Candi Mendut is a reflection of the sublime and stupendous indrajala of the Javanese people when they attained unprecedented heights of power, when literary genius blossomed in their language of Javanese, when they enriched their lovely island with monumental structures that evoke wonder after twelve centuries, even in their ruined state. Mark Long has endeavored to interpret one of these celestial jewels, which reflects the many-splendored mind of the Indonesian people in their unique vision of compassion (maitri of Maitreya) in the virtue of creative action. When the Buddhas of the Ten Directions patted Samantabhadra, their hands were adorned with marks of greatness. Likewise, the ocean of vows, images and concepts of the enlightened teachings enshrined in Mendut emit light and fragrance in this wondrous presentation of Mark Long, who has delved into the textual realms as well as in the infinite cosmos of astronomy, cosmology and aesthetics.
This work by Mark Long continues his creative dimension of understanding the candis of Indonesia as cosmic symbols of sovereignty that encode astronomical perceptions of the auspicious. In his study of the Borobudur, along with Caesar Voute, he blazed a new trail of inquiry, and found long-sought answers for resolving some doubts. Mark Long’s present work on Candi Mendut is yet another milestone that deserves serious attention as it provides materials required for conducting a detailed study of the Mendut temple, as well as a number of points in need of further investigation. This is a book that will provoke and inspire scholars to rethink many issues.
Often overlooked because of its close proximity to the world famous Borobudur, Candi Mendut was widely regarded by the early Dutch scholars as ranking among the most shining architectural jewels produced by the remarkable civilization that emerged in Central Java during the eight century.
“The division of the walls beneath the first cornice by means of horizontal and vertical lines and of the balustrade wall, is so masterful, the effect so starling, and the whole so little overloads the eye – on the contrary, being almost soberly treated – that one may classify the Mendut temple without hesitation among the most successful monuments of the Hindu era.”
Mark Long is the co-author of Borobudur: pyramid of the Cosmic Buddha with Caesar Voute- UNESCO’s on-site manager during the Borobudur Restoration Project. In addition to translating and summarizing the work conducted, by the early scholars who studied the monument, the author Mark Long applies what only was later learned about the architectural practices of Mahayana Buddhists in order to further clarify the meaning of the monument as well as see how the same principles also can be applied to other Javanese temple dating from the same period.
This work by Mark Long continues his creative dimension of understanding the candis of Indonesia as cosmic symbols of sovereignty that encode astronomical perceptions of the auspicious. In his study of the Borobudur,’ along with Caesar Voute, he blazed a new trail of inquiry, and found answers for resolving some long-sought doubts. Mark Long’s present work on Candi Mendut is yet another milestone that deserves serious attention as it provides materials required for conducting a detailed study of the Mendut temple, as well as a number of points in need of further investigation. This is a book that will provoke and inspire scholars to rethink many issues.
The Introduction is really revealing and helps us to see through the reconstructions of the monument. The Dutch scholars seem to be the reincarnations of the Sailendra architects who have recreated their ancient glory in a marvelous manner. The author is doing a punya by bringing to modems the charm of the spirit of the Sailendra monarchs. It has evolved several ideas in my perception of the restoration of monuments.
Chapters One and Two present a complete descriptive inventory of the reliefs and overall designs of Mendut and Pawon based on the reports of early investigators. They are solid contributions, done with meticulous care.
Chapter Three makes for fascinating reading. The author has introduced a new dimension to the whole candi in its role in the life of the Javanese. It is important in that it correlates Mendut with the vastupurusa-mandala and its integral relationship to the heavenly bodies. All the Javanese candi should be studied using this basic principle as a guide.
The vastu-mandala of 81 squares was derived from the architectural tradition, which was common to all Indic expressions of thought, ritual and devotion. Architectural structures represented our communication with the heavens and thus the role of astronomy became crucial. The stars were arbiters of human destiny; hence the pivotal place of astrology in conjunction with astronomy.
The author firmly establishes the vastu-mandala of 81 squares within the Mahayana Buddhist context by showing how a Buddhist architectural text called the Manjusri Vastuvidya-sastra presents this guiding principle under the term candita. With my permission, Long has revisited my discussion of the term candita and its relationship with the Javanese Candi in the light of the Vastuvidya-sastra.
Furthermore, the author’s correlation of the Mendut’s reliefs with astronomical concepts and celestial phenomenon is remarkable in that they reflect the world-view of ancient Buddhists. It is a path-making approach to the deeper symbolism of the monuments that were trying to endow life with the supernal blessing of the Heavenly Bodies in the transcendence of contemplation. These temples were roots whence life could be enriched. We have to know a Life greater than our own for charismatic assurance.
Dyava-prithivi ‘Heaven and Earth’ were the cosmic androgyne, wherein arose all creation as a continuous flow. Time in modem reckoning is devoid of “Value”. In the Indic world, Time was Kala (from the root kal ‘to make’, compare Latin calculo) the Maker, an element of primary relevance as the universal creativity. Vital is akin to vat-sa ‘son’, vatsara ‘year’: the son is a yearling when born. A temporal term is used to denote a son; what a tribute of patriarchal society to time.
Chapter Four is interesting because it connects the Caridi to the yoga-purusa, to the letters of the alphabet, and to other Buddhist concepts. It is close to the Javanese Buddhist system of analogical thinking: the correlation of the individual to the cosmos, and to the body as the stupa- prasadd. The connection that the author establishes between the ‘37 wings of enlightenment’ (bodhipaksya dharmas) of Buddhism and the 37 small reliefs along the cella footer is significant. The 37 bodhipaksya dharmas are detailed in several Buddhist texts, beginning with the Pali Suttas. Lankavatara, Lalitavistara, Saddharmapundarika, Dasabhumika, and Avatamsaka, and several other Mahayana sutras treat them at length. They are mentioned in the Divyavadana, which served as a guiding text for a considerable number of reliefs in the first gallery at Borobudur.
A relevant citation from the Divyavadana is as follows: “They realized personal enlightenment (the pratyeka-bodhi of a pratyeka-buddha) having attained 37 bodhipaksya dharmas that are helpful aids to enlightenment but without a teacher (acarya), or without any proponents (anupadesaka). This narration should be heard night-long by those who are attached to worldly desires. It is the narrative of charity, of good works (sila), of heaven, to get out of passions, evil mishaps, and dangers, and for the purification (vyavadana) of defilements. The lord preached the bodhipaksya dharmas to nun Prakrti. (By this pious narration nun Prakrti attained realization, was elated and delighted).”
Chapter Five examines the reliefs on the outfacing walls of the cella and vestibule and attempts to correlate the figures they contain with the deities that preside over the squares of the vastu-mandala. The chapter includes a discussion of a newly proposed identification’ for Mendut’s eight-armed goddess as Mahapratisara, who plays a defense role in the Pancaraksa text. It is from the root prati-sr ‘to attach, assail’. Pratisarah (plural) are magical vows or formulas to protect from demons, in the Satapatha-brahmana, pratisara (masculine) also means ‘a watch, a guard’.
Chapter Six, which focuses on the interior reliefs of the portal, provides re-interpretations for many of the divinities portrayed within, including the portal’s principal male figure, previously identified as either Kuvera, Pancika or Atavaka. In my Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography I accepted his identification as Atavaka, but the yaksa on the southwest wall of the temple’s antechamber is not him. Atavaka is not associated with Hariti either in the Pali texts or in Sanskrit sutras. His name occurs in the Mahavyuatti 3377, Mahamayuri 237. I (Atavaka), Suvarnamabhasottama 161.13, and Samadhiraja 43.19 (Atavaka). In all the four texts he is listed among yaksas with no other details except that the yaksas are protectors.
The male figure is Vaisravana the lord of riches represented by three treasure pots under his seat. His right foot rests on two of them. Vaisravana is the King of the Yaksas. The Atanatiya- sutta was recited by Vaisravana for the protection of the Buddha and his followers. It is called rakkha (‘protective rune’).
It concludes: “this rune, brethren, pertains to your good and by it brethren and sisters of the order, laymen and laywomen may dwell at ease, guarded, protected and unscathed.” For Vaisravana, who watches over armies for protecting the Dharma (Taisho Tripitaka 1248), Amoghavajra provides a dharani entitled ‘Dharani of the Devaraja of the North’. Vaisravana-kalpa by Amoghavajra (T1247) was used in AD 742 to ward off the attack of five kingdoms against China during the reign of Emperor Hsuan-tsang.
The author’s proposal that the astanidhi is depicted on the two sides of the walkway within the vestibule is fascinating. It fits in with the general approach of the Sailendra kings and their perception of the convergence of affluence and valorization as the prime components of the State: nidhi and Dharma in the grand and solid vision of the candi. The guhyakas are demigods who guard the treasures of Kubera. They may originate from guha (‘cave’), as treasures were hidden in mountain caverns. As demigods they have been represented as flying.
I am also glad to see Mark Long offer support for the identification of the enthroned royal couple in the vestibule as the founding king and queen of the Sailendra dynasty, based on a hypothesis originally proposed by J. L. Moens. The inscriptions from Nagarjunikanda of the reign of the Iksvakus mention the capitol as Vijyapuri, and the site is referred to as Sriparvata. The Sailendras seem to hail from Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh and hence their dominions are Srivijaya of Irjayapuri. The Nagarjunikonda monuments and inscriptions need to be studied to see if they shed any light on the Mendut.
In Chapter Seven, the author presents a concise English summary of the theories of the Dutch savant J. L. Moens concerning the Mendut pantheon and its possible parallels with Saiva Siddhanta. In my opinion, however, the Mendut is a Buddhist monument and has no pretensions of being correlated to Saiva Siddhanta. As Indic traditions were linked at the basic level with certain perceptions like Saktis and Devis, parallels were natural. The androgynic principle is inherent in nature and is reflected in the whole of Indic thought, which is grounded in natural entities conditional transcendent perceptions.
Chapter Eight once again takes up the theme of the astronomic and astrological underpinnings of the temple and attempts to place what we have learned so far within a much wider context. The author’s suggestion about the relationship between some of the figures on Mendut’s basement and those that appear on examples of the Javanese zodiac cup is brilliant. In Bali, they represent the months and constellations with figures in their astrological charts. Mark Long also gives the celestial symbolism of the two makara heads at the bottom of the staircase and the two raksasas supporting them. The astronomy of Candi Mendut is really provocative and invites re-consideration of all the candis of Java. I feel that the author has arrived at a reasonable assessment of the monument and its relationships to the cosmos as the macrotheos.
Chapter Nine is indeed well done. The temple is the purusa-mandala and the author has demonstrated it well from the Balinese Asta Kosala (= hasta kausalya, ‘handicraft’).
The book concludes with Chapter Ten, which provides some interesting ideas for further research. I admire the author’s ingenious insight into the meditational, philosophical and astronomical calculations that were the infrastructure of the ancient architects of the sacred structures. I also love ideas that roam in the alleys and side-lanes of probabilities and possibilities and this book provides plenty of avenues for further exploration. Truth itself is ever evolving: how otherwise can it be eternal?
Early Site Developments
Prior to 1834 - when Hartmann, the Resident of the Kedu District at the time, began to excavate the site - none of the area’s residents fully comprehended the true nature of the hillock that had encompassed Candi Mendut. Back then, cattle still grazed on its slopes, which were overgrown with vegetation. The temple was ‘rediscovered’ soon after the site was cleared to make way for the cultivation of coffee beans, “though it must be assumed that the Javanese already knew of the existence of the ruins, as their summit partly projected from the mound of earth which hid the greater portion of the structure, and many a stone from the temple had already found useful application as building material in the neighboring villages.’:” The early removal of carved pieces, especially from the top of the structure, explains why the temple remains in an incomplete state today. Only much later did the Dutch restorers scour the neighboring communities for the carved stones that they desperately needed. Fortunately they were able to buy back approximately 120 cubic meters of old temple stones from local native homeowners at minimal prices of two or three Dutch guilders per cubic meter.
In 1838, Hartmann published a short article in which he described the three colossal images he found within the temple’s dark interior chamber, which only received any light in his time through its singular entranceway. He was able to identify Mendut’s principal image by noting the similarities between the heads of the Buddha images found at Borobudur and the head of the 14- foot-high colossus which had fallen from its original seat. However, Hartmann incorrectly considered this huge image to be a Hindu representation of Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Visnu. He also saw female physiognomies in the two somewhat smaller images he discovered on the left and right sides of the fallen Buddha and presumed in error that these two richly adorned and attired figures were those of worshipers imploring the Buddha for help.
In hindsight, the discovery of the Mendut Buddha was an extremely important event because it represents the only case in which archaeologists have recovered the principal image from any Buddhist temple dating from Java’s ‘Classic Age’ civilization, which began with the consecration of a linga on Gunung Wukir on 6 October 732 by King Sanjaya and came to an abrupt end about two centuries later. Archaeologists presume that the principal images at many of the other Buddhist temples dating from this period had been cast in bronze. Thus, the cash value of their raw materials would have provided the region’s natives with an economic incentive for removing them from their original places after the local population had converted to Islam.
Hartmann correctly noticed that all three Mendut images are larger than the doorway of its interior chamber, which strongly suggests that they must have been in place prior to the construction of the temple’s body and roof. He also attributed the downfall of the Buddha image from its rightful place against the wall opposite the entranceway to the same natural catastrophe that had overcome the entire temple. The buried state of Candi Mendut was confirmation enough for Hartmann that an eruption of Mount Merapi also had been responsible for the highly deplorable condition in which Borobudur was rediscovered, a proposition in which others found considerable merit. “The little that history provides in the shape of inscribed stones lends ground to the supposition that part of Central Java was temporarily depopulated. The temples were left behind, abandoned, and presumably partly destroyed by volcanic eruptions; alluvial and atmospheric deposits, rains of ashes and other volcanic effects produced a growth of the earth’s crust, and with this was coupled the influence of the mighty tropical vegetation. This, indeed, proved to be the case as regards the Mendut temple; when in 1903 the entire clearance of the original temple site was proceeded with, the level of the latter was found to lie 2 or 3 metres below that of the kampong, which had sprung up to the north of the building. River alluvia, above all, had raised the soil here, because the ground from the foot of the Merapi has a regular downward slope to the valley of the adjoining rivers Elo and Progo. Between the alluvial deposits, a number of layers of volcanic origin were discovered.”
The initial report from Hartmann” was soon followed by another article in which the Reverend S. A. Buddingh likewise claimed to see female physiognomies in the two somewhat smaller images on the left and right sides of the Buddha. Buddingh also erroneously compared the colossal Mendut triad to a family scene in which the man of the house is seated nearby his spouse and their daughter and in which all three are engaged in an important domestic discussion. He then proceeded to relate his perceptions of the tableau within Mendut’s interior to a Javanese folk-tale then in circulation concerning a fourteenth century Javanese king. As the story goes, two years after the birth of the king’s daughter the little girl was abducted by one of the king’s servants. Twelve years later as the king was strolling in the neighborhood of where Candi Mendut now stands, the monarch encountered a beautiful 14 year old girl named Mendut. The king’s decision to take the girl as a concubine enraged the unscrupulous servant, who had stolen the girl for himself. Eventually the servant told his master that the girl was none other than the king’s own daughter.
Terrified that he would incur the wrath of the gods for having committed incest, the king asked his priests what a man who had committed such a horrendous crime must do to atone for his sins, but without naming himself as the perpetrator. The priests pronounced two means for atonement: either the culprit must be bricked up within four walls with his entire family and supplied thereafter with rice and water through an opening in the roof, or he must construct one thousand virgin images in a temple within the span of ten days. The king chose the latter course, but when the ten days had passed his efforts were still three images shy of the one thousand required. Having fallen short of the mark, the king, together with his wife and daughter, became petrified stone images and vanished from everyone’s sight - only to reappear five hundred years later when Hartmann excavated the site.
The next detailed report on the temple to appear in print was written by the Scottish Orientalist Henry Yule (1820-1889), who was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Bengal Engineers at the time. After visiting Central Java in 1860 he wrote about Candi Mendut as part of a lengthy article on the region’s temples, which became published in 1863. According to Yule, the interior of the temple was choked with soil at the time of its rediscovery. “And according to the native story that was told us, the bottom was deeply covered with bat’s guano, so that the labourers employed on the offensive business of removing it got a rupee a day from Mr. Hartmann. This would seem to show that the eruption occurred long after the temple had been abandoned. The adjacent soil now stands 3 or 4 feet above the base of the building, but an area has been excavated all round to the original level....“
“The cell contains three colossal images, carved in a hard and polished granular volcanic stone probably trachyte. The central one, not less I think that 11 feet high, is a nearly naked Buddha, exceedingly well sculptured, seated in an attitude of demonstration or teaching ex cathedra. This had originally occupied an elevated place opposite the entrance, but it has fallen and now leans slanting against the wall. On either side sits, still enthroned, a mold faced male figure of somewhat smaller size, crowned and jewelled, and having the hands also raised as if in conversational action. These did not appear to represent any Hindu gods, and were without monstrosities or emblems. May they be Dharma and Sanga, the law and the church, the two other objects of Buddhist reverence? There are also six highly sculptured niches in the walls, such as usually contain crossed-legged Buddhas, but empty. There is then, in the interior, nothing inconsistent with pure Buddhism. But the exterior on each side is sculpted in relief with figures which are undoubtedly those of Hindu divinities, with their attendants....“
“The cube of the building has been surmounted by a pyramidal roof, rising in terraces apparently. But it is in too great ruin to allow of one’s determining its exact form. When perfect the temple must have been a noble structure. The material is a close-grained but not heavy volcanic stone, well cut, and very finely joined, but without mortar. It is much cracked, and whole surfaces of wall threaten to come down. This absence of mortar is common to all the ancient buildings that I visited, and the result is a degree of dilapidation far greater than age, or even perhaps earthquake, need have occasioned in structures otherwise so solid, a dilapidation which is rapidly advancing and cannot be materially retarded.”
The next person to write extensively about Candi Mendut was the Dutch engineer Frans Carel Wilsen (1813-1889), who in 1849 received a commission from Governor-General Rochussen to produce drawings of Borobudur’s bas-reliefs and images.” Assisted by Schonberg Muller, Wilsen spent the next four years rendering drawings of 988 of the narrative bas-reliefs at Borobudur.” A collection of these illustrations, which was published in 1873, was criticized by Foucher and Krom for its inaccuracies and artistic embellishments.
Wilsen first wrote about Candi Mendut in 1853, though concerning the temple he only related a somewhat longer version of same folktale as Buddingh concerning the Javanese king and his daughter Mendut. However, the Dutch engineer produced a second report twenty years later that was entirely devoted to Candi Mendut and in which Wilsen explored several possible explanations for what the three colossal images in Mendut’s interior chamber might represent. For example, he noted that it would only be natural for the Buddha to be placed between two monarchs who had been the support pillars for the Buddha’s doctrine during their lifetimes. Still, Wilsen saw no way for two kings to be singled out from among the many monarchs of ancient India known to have supported the Buddhist community. Wilsen also considered the possibility that the images flanking the Buddha at Candi Mendut had been intended to represent Javanese kings, about whom almost nothing was known at that time. Indeed, the same proposal would later become made by King Chulalongkorn of Siam during his visit to Java in 1896. His Majesty thought the image with the small Buddha-figurine in his crown must represent the king of the Buddhist empire responsible for building Borobudur. “Further he supposed the other image to be the latter’s not-buddhistic father and predecessor whilst both father and son (the latter afterwards became a Buddhist), might have been honoured by their descendants who brought together the two images in this sanctuary under the blessing of the only Buddha, the redeemer of the world.”
However, Wilsen thought it far more probable that the Mendut triad represented the Buddhist equivalent of the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva: the embodiment of the Buddhist religion (Buddha) flanked by royal personifications of the Buddha’s doctrine or law (Dharma) and the Buddhist community (Sangha). Wilsen considered royal personifications of the Dharma and the Sangha not at all unreasonable given that the Buddhist community had considered pious kings to be among the foremost guardians of the faith even though they had not abandoned their high social rank.
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