special rites for awakening Shiva's divine energy through the medium of a ritual consort.
Keraton Ratu Boko
These royal tombs taught the means of salvation. The royal role on earth was similar.
The kings, not the religious elite, bore the responsibility of ensuring that all could
worship the gods, whether under Indian or Indonesian names. Every god in the land was
either a manifestation of Shiva or a subordinate member of Shiva's pantheon, and worship
therefore implied homage to the king, who was part of the god. The growing together, as a
result of Tantric influences, of Shaivism and Mahayana Buddhism meant that, over the
centuries, the divine character of the king became continually elaborated. His
responsibility was the compassionate one of maintaining his kingdom as a holy land. The
bodhisattva-king was moved by pity, as were all bodhisattvas, while the Shiva-like king,
as an inscription of the 9th century indicates, was also honoured for his compassion.
Compassion was expressed by providing an environment wherein religion could flourish.
Keeping the peace, protecting the numerous holy sites, encouraging religious learning, and
above all performing purification rituals to render the land acceptable to the gods were
different aspects of a single mission: the teaching of the religious significance of life
on earth. The lonely status of the ruler did not separate him from the religious
aspirations of his subjects; Prambanan provides a recognition of the community of interest
between ruler and ruled. The 856 inscription states that a tank of purifying water, filled
by a diverted river, was made available as a pilgrimage centre for spiritual blessings.
Hermitages had been built at the Prambanan complex, and the inscription states that they
were "to be beautiful in order to be imitated."
The great monuments of the 9th century suggest something of the cultural ambience
within which events took place. One new development in central Java was that capable local
rulers, called raka, were gradually able, when opportunities arose, to fragment the lands
of some raka and absorb the lands of others. At the same time, they established lines of
communication between themselves and the villages in order to guarantee revenue and
preserve a balance between their own demands and the interests of the independent and
prosperous agricultural communities. When a ruler manifested divine qualities, he would
attract those who were confident that they were earning religious merit when they
supported him. Local princes from all over the Kedu Plain constructed small shrines around
the main Prambanan temple in a manner reminiscent of a congregation gathered around a
religious leader. The inscription of 856 states that they built "cheerfully."