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High on a hill overlooking Yogyakarta and the airport is a temple complex now largely in ruin. Built in the terraced style of Candi Ceto and Candi Sukuh, this was evidently once an important spiritual center. This complex dates to the end of the ninth century, however, and as such is actually contemporary with Borobudur and Prambanan and about 500 years older than Candi Ceto and Candi Sukuh. The highlight of the complex is the enormous lingga-yoni in the main building, with a few discrete bas-reliefs of Shiva and Uma depicting the moment of the creation of the world.

I visited the site on a rainy spring day, after a hazardous ride up the dirt road that clung, sometimes precariously, to the side of the mountain. The temple was deserted and the rain had just stopped. The silence was impressive and a little unsettling. There was a sense of presence, something otherworldly, about the place. Why that should be was not immediately apparent, since, at first glance, Candi Ijo (the “Greentemple, named after its location on Green Hill) is similar to many other temples I had visited in Java over the past four years. Perhaps the utter lack of tourists or other visitors contributed to the solemn feeling that was generated by the rain-swept stones and the glaring Kalas over the temple entrances.

Then, as I prepared to take photographs of the site, there came the sound of a great buzzing of insects that suddenly rose up all around the silent shrines. This, combined with the gloom of the morning and the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world, almost made me forget my purpose in coming there.

In fact, according to legend, the site is inhabited by a Naga called Kyai Poleng, who manages a flock of doves that the villagers claim can sometimes be heard flying at night.41

As mentioned, the site dates to the late ninth century CE. It is not imposing in the sense of Borobudur or Prambanan, with their hundreds of detailed reliefs and enormous statues to the gods. Instead, this complex—which originally encompassed eleven terraces and is now reduced to only a few—is simple in design and construction. It, too, has suffered from tremendous deterioration and ruin over the centuries, and has tolerated a degree of restoration work in places. The four main structures have been wholly or almost wholly restored, and these comprise the main building and three ancillary buildings facing it.

The main sanctuary, which houses the lingga-yoni, is quite impressive in its simplicity. The lingga-yoni structure is about nine feet tall—the yoni about six feet high and the lingga another three feet on top of that. It towered over me, and I am almost six feet tall. The most interesting aspect of this structure, aside from its enormous size, is the carving of the snake and the turtle holding up the spout of the yoni. We shall return to this in a moment.

The three buildings that face the main structure are believed to have housed statues of the Trimurti—Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu—but this really does not seem to be the case. Perhaps due to “creative” restoration, one of the buildings houses a Nandi bull—the vehicle of Shiva—next to a pedestal on which there is no statue at all.

In another of the three buildings, there is only what appears to be a fire pit, probably for the Homa sacrifice. And in the last of the three buildings, there is a simple yoni, minus lingga or any other statue. If the three buildings represented the Trimurti at some point, those associations have since been lost.

In the photograph above, you see the main structure in the background and the three smaller structures in the foreground. There is a utility pole marring the view, whose purpose was not revealed to me during my visit.

Below is a closer view, with the main temple in the background and the smaller temple housing the Nandi and pedestal in the foreground. The wall that surrounds the four temples is easily visible, as well as another terrace a level down.

Some detail of the wall and roof of the main temple contain motifs familiar from the shrines at Prambanan like the Kalas, the carved pillars on the reliefs, and some of the ornamentation. There are a few figures in asana barely visible in the niches on the roof of the structure, but the main niches in the walls are all empty.

The photos below show two empty niches in the wall of the main temple. The familiar Kala is there, as well as some carving above it of buildings that may represent Mount Meru, judging from the triangular shape of the relief, which suggests a hill or mountain. The niche at right shows most of the same features.

The entrance to the main temple housing the lingga-yoni is shown opposite. It has the dvarapala at the top and makaras at either side, as well as the pyramidal shape of the roof, which once again suggests Mount Meru.

The lingga-yoni in the main temple at Candi Ijo is shown on page 210. As we will see in a moment, there are two small reliefs on the wall behind the structure, one on the right showing Uma and one on the left showing Shiva.

To stand in this temple, in the presence of this device, is truly moving. There is a heaviness about the place and the same eerie sense of presence felt at the site is enhanced or magnified when standing inside this building. It is difficult to describe a sensation that is at once claustrophobic and somehow menacing. One is reminded of the phrase Terribilis est locus iste that one finds in the chapel at Rennes-le-Chateau. The large Naga serpent holding up the yoni only contributes to the feeling that one is in the presence of forces ancient and potent, and largely incomprehensible to the intellectual faculties.

The photo on page 211 gives a closer look at the serpent and turtle holding up the yoni. What is remarkable about this arrangement is that it differs from other lingga-yoni designs in which the turtle is at the base supporting the serpent—which would be consistent with the Churning of the Milk Ocean, in which the turtle supports the entire operation. The author submits that this design is deliberate, and refers back to the significance of the turtle in Kundalini yoga and in Tantra, representing the vajroli mudra. This placement of the serpent—obviously a phallic reference—below the turtle may indicate just that practice.

The relief on the top of page 212 shows the goddess Uma, riding on a cloud and carrying objects in her hands that resemble damaru—the Tibetan drum made from two conjoined skulls. The reference is somewhat obscure, for the gods are rarely shown flying on clouds. The implication is that the events being related took place before the creation of the world, before there was dry land. The author was fortunate that is was raining when he took this photo, for the water dripping onto the relief made it more visible in the meager light available in the building.

He was not so fortunate in the relief shown at the bottom of page 212. Here Shiva is also on a cloud, and also holding similar objects in his hands. That these may be containers of amrita is a distinct possibility, for the creation of the world between Shiva and Uma required an act of sexual intercourse that is not exactly what may generally be understood as intercourse.

In virtually every episode in which Shiva and Uma “mingle essences,” Shiva rarely penetrates Uma in the usual fashion. Instead, his seed falls either in her mouth or her hand.42 Occasionally, it falls to the ground, where it creates monsters or, in one version, Skanda (also known as Kartikeya, one of Shiva's two sons, the other being Ganesha). Shiva has the reputation of being an ascetic and hermit. He is normally portrayed naked or wearing animal skins; his hair is matted and his flesh covered in ashes. He wears snakes for belts. He remains in a state of silent meditation for aeons at a time and does not like to be disturbed. When he is disturbed, there is danger of his third eye opening—the dread Eye of Shiva that has enormous destructive power.

Yet, Shiva also has the reputation of being excessively sexual. He embodies both extremes of sexuality: complete renunciation and a total, aggressive lust (kama). He is often in a state approaching madness and intoxication—that is, when he is not sitting in asana and lost in trance. According to one version of the tale, when Shiva and Uma first had intercourse, that single act lasted for more than 1000 years. The other gods became so anxious over this excessive length of time that they used various means to try to interrupt them. One of these methods involved singing Shiva's praises outside the chamber where he and Uma were in passionate embrace. When Shiva withdrew from Uma in order to see what the singing was about, his seed—which, until then, he had retained—fell onto the ground, making a golden pile. Agni, the God of Fire, saw it and consumed it before Uma/Parvati could seize it. The end result was that all the male gods became pregnant, which was painful for two reasons. In the first and most obvious place, a pregnant male presumably is not a happy male; in the second place, the seed of Shiva burned like fire itself.

Books have been written in the attempt to decipher many of these legends, not only from a historical or religious perspective, but also from Freudian and Jungian perspectives, as well as a wide variety of other approaches. Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no single, coherent narrative. The Rig Veda is one source, the Puranas another. Then there are the Tantras themselves, which are dialogues between Shiva and Shakti that add new material that may be at variance or inconsistent with the older texts. However, once we realize that even the oldest book of the Abrahamic religions, Genesis, contains two separate and conflicting versions of the Creation myth, we are forced to accept the fact that, even though there may be inconsistent versions of the same legend, that does not devalue any particular one of them. Instead, we have to analyze the texts in an attempt to identify both the similarities and the differences, and understand why the differences exist and what they can tell us.

As we have seen, the Javanese versions of the Indian epics are substantially different from the originals. In the case of Candi Ijo—which was built at the same time as the more orthodox Prambanan—we have two reliefs that express a story concerning Shiva and Uma and display emblems for which we have no immediate explanation. The deities seated on clouds are one anomaly; the vessels they carry are another. Authorities are generally in agreement that the reliefs reference the Creation; and where Shiva and Uma are concerned, creation always implies the seed of Shiva.

As we saw in the previous chapter, there was an intense preoccupation with the elixir of life, amrita, at the late Majapahit temple sites. At those sites, the important figures were Bhima, Garuda, Durga, and the Nagas, with some assistance from Semar. Although we know that Durga is Uma and that Uma was cursed by Shiva, we do not see Shiva represented at these later temples except in the form of lingga. The legends depicted at Ceto and Sukuh are concentrated on amrita—immortality—and not on creation. At Ijo, on the other hand, the relationship between Shiva and Uma is more explicit and their presence in the main temple at either side of the large lingga-yoni reinforces the idea that the temple is dedicated to their mystical union. We may say that creation necessarily precedes immortality, and that the unifying characteristic between them is this mysterious substance called amrita, which, somehow, is equated with human sexuality.

As the first “couple,” Shiva and Uma are the source of all created beings. While Brahma is usually called the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer, one version of the myth in the Shiva Purana has Brahma unable to create until Shiva—who is originally androgynous, a form called Ardhanarishvara (from the Sanskrit root ardha which means “half”)—cleaves himself in half and then mates with his female side, his Shakti who is Parvati and Uma. Thus Shiva bears the connotation, not only of destruction, but also of regeneration. Shiva destroys his original nature in order to reproduce.

The lingga is the symbol par excellence of Shiva. It is the source of the seed of Shiva that—when combined with the yoni of Parvati/Uma—produces the amrita of immortality. The Churning of the Milk Ocean is widely understood to be a metaphor for the sexual act, just as the fire stick—whose friction creates fire—is a sexual metaphor. The aeons-long intercourse of Shiva and Uma was said to create enormous heat, which was one of the reasons the gods did what they could to stop it. That the God of Fire, Agni, consumed the spilled semen of Shiva resonates with this concept.

The enormous lingga-yoni at the main temple at Candi Ijo is easily understood to represent the churn that produced the amrita and, in fact, the water that is poured over the lingga is collected from the spout of the yoni and used as the “water of life.” Thus, there is a deliberate attempt to equate the creation story of Shiva and Uma with the lingga-yoni and amrita.

In a Tantric context, this act of creation is replicated in the practice of Kundalini yoga. The goddess at the base of the spine—actually, at the base of the sushumna nadi, which is analogous to the spine—rises up the seven worlds (called bhumi) or chakras to the sixth chakra at the level of the so-called “third eye” (the cranial vault), where she mates with Shiva, resulting in the spiritual orgasm at the seventh chakra that produces the flow or “rain” of amrita (amritavarsa) that descends throughout the body. That the goddess takes the form of a serpent is not as strange as it may seem. The religion of Java, for instance, is replete with serpent goddesses who mate with human males.

Kundalini yoga, however, is an individual practice designed for yogins who retain their semen and cause it to ascend to the level of the head without the assistance of a female partner. In the Tantric rituals that incorporate sex, semen is also retained, ideally, by the yogin through various means, as we saw in the previous chapter, and made to ascend the same channel, the sushumna. However, great value is also placed on the female excretions, which are considered essential to the production of amrita. The mingling of these two substances is called maharasa or “great fluid.” What is not usually discussed so bluntly is that the actual physical elements—if produced by trained practitioners—are as valuable as the internalized ones, which is why the vajroli mudra is so critical to the ritual.

While the processes typified by Kundalini yoga are designed to result in an individual's attainment of that intense stage of meditation known as samadhi, those that are represented by the Tantric ritual of the Five Ms—the pancatattva— may have more mundane applications as well as spiritual ones. The distinction simply may be the distinction between mysticism and magic, as discussed in the first chapter. In the West, we have the tendency to view mysticism as a solitary practice, something that concerns hermits and saints. We do not understand it as a group effort, or as something in which there is a partner. We may accept a guruchela (disciple) relationship, but not one in which there are two equal partners of opposite gender cooperating in a single mystical effort. Mystics are solitaries, in the Western worldview. They are usually not members of societies or fraternal orders.

Tantra offers a range of options, however. There are dualist and non-dualist sects, Shiva sects and Shakti sects. There are solitary, mystical approaches and those that require a partner. There are those that include sexual intercourse, alcohol, and consumption of animal flesh as well as (possibly) entheogens, and those that proscribe these practices. Yet, in the final analysis, Tantra is all about method and less about dogma. Mantra, mudra, yantra—these are the basic, sensory elements in virtually all forms of Tantric practice, which indicates that the manipulation of reality through what the French poet Rimbaud called the “derangement of the senses” is at the heart of what Tantra is really all about. Whether this manipulation is for spiritual enlightenment or for more mundane, magical goals is up to the users of these systems. We are told that the acquisition of occult powers is a kind of side-effect of the practice and should not be sought after for its own sake. The opposite is probably also true—that the pursuit of magical or occult powers will result in some form of spiritual enlightenment.

At Candi Ceto and Candi Sukuh, it seems likely that the pursuit of amrita was motivated at least as much by real-world concerns as it was by a purely spiritual longing. At Candi Ijo, however, the mundane applications may not be so apparent to the casual observer. It was built, after all, at a time when the Hindu-Javanese project was strong and unchallenged. But fertility and creation have always been concerns, especially to an agriculturally based civilization, and the worship of the forces of nature has always been seen as a necessity. With Garuda and the Nagas so prominent at Candi Sukuh, we can understand that the theft or seizure of amrita from the serpent gods was the operating principle; at Candi Ijo, there is no theft of amrita, but the actual creation of it by Shiva and Uma. For that reason, if for no other, Candi Ijo is sacred ground.

Directly across from the main temple at Candi Ijo is a smaller temple that houses Shiva's mount, the bull Nandi. The photo on opposite page shows the Nandi temple from the doorway of the main temple. Because Nandi is present here, it is assumed that the temple is dedicated to Shiva himself, especially as there is a pedestal next to Nandi that is unoccupied. As at the main temple, the Shiva-Nandi temple has the usual dvarapala head atop the entrance and makaras to the sides.

Inside this temple are the Nandi and the pedestal, as shown opposite.

There is very little space inside this building for both of these objects, so it is a safe assumption that the Nandi is not in its original place. It may have been erected outside this temple, with the pedestal placed in the center with a statue of Shiva on top. As we will see in a look at the newest temple discovery, Candi Kimpulan, it is not unusual to have a Nandi statue outside in the elements.

The photograph on page 218 shows the pedestal and the limited amount of space around it.

Next to the Nandi temple, to the left of it facing the row of three ancillary temples from the main doorway, is another temple with only a yoni present, shown on page 219. If theorists are correct, this would have been the Brahma temple. As we saw at Prambanan, the statue would have been placed on top of the yoni so that the priests could pour water over the feet of the statue. The water then dripped into the yoni and, in that manner, become sanctified. Again, however, the yoni seems quite cramped in this small building.

The third ancillary temple is notable because of the perforated window at the rear. This photograph, taken from the front, shows the window on the rear wall.

On the next page is a closer view of the perforated window.

The purpose of the window was most likely to let out the smoke from a Homa sacrifice, as there is nothing in this temple except what appears to be a fire pit. Even here we can see the remains of some incense sticks that were burned in the pit, indicating that it is still in use.

This outdoor fire pit for the Homa sacrifice is in the shape of a reversed pyramid.

Farther out, and down to a lower terrace level, there is a large pit obviously designed for the Homa sacrifice, for it is in the shape of a reverse pyramid, which is the typical form for a Homa fire pit. Note the difference in style between this fire pit and the one in the ancillary temple.

Thus, the original purpose of these temples is still not completely certain. Except for the main temple building that houses the lingga-yoni quite easily for its size, the designation of the other three ancillary temples as Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu seems somewhat contrived. There is only a yoni in the Brahma temple, and it is a very tight fit. There is a bull and a pedestal in the Shiva temple, also a very tight fit. And in the Vishnu temple, there is a perforated window that suggests it was designed for the Homa sacrifice, even though its fire pit is not in the traditional reverse-pyramid design, but is rather a simple rectangle. The reverse-pyramid style was known to the builders of Candi Ijo, for there is a large one on one of the other terraces. Thus, we are faced with more mysteries.

The terraces are in near-total ruin, for the most part. The photographs opposite and above nonetheless give some sense of the size and sophistication of this site. It is well to remember that Candi Ijo is the name given to the site by recent generations because of its location on Mount Ijo. There is no record of its original name, nor of the people who built it.

The photo at top left on page 222 is a view of some of the ruins, as seen from the upper terrace where the main temple is located. Below it is a view of one of the terraces taken from a bit farther down the hill. Above, we see the ruin of the central structure.

As the top photo on page 224 shows, some of the foundations are more or less intact, but the walls themselves collapsed long ago. The restoration project is slow and woefully underfunded. The site does not attract the attention that Borobudur or Prambanan do, yet there seem to be as many as seventeen separate buildings located on at least eleven terraces here. Most of the statues have disappeared, and although there were some inscribed stones that made references to purification ceremonies, these were no longer in evidence when the author was there.

The stone shown at the bottom of page 224 would probably have appeared over the entrance to one of the ruined temples. For now, however, it sits ignominiously on the ground.

In the image shown on page 225, there are some roof ornaments visible in the background, and remnants of makaras at either side of the makeshift entrance that are a little difficult to make out due to the erosion.

The photo opposite gives us a closer look at the roof ornaments and at what might have been a lingga-like finial for the top.

The photo above shows another perforated window that suggests that the original purpose of this building was the Homa sacrifice, as the window would have let out the smoke.

And on page 228 is yet another of the many temples in a state of ruin.

Finally, the photo on page 229 shows the rear of the main temple at Candi Ijo. The dvarapala can clearly be seen in relief, as well as the elaborate ornamentation carved into the stone, including pillars like those at Prambanan. What is clearly evident, however, is the attempt at restoration that shows stones of various colors and sizes pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is common throughout the restoration work taking place in Java. There are simply too many stones, scattered over too large an area, and it becomes an impossible task to fit them precisely back where they originally belonged. In addition, villagers have taken stones from the collapsed buildings to use in other construction—a practice that is common worldwide.


Another of the many temples in a state of ruin.


A view of the rear of the main temple at Candi Ijo.


As I was preparing to leave Candi Ijo, I decided to take some video footage of the site. I stood next to the main temple—the one housing the lingga-yoni—and simply panned the entire area around it. When I finished, I found that my camera had stopped working and was frozen in mid-function. I could not turn it off. None of the controls were working. So I removed the batteries, waited, and reinserted them. The camera worked fine after that.

When I got home, I decided to view the video footage. That was when I noticed that, every time the camera panned toward the main temple, there was an electronic stutter, like a minor short-circuit. It only happened when the video camera moved over the surface of the temple from its extensive pan of the surrounding terraces.

This peculiar malfunction has never happened before, or since. It was only at Candi Ijo that the camera acted strangely.

41 See Sasono, Elbaz, and Ardyanto, Situs-Situs Marjinal [Sites out of Sight] (Yogyakarta: PT Enrique Indonesia, 2002), p. 35.

42 Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, Śiva: The Erotic Ascetic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973, 1981), p. 271: “Even when Pārvatī receives the seed, she receives it not in her womb but in her mouth or hand.”