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In Praise of Prambanan: Dutch Essays on the Loro Jonggrang Temple Complex.

In Praise of Prambanan: Dutch Essays on the Loro Jonggrang Temple Complex. Edited by ROY E. JORDAAN. Translation Series, vol. 26. Leiden: KITLV PRESS, 1996. Pp. vi + 253 + plates. HFl 50.

Roy Jordaan has been forging a name for himself as an historical anthropologist of medieval Java, and the volume under review, which assembles eight important articles--each strengthening our grasp of the topography of the field, many breaking new ground in the understanding thereof--is another feather in his cap. In Praise of Prambanan rescues from the condescension of posterity and for the benefit of an English-speaking lay readership the best of pre-war Dutch research devoted to interpretation of this famous site, whose existence and form attest so splendidly to the region's glorious past in its "classical" period, circa A.D. 775-900.

The collection is in two parts. The first consists of a general introduction to the site based on critical examination of the scholarly literature. A detailed "state-of-the-art" conspectus of publications on Candi Prambanan is here offered; these, it is plain, possess a remarkable degree of relevance, especially where dating of the monument and its religious matrix are concerned. The matter of historicity was of signal importance for these meticulous but now forgotten investigators--men whose powers of expression were accompanied by a confidence in judgment and a fastidiousness of method that elicit admiration, even--especially, perhaps--when they are seen to have fatten into error. Choice and logic of location; indigenous nomenclature; provenance of the building vernacular; materials used in construction; methods of conservation--all receive comprehensive attention, in what, cumulatively speaking, is tantamount to a cadastral survey.

Who ruled at Candi Prambanan? Which religious sects or cults took part in its fabrication? What were the political conditions of the age? These are the questions considered at length and in a revisionist perspective in part one. A long hard look is taken at the various theories advanced in explanation of the place occupied by site in the evolution of Hindu-Javanese architectural idiom. Much progress, certainly, has been made since the heyday of Dutch colonial archeology, but much, too, remains enigmatic and intellectually puzzling about this (with Borobodur) most magnificent of archaic Indonesian monuments. Apropos the many and obvious differences in style between central and east Javanese temple architecture, and in an attempt to redress a shortfall of attention, the editor concludes that "we have no valid reason to speak of a clear continuity in art-historical development any longer." The tone in which such maverick conclusions are couched, mingling independence of mind with respect for received opinion, d oes much to enhance the book's appeal. So too does his vigor of exposition, rooted as it is in a regard for the established facts as noted passim and as backed by copious and pertinent annotation.

Part two proffers translations of selected articles of those whose first-hand knowledge of sculpture and religion in the main island of the archipelago was unrivaled then and whose part in the excavation, description and preservation of Prambanan remains unchallenged. There were, goodness knows, giants in the land in those days. Three, H. J. Krom, F. D. K. Bosch, and W. F. Stutterheim, served in succession as directors of the Oudheidkundige Dienst. The former's renown is too great to require elucidation, his description of the temple statuary, forming part of his Inleiding tot de Hindoe-Javaansche Kunst, having long served as a vade mecum for tourists and students alike. Bosch's demonstration of the relevance of puranic texts for an understanding of the reliefs may yet serve to stimulate investigation of hitherto unidentified Krsna panels on the Visnu temple, as well as those on the so-called "court temples" (candiapit). The great Stutterheim, doyen de son temps of Indonesian archeologists, examines the pres entation on the Prambanan reliefs of the solar cycle and cultic sun-worship, bringing it into stimulating relation, via Tantric-Buddhist ideas, with Indian astrological thought. Bernet Kempers, first director of the Archeological Service after national independence, furnishes an account of the complex's reconstruction, especially that of the Siva temple, an account which for perspicacity knows no parallel. Their analyses are exemplary and read as freshly and as excitingly as they did sixty or seventy years ago, when our knowledge of the subject was in its infancy and Indonesia the Netherlands Indies.

Indologists pur sang are represented in the book by J. H. Vogel, first to have identified the literary substratum of the Ramayana reliefs on the Siva temple. Here he adverts to Valmiki's classic text, as well as to alternative versions derived from folk tradition, in an article that prompted Stutterheim to embark upon his subsequent Herculean labors. Nor are amateurs, in the commendatory sense of that misused word, absent from the roll. W. J. Uzerman, chairman of an archeological society in Yogyakarta, was the man responsible for the first exploratory probes beneath the central area of Loro Jonggrang in 1885 (as well as for uncovering the "hidden base" of Borobodur); an enterprise which, sustained by his shrewd exegesis of the findings, revolutionized received notions of the sites' origin and function. Trained architects, too, had a hand in the venture. B. de Haan and V. R. van Romondt can lay claim to having planned and supervised the reconstruction of several important sections of the complex--the former e mphasizing aspects of ornamentation and embellishment that still await study, the latter exploring the technical difficulties encountered in the original erection before going on thought-provokingly to consider how they were overcome.

An exceedingly useful book, then, its text richly eked out with photographs, maps, and line drawings, and one that is bound to be read with profit by anyone who has had anything to do, professionally or con amore, with this most intriguing, and most mysterious, part of old Java.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:ROSKIES, D.M.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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