Not far from Borobudur is Prambanan, some 10km east of Yogyakarta. Prambanan is a Hindu temple complex, and as with Borobudur, not that much is known about who built it and when. It's interesting to note that these two huge complexes are so close together, were built at roughly the same time, and yet are from two completely opposing religions; Buddhists and Hindus don't agree on a lot of matters, but the chief dispute is about where Buddha came from. Hindus maintain that Buddha is the last reincarnation of Vishnu, after the reincarnations as Rama and Krishna; Buddhists, however, believe Buddha was the Indian Prince Siddhartha, a real person rather than the reincarnation of a Hindu god. Over this difference, the religions fell out.
One answer to the riddle of having opposing religious structures built at the same time is this: around the time that Borobudur and Prambanan were built, there was a marriage in the ruling classes between a Hindu and a Buddhist lineage. This was back in the eighth century AD, but by the 14th century Islam had invaded Java and forced the Hindus and Buddhists into Bali, which is why Bali is predominantly Hindu today. The temples fell into disrepair and a huge eruption by nearby Mt Merapi in the 16th century shook them to the ground, leaving only piles of rubble that were discovered by western invaders and scientists in the early 19th century.
The reconstruction of Borobudur is an astonishing feat, but Prambanan is an even more impressive feat of modern puzzle solving. Whereas Borobudur is a large temple on top of a hill, it's more wide than high; Prambanan however is more typical of Hindu temples, with the largest temple stretching 47m into the air. The piles of rubble that the archaeologists had to work bore absolutely no relation to temples at all, and having no idea what the finished product should look like, it's amazing that they were able to rebuild what they have. It took over 35 years to restore the 18 temples that now stand, but there are plenty more in the complex; there are 240 in all, but the money is beginning to dry up for the project, and there are still piles of rock and rubble dotted all around the area.
The 18 temples that have been restored are quite amazing, though. Prambanan has two areas, an outer and an inner, and all the inner temples – 16 of them – have been rebuilt. There are three main temples, three smaller temples in front of these, and a number of smaller ones to complete the symmetry. And as with Borobudur, the stonework is all carved, depicting stories from the Hindu scriptures.
Possibly the most impressive part is that you can walk inside these temples, structures that are held together purely by gravity, not concrete. The biggest temple, that of Siva, contains four rooms with four statues inside, while the others contain one room and one statue (where the status hasn't been sold or stolen, that is). Here's a list of the main temples at Prambanan:
The temple of Siva, the Destroyer: The four-armed Siva – the two back arms destroy, the two front arms rebuild – is husband to Durga (also known as Kali), the woman who is traditionally depicted with many arms. Siva and Durga begat Ganesh, the God of Knowledge, who has an elephant's head. The statues inside the Siva Temple are of Siva, Durga, Ganesh and Agastya, an incarnation of Siva. In front of the Siva Temple is the temple of Nandi the bull, Siva's transport.
The temple of Brahma, the Creator: He has four heads. In front of Brahma's pad is the temple of the swan, his vehicle.
The temple of Vishnu, the Protector: Vishnu also has four arms. The temple in front of him is the temple of the garuda, the mythical phoenix-like eagle who crops up all over Indonesia, and after whom the national airline is named.
It's hard to say which was more amazing, Borobudur or Prambanan. I think that Prambanan is more impressive, visually, but Borobudur is more incredible when you think of the amount of work involved. On the other hand, if all the temples at Prambanan were standing, that would be fairly awesome too...
Whatever, they make modern churches look positively pathetic.