SYNOPSIS:  Nicola happily agreed to write another guest blog.  It is about our Museum visit in Yogyakarta and a trip to Prambanan, one of the UNESCO sites near Yogyakarta. And a brief footnote on the Ramayana by ET.


Yesterday morning we sought to gain some extra points for scholarship by visiting the Sonobudoyo Cultural Museum, which is known for its fine collection of furniture, ceramics, musical instruments, puppets and Hindu sculptures. Beautiful to look at, indeed but much hindered by the lack of any apparent dating on the labels. We had been told by our guide on the tour of the Sultan’s palace that certain ornamental motifs such as snakes and peacocks signify different numbers but picking out enough symbols to correctly establish a date would have taken many years of study. Dragon, buffalo, lotus, pheasant: oh yes, that means 1932? It does sound a bit excessive, doesn’t it?

We had missed the morning puppet show but Elisabeth met the puppet maker and was able to photograph some of the traditional methods of construction of both the solid and the shadow type. And make a small purchase, of course. Then it was back to the hotel for our pick-up for Prambanan, a ninth century Hindu religious complex which consists of hundreds of Candis (conical temples or shrines) arranged in symmetrical groups around the central 47-meter Shiva temple. Many of the smaller temples have not been restored but just sit in forlorn rectangular arrangements of dismembered blocks as if awaiting divine inspiration. The taller examples, though, have had the benefit of some careful re-building over the past two hundred years (and re-rebuilding after the 2006 Java earthquake) and tower above the surrounding vegetation to present a quintessential image of the land once known as Indo-China.

So picturesque are they, in fact, that each evening they form the backdrop for a spectacular ballet re-enacting some of the principal stories of the Ramayana. This is a “must see” for most visitors but I gave up my seat to a Russian girl in our mini-bus who said how disappointed she was not to have been able to get a ticket. This put me in a good light while simultaneously allowing me to leave Elisabeth to report on the show while I went back to our hotel to catch up with one of the Indonesian geologists that we had met two years ago in North Korea.

Mikha turned up with a couple of young friends in tow and all we set off on two motorcycles to find the best meatball soup in Yogyakarta. They told me about their forthcoming field trips to various different islands and I made them very jealous by letting on that I would be visiting Yellowstone Park next month. We sat on the floor in an informal family restaurant, discussing seismology and the formation of gemstones, and I forgot what a strange spectacle I must have made, being not much younger than the combined ages of all three of them.

Elisabeth came back from the Ramayana ballet fuming; not because of the performance but because of the inefficient booking arrangements which had left her standing there at the entrance without a ticket. In the end no amount of Teutonic bluster would prevail and she was forced to pay an exorbitant price for a VIP ticket. I was very grateful to hear that she had also treated Natalia who was as excited as a kid at a carnival to get a place after all. As for me, well, I can always check it out on you-tube.


If you don’t mind a woman who just has to have that golden deer she spotted in the forest even if that means killing it, and then is stupid enough to fall for a cheap trick by an evil king who abducts her…  If you don’t mind heroes who just rescue the woman they are supposed to from under her sleeping guards, but then have to wake them up to have a good fight after all…  If you don’t mind a macho husband who has the audacity to reject the woman whom he just has rescued from the evil king, leaving dozens of monkeys, heroes, and warriors  dead in her path, because she might no longer be “pure”… And if you think that it is brave of that woman to volunteer to burn herself to prove him wrong so he can graciously take her back…

Well, if you can look past all that, you are in for a fantastic spectacle unfolding against the backdrop of three beautifully lit beehive spires of the Prambanan Temple complex.  Between the musicians and the dancers there must have been easily 100+ performers.  This two hour show was only the condensed version of the full play which on special occasions unfolds for the natives over four consecutive days lasting for hours deep into the night each.  Two hours were enough to get a taste.

Two sets of musicians formed the gamelan orchestra that provided the signature style Indonesian musical backdrop.  Fantastic costumes rounded out the picture.  I was not about to miss this. The Ramayana is a classic epic of Hindu culture and those VIP seats were comfortable, and spot on in the center.  And they took my credit card.  Who is to complain?

What impressed me most though was that hundreds of boy and girl scouts were filling the cheap seats; uniformed, hijabed and segregated, but they were there.  They had come from around the country on a field trip and set up tents right outside the temple complex.  During the day, we had seen them roaming the temples.  Here they were at the show.

I wish I had paid closer attention to a note they flashed on the screen just before the show.  It was a quote by the first president Sukarno.  I have to paraphrase:  It is our responsibility as a nation to preserve Hindu tradition as a valuable Indonesian cultural asset. Something to that effect.

It stood in pleasant contrast to the Buddhist and Hindu monuments in Pakistan, Nicola and I had visited in 2007.  The government there only paid lip-service to their preservation and we observed the most horrible use and abuse of them, such as entire hordes of young men grilling food and dancing on the monuments, not to mention the peeing that followed all the coke-drinking… Nobody even cared and none of the young men understood the cultural value of the monuments they were dancing on.  It was not part of their education as we found out; here it obviously is.  And it is not just a footnote, but taught as valuable, cultural heritage.  Bravo!

Good night. 


3 comments so far

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  1. The contrast between Sukarno’s preservation of Hindu tradition and Pakistan’s disrespect and destruction of it surely is to to the weakness of Islam in Indonesia as opposed to the strength of Islam in Pakistan, the official name of which, by the way, is The Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Thank you for pointing out the contrast.

  2. “Teutonic bluster”…ha, ha, ha. No…not our ET.

  3. Cultural norms are often a curtain beh
    ind which lie forced and palatable acceptance of treatment of women