Background: Erotic Temples of Central Java

book cover


Tags: Journey's End

Posted in Background on September 30, 2011

I just got back from a trip to Central Java, Indonesia. The main purpose of the trip was to update and expand my travel guide, but I was also hoping to find some inspiration for the third - and final - book in the Journey series, which reunites Piero (from Journey to Angkor) and Henry (from Journey to Rai-Lay). There are a couple of interesting old temples in this region that I’m hoping to work into the story.

As it happens, the real inspiration came came from another, unexpected, place. But then it always seems to work that way. That doesn’t mean these places won’t make their way into the book, and they are interesting in any event, so I thought I’d share some of the more explicit pictures with you.

Candi Sukuh

[caption id="attachment_242” align="aligncenter” width="600” caption="Naked man with an ax on the gate to Candi Sukuh”]Ax Man[/caption]

Candi Sukuh is perhaps the most well-known of the old temples around the city of Solo in Central Java, although it doesn’t get that many visitors. The temple was built in the fifteenth century, at a time when the old Hindu kingdoms were on the wane in the face of new, stronger Muslim empires sweeping across Java. Temples like Candi Sukuh were built by some of the last hold-outs, while many other Hindu courts had already relocated to Bali.

[caption id="attachment_243” align="aligncenter” width="600” caption="Statue of a man proudly holding his manhood."]Statue with an erection[/caption]

What makes Candi Sukuh interesting, though, is the nature of the carvings that remain. Unlike most other temples of the region, there are a lot of naked men featured on the reliefs and statues of the temple. Exactly why that’s the case is a subject of discussion among archaeologists. The only outright sexual image is one the floor of the main gate, where a relief depicts a penis and a heart-shape meant to represent the vagina.

[As an aside, the shape we call a ‘heart’ (♥) originally symbolized the vagina. An arrow symbolizes the penis, so an arrow through the heart is actually a depiction of intercourse.]

[caption id="attachment_244” align="aligncenter” width="600” caption="It’s hard not to see this as some early form of blow-up doll."]Glory Hole?[/caption]

Most of the naked men are holding axes, leading some to suggest that this is a sort of ‘war’ temple, which would make some sense given the time when Candi Sukuh was built. It might be a case of trying to tell the world that “we will be victorious because our dicks are bigger.”

Candi Ceto

[caption id="attachment_245” align="aligncenter” width="600” caption="A giant phallus in one of the shrines at Candi Ceto”]Penis Shrine[/caption]

Candi Ceto is another temple not far from Candi Sukuh. The drive between the two is through hills covered with tea plantations. Candi Ceto is more like the Hindu temples you’ll see in Bali - the ‘modern’ Balinese are actually Javans that were transplanted 500 years ago. But this temple also has a few erotic elements. In the large forecourt of the temple there’s another giant phallus embedded in the ground, and in one of the small wooden shrines on an upper level is a large squat phallus for veneration. As you can see from the photo, this isn’t your usual abstract phallic object that you normally find in Hindu temples. It’s a very explicit representation of the male member.

The Prambanan

[caption id="attachment_246” align="aligncenter” width="600” caption="A panel from the Kama Sutra on one of the large shrines at Prambanan”]Kama Sutra Panel[/caption]

There are erotic elements in one of the area’s more famous ancient sites, the massive Prambanan complex, if you know where to look for them. The gallery that surrounds the Vishnu shrine in the main compound is filled with carved stone panels that depict scenes from a version of the Kama Sutra.

The panel above shows a woman throwing out her husband because his penis is too small. Another nearby panel shows a woman begging a man who appears to have three legs, only that third leg is actually his cock. I didn’t post it only because the photo of the degraded relief doesn’t read very well.

Other than the temples, I wouldn’t classify Central Java as a very ‘gay’ destination, but if you’re interested in ancient cultures, it’s a fantastic place to visit. You can find more information in my updated Central Java travel guide.