Sukuh Temple is located on the west side of Mount Lawu in Sukuh Hamlet of Berjo Village, Ngargoyoso Subdistrict, Karanganyar Regency in Central Java Province. The temple in constructed on an elevation of + 910 meters above sea level. This temple was discovered in damaged condition in 1815 by Johnson, then Resident of Surakarta during Raffles administration. Sukuh Temple was further investigated by Van der Vlis in 1842, the results of which were reported in Van der Vlis� book entitled Prove Eener Beschrijten op Soekoeh en Tjeto. Further researching works were conducted by Hoepermans between 1864 and 1867, and were reported in a book entitled Hindoe Oudheiden van Java. In 1889, Verbeek performed inventory works on this temple, which was continued by Knebel and WF. Stutterheim through a research in 1910.
Sukuh is a Hindu temple, and was probably built in the end of the 15th century AD. Unlike that of typical Hindu temples in Central Java, the architecture of Sukuh Temple is considered to be departing from requirements stated in Wastu Widya, a guide book for constructing Hindu shrines. The book requires that a temple should be laid out on a square plan with the most sacred place located at the center. The deviation seems to be resulting from the fact that this temple was built when the influence of Hinduism was waning. The waning influence of Hinduism had given rise to the revival of local cultural practices of Megalithic era. The influence of this pre-historic era is seen in the shape of Sukuh temple structure, which is a terraced-mound. Such shape is similar to stepped-mound that is characteristic of pre-Hinduism shrines. Another characteristic of pre-Hinduism shrines is that the most sacred place is located on the highest and rearmost part.
Scholars argue that Sukuh Temple was built for purification rituals to repel or release evil power that affects the life of an individual for having particular special characteristics. The argument is founded on stories of purification rituals such as Sudamala and Garudheya depicted in the temple�s sculptures and on statues of turtle and garuda found in the temple.
Sukuh Temple compound is laid out on an area of 5,500 m2, comprising three terraces. Platform on each terrace is surrounded by stone wall 2 m high. At a glance, this temple looks like shrines belonging to the Maya in Mexico. The main and additional entrances that lead to each terrace and the main building face westward, which is different from typical Central Java temples that face eastward. The three terraces are split into two right in the middle by an arrangement of stone blocks that form a stairway to the next terrace�s entrance.
The gate to the first terrace is a paduraksa, a roofed-gate. The gate�s frame is embellished with long-bearded kala relief decoration. The wall on the north side of the gate is adorned with sculptures depicting a man running while biting a snake. According to K.C. Cruq, the sculptures symbolize Javanese year that reads gapura buta anahut buntut (giant gate biting a snake�s tail), representing the Javanese year of 1359 or 1437 AD, which is believed to be the year the temple�s construction was completed. Above the figure, there are sculptures of a flying human-like creature and a reptile.
The south side of the gate is adorned with sculptures of a figure swallowed by a giant. The sculptures also symbolize Javanese year that read gapura buta mangan wong or giant gate that eats a man. The symbol is interpreted as the Javanese year of 1359 or 1437 AD, the same as that on the north side of the gate. The outer wall of the gate is also embellished with sculptures of a pair of birds nestling on a tree, overlooking a dog and a garuda spreading its wings with a snake clasped in its claws. On the front court outside the gate, there is a pile of stones in various shapes; some have holes like pedestal, and some others like water jug.
The floor inside the entrance gate is embellished with sculptures of phallus and vagina that nearly touch each other. The sculptures represent the unity between lingga (female genital organ) and yoni (male genital organ), a symbol of fertility. Today railings are placed around the sculptures, making it difficult to pass through the gate. To access the first terrace, visitors use a stairway next to the gate. It is believed that the sculptures serve as a suwuk (magic spell or medication) to purify (to heal and release) any dirt that reside in the heart. That is why the sculptures are engraved on the floor in the entrance gate. People will pass through them, and, therefore, any dirt sticking on their body will be cleansed.
Above the gate frame and facing the first terrace platform, there is Kalamakara ornament which is already badly damaged. The north and south walls have sculptures of men holding a weapon in squatting position.
Platform on the first terrace, which is not wide, is split by stone blocks that form a walkway to the second terrace. To the north, there are stone panels that are placed in a row. The first panel carries sculptures of a man on a horseback escorted by spearmen. Next to the horse is a man walking and carrying an umbrella. The second panel is engraved with sculptures of a pair of cows, while the third panel carries sculptures of a man riding an elephant. To the south of the platform, there are piles of stone blocks in various shapes and a number of linggas.
To the northeast or the rear part of platform on the second terrace, there is a ‘bentar’ gate (gate without roof) flanking a stairway that leads to the third terrace. No sculptures or ornaments are found on the walls of this gate. This relatively small platform has neither statues nor relief. To the east or the rear section, there is another ‘bentar’ gate flanking a stairway to the third terrace. This gate is in heavily damaged condition. Pair of Dwarapala statues, which are already worn-out, are placed in front of the gate. These two gate-guarding statues are roughly carved, with awkward and barely fearsome look, and they even look comical.
The third and highest terrace is the most sacred place.
Its platform is split into two sections, north and south, by a stone walkway that leads to a shrine on the back of the terrace. This platform has many statues and sculptured stone panels. To the north, or the front section of the platform, there are 3 statues of winged man with the head of a garuda in standing position, wings spread. Only one of the three is still intact. The other two are headless. Inscriptions are found on one of the garuda statues dated in the Javanese year of 1363 or 1441 AD and 1364 or 1442 AD. To the north, there is a row of stone panels, each with ornaments of elephant and cow sculptures.
In front of the main building, slightly to the south, there is a stone post carrying a passage of Garudheya myth. The upper part of the left corner contains inscriptions written in Kawi that read �Padamel rikang buku tirta sunya� symbolizing the Javanese year of 1361. Garudheya is the name of a Garuda, an adopted child of Dewi Winata. The goddess has a sister Dewi Kadru who is also her husband�s other wife. Dewi Kadru rears several adopted children, who are snakes. Dewi Winata loses in a bet against
Dewi Kadru, so she becomes a slave to Dewi Kadru and her children. Garudheya finds Tirta Amerta (the water of life) that is required in the purification to set her mother free from the slavery. Relief telling Garudheya story can also be found on Kidal Temple in East Java, which was built by Anusapati to purify his mother Ken Dedes.
These stone panels hold relief of stories adapted from Kidung Sudamala. Sudamala tells about Sadhewa, one of the five brothers of Pandawa, who manages to free Dewi Uma, the wife of Bathara Guru, from a curse. Dewi Uma was cursed by her husband because she cannot restrain her anger after her husband asks her for sexual intercourse at a time she considers to be inappropriate. For her furious anger, the goddess is cursed to be a giant called Bathari Durga. Bathari Durga, pretending to be Dewi Kunthi, the mother of Pandawa, sees Sadewa and asks the knight to purify her. The story is narrated in five relief panels.
The first panel depicts Dewi Kunti approaching her son, Sadewa, to ask him to ‘purify’ (remove curse) Bathari Durga. The second panel shows Bima, the elder brother of Sadewa, engaging in a fight against a giant. Bima�s left hand lifts the giant, while right one piercing the opponent�s belly using his Pancanaka nail (Bima�s powerful weapon).
The third panel describes Sadewa, who refuses to ‘purify Bathari Durga, is tied in a tree. Bathari Durga stands in front of him, threatening with a sword.
The fourth panel tells the marriage between Sadewa and Dewi Pradhapa, who is gifted to him for ‘purifying’ Bathari Durga. The fifth panel shows Sadewa and his accompaniment appears before Dewi Uma, who he has already purified.
A small shrine with small statue inside is placed on the porch to the south of the stone. According to local mythology, the shrine represents the residency of Kyai Sukuh, who is the mana of Temple Sukuh.
In front of the main building there are three big-sized tortoise statues. The statues, Tortoise, which can also be found in Cetha temple, symbolize the under world, i.e. the foot of mount Mahameru.
The main building is trapezium, laid out on a 15 m2 wide plan and standing 6 m high. On the west side of the building, right in the center, there is a narrow and steep stair
leading to the roof. It seems that the remaining building is the temple�s platform, while the temple itself was made of wood. The assumption is founded on the presence of some stone pedestals on that platform. In the middle of platform there is a lingga, of which the pair (the linga) is kept in National Museum, Jakarta.
Preservation efforts of Sukuh temple have been conducted since the Dutch era. The first restoration works were carried out by the Archaeological Agency in 1917. The
second were organized in the 1970s by the Department of Education and Culture.