The ruined temples of Brambanam memorialise that phase of Java's religious history, when the altars of Buddha were finally deserted, and Hinduism became the paramount creed of the fickle populace. An archæological report sent to Sir Stamford Raffles a century ago, describes the remains of Brambanam as "stupendous monuments of the science and taste belonging to a long-forgotten age, crowded together in the former centre of Hindu faith." A rough country road leads from the little white railway station, perched on a desolate plain, to these far-famed temples. A brown village, shaded by the dark foliage of colossal kanari-trees, shows the usual fragility of structure in basket-work walls and roofs of plaited palm-leaves, but the humble dwellings, destroyed and rebuilt myriad times on the ancient site of Java's Hindu capital, have supplemented native workmanship by a multitude of carven stones, broken statues, and moss-grown reliefs, for the ruins, theoretically guarded from the spoiler's hand, are still inadequately protected, and the grey recha have been used as seats, landmarks, or stepping-stones over muddy lane and brimming water-course. The conversion of Java to the materialistic creed for which she forsook the subtleties of an impersonal Buddhism, though shallow was complete, and the doctrine of impermanence, inculcated by the discarded faith, continued an essential factor in spiritual development, for the inconstancy of the national mind only found a temporary halting-place in each successive creed which arrested it. The seed was sown, the bud opened, and the flower faded, with incredible rapidity, but the growth while it lasted, showed phenomenal luxuriance. The erection of these Hindu sanctuaries signalised the zenith of Javanese power; their fame travelled across the seas, and numerous expeditions sailed for this early El Dorado of the Southern ocean. Kublai Khan came with his Mongol fleet, but was repulsed with loss, and branded as a felon. A second and stronger attempt from the same quarter met with absolute defeat. Marco Polo, compelled to wait through the rainy season in Sumatra for a favourable wind, came hither in the palmy days of mediæval Portugal, but returned discomfited. Goths from the Northern bounds of Thuringian pine forests followed in their turn, but the power and prestige of Hindu Java remained invincible until destroyed by the wayward fickleness of her own children. Brahminism was finally discarded for the specious promises of Arabian invaders, and the lightly-held faith succumbed to the creed of Islam. Mosques were built, Hindu temples were forsaken, and Nature's veil of vegetation was once more suffered to hide altar and statue, wall and stairway, until every sculptured shrine became a mere green mound of waving trees, strangling creepers, and plumy ferns. The memory of the past was entirely obliterated from the hearts of the people, and every year buried the relics of the former religion in a deeper grave.
Siva the Destroyer, and also the Life-Giver, the Third Person of the Hindu Trinity, together with Parvati and Brahma, were worshipped here in their original character, and an exquisite statue of Lora Jonggran (Parvati in her Javanese guise) remains enshrined in a richly-decorated chapel, surrounded by dancing houris, inspired in their sacred measure by the flute-playing of Krishna. A further instance of the mode already mentioned by which sentiment survives dogma in the Malay races, is shown by the fact that Lora Jonggran still receives the homage of Javanese women. Flowers are laid at her feet, love affairs are confided to her advocacy, and as the shadows deepen across the great quadrangle, a weeping girl prostrates herself before the smiling goddess, and, raising brown arms in earnest supplication, kisses the stone slab at the feet of the beautiful statue, popularly endowed with some occult virtue which the loosely-held Mohammedanism of a later day has failed to discredit or deny. The temples of Brambanam were erected shortly after the completion of that upper terrace in the great sanctuary of Boro-Boedoer which marks the traditional epoch between Buddhism and the later Hinduism, including Sakya Munyi among the avatars of Vishnu. The sacred trees and lions carved here on the walls of the temple quadrangle, give place in the galleries to scenes from the great Hindu epic of the Ramayan. The familiar form of Ganesh, the elephant-headed God of Wisdom, looms from the shadows of a vaulted shrine; Nandi, the sacred bull, stands beneath a carven canopy, and the great memorial of a bygone faith contains the identical galaxy of gods found in the Indian temples of the present day, for the thin veil of Javanese thought is a transparency rather than a disguise, softening rather than hiding the clear-cut outlines of the original idea. The "fatal beauty" of the graceful waringen-tree has played an ominous part in the destruction of the Brambanam temples, for the interlacing roots, like a network of branching veins, make their devious way through crevice and cranny, splitting and uplifting the strongest slab, wherein one tiny crack suffices for the string-like fibres to gain foothold. Masks and arabesques, fruit and flowers, fabulous monsters and sacred emblems, encrust the grey balustrades and bas-reliefs of the noble stairways. Roof and column teem with richest ornament, for Hindu art had reached the climax of splendour when the great city, formerly surrounding the monumental group of stately temples, attained to her utmost power and fame. The Greek influences which prevailed in Northern Hindustan were translated to Brambanam in their attributes of dignity and grace, for the flowing robes and easy postures of the sculptured figures correct and modify the grotesque and over-laden character of original Hindu art. The great stone-paved court once contained an imposing group of twenty pyramidal shrines, but only three remain in the original contour of the so-called "pagoda style," peculiar to the Dravidian temples of Southern India, from whence Java derived her special form of faith. The ruins on the opposite side of the grey quadrangle are mere cone-shaped piles of rubbish, dust, and broken stone, but the tapering pyramids, with their graceful galleries and processional terraces, richly carved and adorned with images, enable us to reconstruct in imagination the stately beauty of the architectural panorama once displayed by the temple courts. Scenes from the Ramayan and Mahabharata adorn the great blocks of the boundary wall, sculptured in high relief. The Vedic Powers of Nature, with Indra as the god of storm and hurricane, manifest the recognition of that earlier belief which became submerged in the vast system of Pantheistic mythology. The faith of further India takes form and colour from the idiosyncracy of Java, and the goddess Parvati, or Kali, worshipped under these different names according to her attributes of glory or terror, becomes Lora Jonggran, the benignant goddess of Java, popularly known as "the maiden of the beauteous form." Four lofty stairways ascend to the hoary chapels within each sculptured pyramid, every dusky vault containing the broken image of the tutelary Deva.
Only separated from Brambanam by a winding path and a green belt of jungle, stands the great Buddhist temple of Chandi Sewon, and the colossal figures flanking the entrance gate indicate a decadent phase of the ancient creed which Boro-Boedoer illustrates in the purity of earlier developement. Chandi Sewon, the "thousand temples," includes in the number myriad unimportant shrines, ruined, overthrown, or covered with a green network of interlacing creepers. The great architectural pile, built at a uniform level, surrounds the central sanctuary with five great enclosures. All the ancient faiths of the world contain foreshadowings or reflections of Christian truth, and the cruciform temple which forms the climax of this monumental erection shows the mystic value attached to the sacred Sign so frequently encountered in Buddhist shrines, and known as the Shvastika. The numerous chapels of Chandi Sewon contained the galaxy of Tirthankas or Buddhist saints which the materialism of the Jains added to the impersonal subtleties of esoteric Buddhism. The blank emptiness and desertion of this vast sanctuary produces an impression of unutterable desolation. The weed-grown courts, the ruined altars, and the moss-blackened arches, encumbered with indistinguishable heaps of shattered sculpture, lack all the reposeful charm of Boro-Boedoer, still a sermon in stone which he who runs may read. The degenerate creed memorialised by Chandi Sewon, has failed to impress itself on the colossal pile which bears melancholy witness to the evanescent character of the heretical offshoot from the parent stem. Jungle and palm-forest in Central Java contain innumerable vestiges of pyramidal temples, palaces, and shrines; vaults hidden beneath the shrouding trees have yielded a rich store of gold, silver, and bronze ornaments, household utensils, and armour. For many years the peasants of the region between Samarang and Boro-Boedoer paid their taxes in gold melted from the treasure trove turned up by the plough, or dug from the precincts of some forgotten sanctuary, buried beneath the rank vegetation of the teaming soil. The discarded Hindu gods still haunt the forest depths, and the superstitious native, as he threads the dark recesses of the solemn woods, gazes with apprehensive eyes on the trident of Siva, or the elephant's trunk of Ganesh emerging from the trailing wreaths and matted tapestry of liana and creeper, veiling the blackened stone of each decaying shrine. Nature has proved stronger than Art or Creed, in the eternal growth beneath an equatorial sun, of the kingdom over which she reigns in immortal life. Silently and insidiously she undermines man's handiwork, and realisation of his futile conflict with her invincible power enters with disastrous effect into the popular mind, lacking that immutable force without which the spiritual temple of faith rests on a foundation of shifting sand. Kawi literature, popularised by translation, and familiar through the medium of national drama, interprets Javanese creeds and traditions. This "utterance of poetry" derived from Sanskrit, fell into disuse after the Mohammedan conquest, though a few Arabic words became incorporated into the two-fold language comprising Krama, the ceremonial speech, and Ngoko, the speech of "thee and thou," or colloquial form of address. The island of Bali, and the slopes of the Tengger range, retain a modification of Hinduism, and Bali treasures a Kawi version of the Ramayan and Mahabharata epics. Many inspiring thoughts and noble sentiments, expressed in story and song, have become well-known maxims identified with Javanese life. "Rob no man of due credit, for the sun, by depriving the moon of her light, adds no lustre to his own." "As the lotus floats in water, the heart rests in a pure body." "Ye cannot take riches to the grave, but he who succoureth the poor in this world shall find a better wealth hereafter." A babad or rhythmical ballad of semi-religious character belongs to every province, but though many details of temple worship—Buddhist, Hindu, and Mohammedan—may be gathered from the lengthy scroll, heroic and princely exploits, myths and traditions, encumber the sacred text, which Eastern imagination transforms into a fairy tale. Creeds lose their chiselled outline, and crumble away in the disintegrating medium of Javanese thought, which blends them into each other with changing colour and borrowed light. The inconstant soul of the Malay knows nothing of that rigid adherence to some centralising truth which often forms the heart of a living faith, and his religious history is an age-long record of failure, change, desertion, and oblivion, repeated in varying cadences, and inscribed in unmistakeable characters on the ruined sanctuaries of old Mataram.