Cultural Wonders

Borobudur is just one of Indonesia's world-class historic monuments, but travellers also come to witness a fascinating range of living cultures.


This is the world's largest Buddhist monument: a massive, stepped mountain of cut stone, decorated with sculpture. Built by the Sailendra dynasty in the 8th and 9th centuries, it is essentially a stupa, a kind of pyramidal shrine, with six concentric square terraces topped by three circular ones.


Lying a few miles to the southeast of Borobodur, Prambanan consists of a set of large, tall and elaborately carved Hindu temples. They were built during the Mataram dynasty in the 10th century. Moonlit performances of the classical Hindu Ramayana ballet take place at an open-air theatre between May and October.


This large, historic town was (and remains) the power base of a sultanate founded in 1755, which co-existed with the Dutch rule of Indonesia. It is a centre for the preservation of many of the classical traditions of Javanese art and culture, including dance and shadow-puppets - traditions forged under Hindu rulers, but preserved through centuries of Islam. Among the chief sights is the Kraton complex, which encompasses the Sultan's palace. Yogyakarta is famous also as a centre of traditional crafts, including ceramics, silverwork and batik.


The Hindu culture of Bali permeates all aspects of life, and can be witnessed in daily rituals and offerings, as well in the countless temple ceremonies, towards which all dance and gamelan music is ultimately directed. Among the many temples of considerable antiquity, perhaps the most significant is Gunung Kawi, a set of ten shrines cut into the rock walls that line the Pakrisan River, dating back perhaps to the 11th century. See also the separate article on Bali.

The Toraja

The Toraja people, living in Tana Toraja in the highland region of South Sulawesi, are famous for two aspects of their culture. Their traditional family homes are large wooden houses with a distinctive, upward-curving roof. Also, they have remarkable customs for dealing with their dead. Bodies are preserved in the home awaiting the elaborate funeral feasts that usually take place during a season that lasts from August to October. These are accompanied by ritual dancing and buffalo fights, whereafter the bodies are buried in a place marked by distinctive wooden effigies, which can be seen lining balconies on cliff faces.

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