Thirteenth century Hindu-Buddhist temples
Published/Last edited or updated: 1st May, 2018
Encircling Malang are a handful of temple remains from the 13th century Hindu-Buddhist Singosari Kingdom, the predecessor of the mighty Majapahit Kingdom centred in Trowulan southwest of Surabaya.
As well as being sites of worship, this group of temples were predominantly funerary monuments to the Singosari kings and although they are peppered in several directions, this enigmatic group can easily be visited in a single day from Mallang.
We began with the more recent temples in the north at Candi Singosari around ten kilometres from the town centre and continued more or less in a clockwise direction and chronologically backwards around the city, but you could mix it up and start at any point. Unfortunately very little of the meagre information at the sites is in English.
Candi Singosari is built of andesite, a grey volcanic rock, and sits in a small grassy park surrounded by a splendid collection of Hindu and Buddhist statuary—cutting an impressive figure in an otherwise uninteresting village street. This Shivite temple was constructed in the late 13th to early 14th century to commemorate the death of Kertanegara, the last king of the Singosari dynasty who according to early written accounts (although written long after the event) was assassinated in 1292 which in turn led to the establishment of Majapahit rule.
Candi Singosari was likely one of several temples in the area, now vanished and covered by urban sprawl. Standing 15 metres tall, experts conclude that it would have been taller, toped with a now damaged pyramid shaped roof, probably similar in style to the roof of Candi Bajang Ratu in Trowulan. As well as having deteriorated over time, the temple was never completed, evident by the fine detailed carvings at the top, and crude unfinished examples at the lower level—decorative relief work always began at higher levels, so as not to damage the work below. Note particularly the one intricate Kala head at the upper western facing side of the temple compared with the more simple versions on the other sides and even more crude lower down (although details in that one’s left eye are also incomplete).
Sitting on a square plinth and facing northwest, you can climb the central staircase to the main chamber which houses the base of a broken yoni-lingga, however shadows on the back stone wall seem to indicate a larger statue may have resided here. Smaller niches flank the main entrance and slightly larger ones on the other three sides, all but one (which contains a statue of the sage Agastya) are empty. Formally these all would have also contained statues, likely some of the many scattered around the temple grounds.
Don’t miss the two massive guardian statues or Dwarapala sitting some 200 metres northwest along the village road. These plump four-metre tall, four ton, skull and serpent adorned figures are as impressive as the main temple, made all the more surreal by the surrounding urban landscape and road running right between them. Although formidable by their sheer size, note that their batons are downward facing, not held upright in an aggressive stance as is usually seen with these characters, suggesting welcome rather than hostility.
Candi Singosari and the Dwarapala statues are free to enter, but you are encouraged to sign the visitors book and leave a donation. Gates are open 07:30–16:00.
Five kilometres north of Candi Singosari, Candi Sumberawan, a partially restored Buddhist stupa sits in the middle of a wooded forest in the foothills of Mount Arjuna. Like Candi Singosari, it is constructed from andesite rock, but is much simpler in form, with an unadorned hemispherical broken stupa sitting on a squat six-metre square base. It’s not known exactly when the stupa was constructed, but it is mentioned in ancient texts that Majapahit King Hayam Wuruk visited in 1359.
The name “sumber awan” or the “source of the clouds” could possibly refer to the pretty springs nearby, believed locally to have magical powers. Look for the historical photographs pinned to the information boards to see images of the stupa engulfed in vines, similar to those at Ta Phrom temple at Angkor. Although the least impressive of the temples around Malang, this was the busiest we encountered as due to its attractive surrounds it makes a popular recreation area with camping grounds and hammocks for hire (5,000 rupiah for two hours) as well as the seemingly obligatory selfie props.
If you are visiting the sights via public transport Candi Sumberawan probably isn’t worth the extra effort to reach, travel by ojek or private vehicle is recommended. Entry: 5,000 rupiah, open: 07:30–16:00.
Head southeast towards Candi Jago and if you’d like a sweet refreshing treat, stop in at Es Teler Durian on the main Malang-Surabaya road. This tented stall has rows of seats not unlike a doctor’s waiting room full of folk waiting for this delicious icy dessert made from fresh coconut, jackfruit, avocado and durian. “Teler” means something like “intoxicated or stoned”, you may not feel this way, but we think it’s addictive.
Candi Jago is located 17 kilometres east of Malang or around 27 kilometres southeast of Candi Sumberawan near the main route leading to Gunung Bromo. The temple is the largest and most impressive of those surrounding Malang and features an abundance of intricate reliefs depicting both Hindu and Buddhist images, if you only have time for one temple this is the one to choose (although we’d try to fit in nearby Candi Kidal as well).
Built in the 13th century as a memorial to King Wishnuwardahana, Candi Jago’s interesting mix of religious iconography is, according to experts, due to a Shivite Buddhist cult that flourished at the time of the Singosari Kingdom. Notable images include depictions of buildings with multiple tiered meru roof styles, still popular in Balinese temple architecture as well as portrayals of animals and contemporary hairstyles and clothing of the day.
The structure is a ruin with the main part of the roof missing and it’s speculated that the original roof was constructed of wood and fibre, similar to those seen in Bali (and referenced on the relief). Erected on a rectangular base around 24 by 14 metres, the overall generally triangular-shaped temple is stepped over three terraces, cumulating with a keyhole style doorway at the very top.
Double staircases positioned either side at the front of the structure make it possible to climb to the top (careful it’s steep) and get a decent view of the neighbourhood. The surrounding small park houses a large and finely carved, but decapitated sculpture of an eight armed Buddhist deity, Amoghapasa flanked by two impressive and sizeable Kala heads. Candi Jago is a popular spot for pre-wedding photographs, so you may be asked to keep out of the way!
Foreigners are required to sign the visitors book and leave a donation. Gates open 07:30–16:00.
Candi Kidal, seven kilometres southwest of Candi Jago is the oldest, and seemingly least visited of Malang’s Singosari temples built in the early- to mid-13th Century as a burial shrine to King Anusapati. The attractive scenery on the drive here passing rice, corn and sugar cane fields is worth the trip alone. This temple is not as prominently marked as the others if you approach from Candi Jago or Bromo and you may have to ask directions, but if coming directly from Malang look for the moss covered brick stupa at the turnoff.
Candi Kidal is a tall slender square based structure and although the top is missing it’s easy to imagine the peaked pyramid style and how even more stunning of an impression it would have made at the time of its construction. One account mentions that it may also have been studded with precocious stones.
Take your time to wander around and admire the fine Garuda sculptures, menacing Kala heads and mandalas reliefs on each side (including one that we think looks like a fat parrot). The Garuda images indicate that this temple was perhaps aligned with Vishnu (Garuda is the “vahana” vehicle of Vishnu) who was the prominent deity of the earlier Kediri Kingdom, while the later Singosari Kingdom were more committed followers of Shiva. The narrow staircase to the central chamber can be climbed with permission from the guard, but you will find nothing but a few offerings inside.
The guard mentioned that the original sculpture that was here now sits in a museum in The Netherlands (and presumably has a larger audience). As per the other temples, sign the book and leave some small change.
Open Saturday to Thursday: 07:00–16:00; Friday: 07:00–16:30; Closed daily: 12:00–13:00.
Continue your journey to the Western side of Malang to visit Candi Badut although not part of the Singosari group, this is the oldest temple in East Java and well worth a look.
Travelling to the temples via angkot (local minibuses) is possible from the Arjosari Terminal, but you may have to wait until they are full before they depart. If you have limited time (and deeper pockets) ojeks or private car are a more convenient option.
For Candi Singosari: green angkots which display “Singosari” depart regally during daylight hours (5,000 rupiah; 40 mins). Let the driver know you are going to the Candi and they will drop you at the corner where you can walk the 300 metres to the temple. From the Singosari market, blue angkots depart for Sumberawan only when there are enough passengers which can mean a wait of more than an hour (5,000 rupiah; 30 mins). To reach the temple it’s a further 500 metres walk. Alternatively for these two temples you could catch a local train to Singosari Station and then an ojek to the temples which are a two and six kilometre journey respectively.
For Candi Jago and Candi Kidal: catch a white angkot to Tumpang market (7,000 rupiah; 1 hour). From the market, walk 300 metres to Candi Jago. For Candi Kidal change at Tumpang market to a brown angkot (hourly until 16:00) (5,000 rupiah; 20 mins).
We hired an ojek for the day for 250,000 rupiah with the added bonus of an English speaking guide from Bromo Holiday: T: (0818) 386 300, (0812) 3306 6434; firstname.lastname@example.org; but you could probably just as easily use one of the online taxi services such as Go-Jek (note Go-Jek’s motorbike taxis have a 25 kilometre limit).
Address: Ten to 17 kilometres from Malang
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.