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Sparavigna, A. (2017). A short note about the zenithal sun and the Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur temples in Java. PHILICA.COM Article number 972.

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A short note about the zenithal sun and the Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur temples in Java

Amelia Carolina Sparavignaunconfirmed user (Department of Applied Science and Technology, Politecnico di Torino)

Published in enviro.philica.com

Abstract
The layouts of the Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur temples in Java are probably linked to the passage through the zenith of the sun, as we can see counting the number of ancillary temples and stupas we find in them.
Keywords: Archaeoastronomy, Zenithal Passage of the Sun, SunCalc, Photographer’s Ephemeris, Satellite Images.

Article body



 

A short note about the zenithal sun and the Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur temples in Java

 

Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

Politecnico di Torino

 

Abstract: The layouts of the Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur temples in Java are probably linked to the passage through the zenith of the sun, as we can see counting the number of ancillary temples and stupas we find in them.

Keywords: Archaeoastronomy, Zenithal Passage of  the Sun, SunCalc, Photographer’s Ephemeris, Satellite Images.

 

In [1], we have discussed the Sewu temple, an eighth century Buddhist temple complex of Java. We have seen that the layout of the temple is a Mandala, oriented along the cardinal lines. Using ephemeris software, we can easily see that there is a connection of the architecture to the zenithal passage of the sun [2]. We found an alignment along the sunrise on the days of the zenithal passage. Moreover, the temple has in the first and second rows of the Mandala a number of ancillary temples, seventy-two, which is also the even number of the days passing from the zenithal passage of October to the December solstice (inclusive of the mentioned days), and also from the December solstice to the zenithal passage on the end of February (or first of March) [3]. In the Figure 1, we can see the temple and the seventy-two ancillary temples.

 

Figure 1: The Sewu temple and the 72 ancillary temples (Perwara).

 

As told in [4], the Sewu temple is predating the nearby Rara Jonggrang, simply known as Prambanan, by over 70 years and the Borobudur by about 37 years. Prior to the construction of these temples, probably the Sewu temple served as the main temple of the kingdom [5]. Since Candi Sewu was built before the other two temples, we can suppose that it was a model for them, in particular for what concerns the number of ancillary temples and stupas (in Java, “candi” means “temple”).

In fact, a link between the number of ancillary temples and the number of the days from the zenithal passage of the sun to the June solstice had been proposed for the Prambanan temple [6]. In [6], it is told that the temple complex of Prambanan had 224 ancillary temples, connected to the number of 112 days after or before the June solstice. In the case of the Sewu temple, it is the December solstice being involved.

It is not simple to determine the number of ancillary temples of Prambanan from the satellite images, because many of the smaller temples have been not yet restored. Let us follow the reconstruction suggested  by the symmetry that the temple probably had and by the image we find in [7]. We have the Figure 2.

 

Figure 2: On the left we see the Prambanan temple as given by Google Earth. On the right, a reconstruction of it made by the author.

 

Let us consider the Borobudur temple (Figure 3). As told in [8], Borobudur is one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. “The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa” [8].

 

 

Figure 3: Borobudur in Google Earth.

 

Again, we have the number 72, that, as we have previously told, is equal to the even number of the days passing from the zenithal passage of October to the December solstice, and also from the December solstice to the zenithal passage on the end of February or the first of March. May be, for the people who built these temples (Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur), the astronomical year was based on periods of even numbers of days (or nights, see [3]) with an inclusive counting: 72 days from the zenithal passage of the sun to the December solstice, and from this solstice to the zenithal passage of the first of March. Then, there was another set of 112 days, from the zenithal passage to the June solstice, and the same from this solstice to the zenithal passage of October. Adding these periods we have a total of 368 days. However, the counting was inclusive, and then we have to remove some days. For instance, if we start the count from the zenithal passage of the first of March, we have to remove one day for the other zenithal passage and two days for the two solstices. We obtain 365 days.

It seems therefore possible that the temples here mentioned are linked to astronomy, the Sewu and the Borobudur temples are connected to the sun moving about the December solstice, whereas the Prambanan is linked to the sun moving between the zenithal passages about the June solstice.     

However, let us note that there is a religious interpretation of the seventy-two temples of the Sewu central structure, as for those of Borobudur. “Within the Buddhist Abhidharma philosophical schools, the Sarv?stiv?dins identified three unconditioned Dharmas whose nature is free from the laws of causation (asa?sk?ta) as well as 72 conditioned Dharmas (see Wayman 1997:269) which are subject to the laws of causation (sa?sk?ta). So one might conjecture that these 72 auxiliary shrines had pertained to what Vil?savajra had called the second circle of Mah?vairocana containing the divinities belonging to the perfectly pure Dharmadh?tu of Vairocana” [9]. In fact, it is possible that people observed a coincidence between religion and astronomy, and that the conditioned Dharmas were the days conditioned by the zenithal sun [10].

 

References

[1] Sparavigna, A. C. (2017). The Sewu Temple and the zenithal passage of the sun. PHILICA Article number 970.

[2] Let us remember that only in the tropical zone of the Earth, which is located in between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, we can see the sun reaching the zenith. Anywhere outside tropics, this is impossible. Inside the tropical zone then, the sun has, besides the astronomical events of solstices and equinoxes, also two zenithal passages. On the Tropical lines, only one passage is observed, coincident to one of the solstices. 

[3] Actually, the number of the days determined using ephemeris software are 71. However, as told in http://www.4-ahau.com/en/Zenithal_Sun.html, for ancient people it was possible to determine the zenithal passage according the observation of the stars. “Through the constant observation of the sky, one can see that a particular star would always rise at a certain point a few days before such or such a zenithal sun, hence it would be possible to know beforehand the exact date of any given sun.” It means that 71 days are 72 nights (inclusive counting), and this legitimates the use of the corresponding even number.

[4] Vv. Aa. (2017). Wikipedia, Sewu. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewu

[5] Dumarçay, J. (2007). Candi Sewu and Buddhist architecture of Central Java, Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia.

[6] Levenda, P. (2011). Tantric Temples: Eros and Magic in Java, Nicolas-Hays, Inc., page 104, and references therein.

[7] Java Heritage Tour, Layout Candi Prambanan. Retrieved February 12, 2017, http://www.javaheritagetour.com/the-beautiful-of-prambanan-temple/layout-candi-prambanan/

[8] Vv. Aa. (2017). Borobudur, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borobudur

[9] Long, M. E. (2015). An Eighth-century Commentary on the N?masa?g?ti and the Cluster of Temples on the Prambanan Plain, in Central Java. NALANDA–SRIWIJAYA CENTRE, Working Paper Series, No.20 (Nov 2015).

[10] In http://www.buddhadellamedicina.org/en/insegnamenti/borobudur, it is told (in Italian) that the Borobudur temple was built “nel luogo dove Buddha manifestò il Mandala di Kalachakra e insegnò il «Tantra della Ruota del Tempo» al Re indonesiano Suchandra. …  Non si conosce esattamente la data di inizio dei lavori, ma si presume che sia avvenuta intorno al 750 d.C. Venne voluto da un sovrano della dinastia Sailendra, che chiamò a corte diversi yogi particolarmente ferrati nelle arti astrologiche e tantriche, quali l’architetto Guna Dharma, che stabilì il luogo, la congiunzione astrologica e la disposizione nelle quattro direzioni (anzi nelle 10 direzioni, considerando le 4 principali, le 4 intermedie e le 2 «zenit e nadir»).” That is, the site is telling that the temple was built where Buddha manifested the mandala of Kalachakra and taught the "Tantra of the Time Wheel" to the Indonesian King Suchandra. … We do not know exactly the date when its construction began,  but it is presumed occurred around 750 A.D. It was built by a king of the Sailendra dynasty, who called to his court several yogis particularly versed in astrology and tantric arts, such as the architect Guna Dharma, who established the place, the astrological conjunction and the layout along the four cardinal directions (in fact,  in the ten directions, considering the four main directions (cardinal), the four intermediate and the two "zenith and nadir" directions.



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Sparavigna, A. (2017). A short note about the zenithal sun and the Sewu, Prambanan and Borobudur temples in Java. PHILICA.COM Article number 972.


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