Candi Sari is one of the smaller and yet still majestic temples in Yogyakarta in Central Java. Yogyakarta is a leading tourist destination in Indonesia for its “candis”, a term referring to any ancient temple, monument or structure. Java, in the first place, is a place rife with history since it was here where one of the oldest human remains was found, the Java Man.
Also known as Candi Bendah, the place is a Buddhist temple that was actually a monastery, a house for Buddhist monks. In fact, its name, “Sari”, is Sanskrit for “to sleep”. Located within the Tirtomartani village, in Kalasan, Sari is empty inside and experts believe that it used to be a two-story monastery with wooden beams, stairs, floors, windows and doors that have all vanished due to the ravages of time. It was discovered in the early 1920s and was reconstructed in 1930. It could not be fully restored, however, since there are so many missing parts such as the temple base and front stairs.
This structure is very near the Kalasan Temple, and experts believe that the two temples were built around the same time and in similar circumstances. According to a Sanskrit inscription dated 778 AD inside Kalasan, Guru Sang Raja Sailendravamçatilaka successfully persuaded Maharaja Tejapurnapana Panangkaran to build a temple for the goddess Tara and a “vihara” (monastery) for Buddhist monks. Candi Kalasan is the Tara Temple and the vihara referred to in the ancient inscription is most likely Candi Sari.
When the monastery was discovered, excavators noticed traces of diamond plaster (locally known as “vajralepa”) on the outer temple walls. This white-yellowish plaster was obviously used to protect the temple walls, but it has long worn out. The same substance was discovered on the Tara Temple.
Sari’s upper level was probably where the monks prayed or meditated, unlike in most monasteries wherein monks slept and rested on the upper level and prayed at the lower level. It is believed that Sari’s lower level used to house statues that were placed on elevated grounds. There are no more statues today, probably due to looting. On the side walls are niches where oil lamps were most likely placed, as well as holes on each window that seems as though wooden window bars used to be there. The old monastery walls also feature what seems to be rainwater drainage and water spouts in the form of a giant figure sitting on a snake.
On its outer walls, Sari is richly decorated with images of the Buddha, angel-like Kinnara-Kinnari, and a total of 38 images of the goddess Tara adorned with flowers, and Bodhisattvas with musical instruments. The figures keep a peaceful, serene look and holding a lotus flower, while maintaining a graceful and restful “tribhangga” posture.
The two ancient temples in the Kalasan area, as well as the majestic temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, are what draw thousands of local and international tourists to Yogyakarta. To get to Candi Sari, take a metered taxi or the traditional rickshaw on the direction going to Prambanan Temple. Sari and Kalasan are about 13 km away from the city proper of Yogyakarta.