The Legend of Roro Jonggrang

Roro Jonggrang is a famous legend from Central Java. The story was about a beautiful princess who was cursed into a statue of a Hindu Goddess, Durga. For many years this folktale has been shadowing the existence of Candi Sewu, Candi Prambanan, and Ratu Boko.

According to the legend of Roro Jonggrang, the princess was cursed into a statue in the Shiva temple of Candi Prambanan.According to the legend of Roro Jonggrang, the princess was cursed into a statue in the Shiva temple of Candi Prambanan.

Who is Roro Jonggrang?

The legend of Roro Jonggrang began with the war between two neighboring kingdoms: Pengging and Boko. Prabu Damar Moyo ruled the kingdom of Pengging. On the other side, Prabu Boko ruled the Boko Kingdom with the help of his loyal adviser Patih Gupolo. (Prabu means king in English, while Patih means a royal advisor).

To win the war, Prabu Damar Moyo sent his son, Bandung Bondowoso, who had supernatural powers, to the battlefield. In a ferocious battle, Bandung Bondowoso slayed Prabu Boko, hence, won the war. The remaining army of Boko led by Patih Gupolo ran back to the palace and reported it to the princess – the daughter of Prabu Boko.

After he won the battle, Bandung Bondowoso continued his siege by leading his army to attack Ratu Boko – the palace of the Boko kingdom. There he met the princess and was mesmerized by her beauty. The princess was called Roro Jonggrang, which means slender maiden.

Enthralled with the princess, Bandung Bondowoso spontaneously asked her hand in marriage. However, Roro Jonggrang was reluctant to marry him because he murdered her beloved father: King Boko. On the other hand, she couldn't directly turn down the proposal because Bandung Bondowoso was in the upper hand. Hence, she put two conditions to the proposal: Bandung Bondowoso had to dig a well called Jalatunda and build one thousand temples in one night.

With his supernatural power, Bandung Bondowoso dug up Jalatunda Well with ease. When Roro Jonggrang inspected it, she tricked him into descending it. Once Bandung Bondowoso was at the bottom of the well, Patih Gupolo buried him with massive rocks. However, using his supernatural powers, Bandung Bondowoso was able to escape from the well. He was livid, but his intention to wed her curbed his anger. Hence, he agreed to continue working on the second condition.

To build one thousand temples in one night, Bandung Bondowoso asked spirits (underworld creatures) to help him. Their speed in building those temples worried the princess. It seemed they would complete the project well before the night was over. Hence, when they finished building 999 temples, Roro Jonggrang woke all her maids and villagers up. She asked them to pound rice and set up a fire in the east to make it look like the sun had risen. It fooled the roosters, so they started to crow. Hearing the commotion and seeing the light in the east, all the spirits thought the day had begun. Hence, they immediately abandoned their work and returned to their world. Even Bandung Bondowoso could not stop them.

Since there were only 999 temples, Roro Jonggrang had a legitimate excuse to refuse the marriage proposal. But, when Bandung Bondowoso found out Roro Jonggrang cheated on him, he was livid. Without thought, he cursed her into a statue to finish the 1000th temple. Hence, according to this legend, the Durga Mahisashumardini statue in the north chamber of the Shiva temple in Candi Prambanan was Roro Jonggrang, the cursed princess.

Candi Sewu, the temple compound built by Bandung Bondowoso in the legend of Roro Jonggrang.Candi Sewu, the temple compound built by Bandung Bondowoso in the legend of Roro Jonggrang.

Roro Jonggrang: myth versus history

People believed that the story of Roro Jonggrang had been known since the era of the Mataram Sultanate in the sixteenth century. It happened in the village of Prambanan, where Ratu Boko Palace, Candi Prambanan, and Candi Sewu were.

According to the inscription of Abhayagiriwihara, Rakai Panangkaran from the Syailendra dynasty, who were Buddhist, built Ratu Boko around the eighth century. Although it was stone structures, Ratu Boko was not a temple compound. Since the beginning, it had been a palace within a fortress. In the legend of Roro Jonggrang, this was her home, where she met Bandung Bondowoso, who besieged Ratu Boko.

Next, according to the legend, Candi Sewu was the supposedly 1000th temple built by Bandung Bondowoso to fulfill Roro Jonggrang's request. Although Sewu is a Javanese word for one thousand, since the beginning, this temple compound only comprises two hundred and forty-nine temples. Candi Sewu was a Buddhist temple built by Rakai Panangkaran from the Syailendra dynasty (the same king who built Ratu Boko).

The pinnacle of the story is when Bandung Bondowoso cursed Roro Jonggrang to become the statue for the one-thousandth temple, which was the Durga statue in the north chamber of the Shiva temple (the main temple) of Candi Prambanan. Here the myth and the history become ambiguous because a) Candi Prambanan is a Hindu temple while Candi Sewu is a Buddhist temple, and b) Candi Prambanan is approximately eight hundred meters from Candi Sewu. How can it become the one-thousandth temple when they are two different temple compounds? As the legend goes, Candi Prambanan is known as the temple of Roro Jonggrang, the slender maiden.

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