[…] PT Ford Motor Indonesia is providing funds to resume research and excavation of the Batujaya complex as part of its Conservation and Environmental Grants.
First examined by experts in 1984, the complex lies in an area of 5 square kilometers, comprising more than 20 structural remains buried in what locals call unur (high mounds of earth). Ongoing excavations by archaeologists since 1984 have uncovered 17 unur, of which three are in the form of pools. Two of these structures are currently being recovered and one has already been restored.
The find was extraordinary in significance, for despite being the location of the oldest Hindu-Buddhist kingdom in Indonesia: Tarumanagara.
To date, only 5 temple sites have been found in West Java: Candi Cangkuang (Garut), Candi Ronggeng (Pamarican), Candi Pananjung (Ciamis), Cibuaya, Karawang and Batujaya. Of these, the Batujaya site is by far the largest.
[…] The finds also upset an earlier theory that the state religion of Tarumanagara was Vedic, an earlier form of the present Hinduism, whose religious ceremonies were conducted in open fields and hence left no temple remains.
Besides the votive tablets, an indication that the complex was Buddhist came with the floorplan analysis of two structures – Candi Jiwa and Candi Asem – which indicated that they were once Buddhist stupas.
It was unclear, however, whether the complex had been built by Tarumanagara’s famous King Purnawarman who lived in the fifth century AD. Experts have put Tarumanagara’s heyday at between the 4th and 7th centuries, after which it declined and was replaced by the Sunda and Galuh kingdoms.
As we trod precariously around the rice fields surrounding the temples, Hasan related how brick technology employed by the ancient Tarumanagarans had been a mixture of clay and rice husks, a reflection of the agrarian community that has survived until today. Bricks were used at only two archaeological sites in West Java: Cibuaya and Batujaya.
“This has overturned the theory that bricks were only used in buildings in the much later East Javanese period,” Hasan, an archaeologist from the University of Indonesia, said. East Javanese Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms emerged between the 11th and 14th centuries, which included the Majapahit Kingdom. Hasan said that the choice of bricks was natural since volcanic rocks such as those usually employed in ancient temples were difficult to find in Batujaya.
“Besides, the society was already familiar with clay burning techniques,” he added, explaining that the prehistoric Buni clay pottery culture had originally flourished along the northern coast of West Java. There are also indications that these ancient people had covered and decorated their brick structures with stucco and reinforced them with limestone and pebbles.
It was unclear when the Batujaya complex was abandoned, but Hasan has several theories. “Maybe it lost many of its devotees, but maybe the change in its environment also made upkeep of the temples impossible,” he said. Sometime in the past, the once dry lands gave way to floods, making the area unstable for buildings. High groundwater also made excavations extremely difficult.
Once buried, excavations brought to light the sight of ruined and fallen walls. It was well-nigh impossible to resurrect the top part of the structures, unlike the nearly intact brick temples of East Java.”Of course there’s about 1,000 years separating the two,” Hasan remarked.
One can now only imagine the grandeur that once existed in the complex. The throngs of praying devotees, incense burning – all that has been replaced by vast, lush, paddy fields.
Nevertheless one can still find architectural “gems” within the rubble, traces of reinforced flooring, the remaining holes of wooden pillars lost to rot and time, intricate designs on the base of the candi shaped like a lotus flower, all these evoked much curiosity. And all the while, mystery surrounds the complex.
“Before the temples were uncovered, people used to hear strange noises coming from the unur,” Pak Wakil, the unofficial keeper of the site related, “and visitors who stole stones and bricks from the site often became ill after they’d left.”
With a last look at the temple remains and a quick check in our pockets for stray stones (we didn’t want to get sick afterwards), we left the ancient complex, unfortunately, to return to the waiting messages and missed calls from our bosses.