Sukuh Temple, the mysterious monument outside Solo City
Sukuh Temple, the mysterious monument outside Solo City

“Who are you again? Where did we first meet?” asked my driver, Wazit, who seemed to have his senses knocked out of him. He has been asking me this question for the nth time after our motorbike accident in the highway midway to our destination – the slopes of Gunung Lawu for the Sukuh Temple. Suddenly my bruises on my left arms, waist and knees seems so minor. Do I continue with my trip to Gunung Lawu?

Main gateway to the temple grounds
Main gateway to the temple grounds

A Motorbike Accident

I met Wazit while having breakfast at Cakra Homestay. His offer for the tour out of Solo was reasonably good so I agreed. After my walk to Surakarta Kraton and move to another lodging we were on our way out the city – until one of our wheels got a flat. We took some minutes to have it fixed at one of the street-side motor repair shops before moving on.

We were moving smoothly in the first hour of our ride until we reached the Karanganyar area where Wazit had a miscalculation. His alertness slipped momentarily that he almost hit the truck in front of us. He slid to the side street gutter and quickly made a turn, the wheel caught in the gutter sent us flying off almost to the intersection.

It was the first time I got involved in a motorbike accident and everything felt fast and slow at that same time. I was glad I was wearing a helmet but I felt my tripod hit my back when I hit the ground. I looked at Wazit who seemed to be struggling to lift his bike. His right ankle was limping and he forgot who I am. A momentary amnesia probably when he knocked his head on the floor. For over ten minutes I patiently answered his question about where we met and when over coffee. And slowly clouds were clearing in his memory restored. I was starting to worry then on how to go home but still we continued our trip.

A flat back turtle serves as a sacrificial altar
A flat back turtle serves as a sacrificial altar

Sex and Fertility at Sukuh Temple

And so we arrived at the Sukuh Temple (Candi Sukuh) grounds. Cool wind was blowing at 900m above sea level at the slopes of Mount Lawu. The hills were filled with tea plantation creating a beautiful pattern on the landscape. Sukuh Temple stands on a small and quiet ground overlooking the hills. The afternoon light rendering the sharp details of the Mayan-like truncated pyramid monument. A monument that is neither Javanese nor Hindu which adds an enigmatic air to the whole area.

Established by archeological studies that this was built around the 15th century, it still remains a mystery on its purpose. Its many fertility symbols, life-size statues with sexual symbolism and turtles with flat backs serves as sacrificial altars may suggest that a fertility cult was practiced here. Even its bas reliefs with distorted and squat figures predates animism of the pre-Hindu era.

It is certainly one of the most curious monuments I have been to. But more importantly we made it on the site safe and sound after that motorbike accident. The mountain air, view and this mysterious structures was enough to calm my senses and turn around this day for the better, or so I thought.

Distorted and squat-style bas relief figures
Distorted and squat-style bas relief figures
A life-size headless male statue grasping his penis
A life-size headless male statue grasping his penis
Bas relief detail at Suku Temple
Bas relief detail at Suku Temple

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