Candi Sukuh


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Candi Sukuh is located on the West face of Mount Lawu to the East of Solo, in Turi/Geger north of Tawangmangu. Like Candi Ceta that is located further up the same mountain Sukuh dates from the late Majapahit era. Based on dates on the various structures on the compound, Sukuh was built between 1437 and 1456 AD.

Sukuh is not only physically far removed from the contemporary seat of (declining) power, it also shows evolution in the form of worship. While the principal object of veneration was a yoni-lingga and so reflective of Çaivaite continuity, the primary purpose of the site appears to have been for purification (ruwat) rituals. Structurally, Sukuh is unique in that its principal structure is a pyramid that likely only supported a platform, and not a full temple structure. 

The 14th C saw the emergence of a cult of Bima. The central role given to Bima at Sukuh appears to support this. At the time, Bima's role was solidified in the story of Dewa Ruci that chronicles Bima's quest for the truth, ultimately finding it within himself. 

Description of architecture

The Sukuh complex consists of three terraces. [pictures] A tall pyramidal gateway leads one into the complex past a most lifelike depiction of a male and female union that seems in keeping with the profane character of Mt. Lawu (see Candi Ceta). To protect the relief on the floor, this entrance is now closed to visitors, and the complex is approached from the South side. The gate has the Javanese sengkalan date of gapuro buto abang wong 1359Ç (1437AD). [pictures]

The first terrace now only shows some reliefs before leading to a second terrace which now only has two guardian statues as well as a fragment of another one. The second terrace runs along the West and South-sides of the central (third) terrace with the South side supporting the isolated frieze of the blacksmith. The yard of the third terrace holds various remains of sculptures as well as a series of narrative panels depicting scenes from the Sudamala. [pictures]

The third terrace has two large platforms left and right of the entrance to the central structure. Between the platforms are three big turtles in a non-symmetric formation with a squarish structure flanking the South platform. Each platform has a large obelisk-type structure in the corner furthest removed from the approaching visitor. The one on the North platform sports an elaborate medallion and is itself decorated in turn, and joins a carved side wall. The flanking obelisk is simpler, with a representation of Çiva carved directly on the front (West) face. Both obelisks were built to accommodate effluent suggesting the continued use of water in ritual. The South platform supports a lingga with a gutter for carrying off waste water, but is otherwise empty. The North platform hosts a number of Garuda sculptures, with references to the Garudeya cycle. 

The central structure is a flat pyramid with no apparent evidence of a (stone) superstructure. It held a yoni platform and a lingga that is now in the National museum at Jakarta. The pyramid is not otherwise decorated.

Description of reliefs

With the exception of the central structure, Sukuh is extensively decorated. The entrance gate supports major panels on its side with references to the Garudeya (Garuda's rescue of his mother & quest for holy water). Further references to this narrative can be found around the site, and especially on the North platform on the third terrace. The medallion shows scenes from the Bhimaswarga (Bima rescuing his father Pandu from hell: upper half) and Bhima Bungkus (story of Bima's birth: lower half).

According to the explanation of Archeological Service Candi Sukuh was devoted to purification rituals. Visits to the temple would liberate one from the taints of life. The Garudeya depicts the actual difficulties we experience in life, that are later washed away by the holy water (from the blacksmith) and finally result in liberation (Sudamala).

The temple also references the Dewa Ruci (nawaruci) even if only indirectly. The Dewa Ruci is the story of Bima's search from the truth, that he ends up finding within himself. The Dewa Ruci was created on Java in the late 14th C along with the emergence of a cult of Bima, and is the central text testifying to the importance of Bima in the late Majapahit era. The Dewa Ruci likely originated from the Wanaparwa in the Sanskrit Mahabharata, and in the process took on a strong Buddhist/Çaivaite flavour. Later the Dewa Ruci was incorporated in the Javanese Sufi tradition in a living testimony of the adaptability of religion on Java.

Inscriptions, dates & chronograms

[to be researched]

Rediscovery and restoration

Candi Sukuh was discovered in 1815 by Johnson, the contemporary British Resident in Solo. It was described a number of times (see Candi Ceta) but otherwise not protected and the site suffered from the development of coffee plantations in the vicinity. By the early 20thC, the site was badly overgrown, and restorations were started only in the late teens. The most recent restoration of the site dates to 1982. 

Mounted: 6-Jan-06¡¡Latest update: 3-Mar-13

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