Bambang M, Contributor, Yogyakarta
That afternoon saw a lot of visitors captivated by the beauty of Cetho temple, which is located on the southern slope of Mount Lawu, at a height of 1,500 feet above sea level.
The beautiful panorama of the mountain and the unique architectural style of the temple makes it an attractive tourist site.
Unfortunately, after having to go through a difficult route, marked by sharp ascents that will sometimes cause vehicles to break down, these visitors simply went past Kethek temple, a newly excavated temple located not far from Cetho temple.
Indeed, not many people are aware that just a little above Cetho temple to the northeast lies Kethek temple.
Even if they know of the existence of this particular temple, which is located in Gumeng village, Karanganyar regency, Central Java, locating it is quite difficult as 80 percent of the temple building is still underground.
Several big pine trees grow on the temple building. Only the piles of andesite rock that form a set of steps are visible.
Before a research team made up of the representatives of the Center for Conservation of Archaeological Artifacts (BP3) of Central Java and the archaeological department of Gadjah Mada University (UGM) conducted research there between Sept. 5 and Sept. 10, 2005, Kethek temple was practically invisible.
The temple that occupies a plot of land measuring 1,760 square meters looked like a big mound of earth with thick bushes growing on it.
In fact, several archaeologists and locals have known of its existence for quite a long time. No one knows why the temple has simply been forgotten. “”They call it Kethek temple because a statue of a kethek, the Javanese word for monkey, was found not far from the site of the temple,”” said Patmawiyana, who was met by The Jakarta Post while he was looking for firewood around the site of the temple.
Unfortunately, the statue has now been stolen. “”The statue was lost in the 1970s,”” said Haryadi, who is responsible for the protection program of Central Java’s BP3.
Reportedly, he added, a lot of monkeys used to be found around this site, too. However, Andi Putranto of the archaeological department of UGM said that it was likely the statue was not of a monkey but of a human being that in the classical era on Java from the 8th to 10th century AD did look like a monkey.
Discourse about Kethek temple resurfaced when the Central Java Tourism Office had a meeting with a German tourism expert in July 2005.
In this meeting, Haryadi said, the German expert said that Kethek temple was found around Cetho temple. Having got this information, BP3 immediately surveyed the area around the temple.
After conducting excavation at the site of the temple, experts were of the opinion that Kethek temple was built as a terraced holy site.
There are four terraces, the area of which becomes smaller as they go higher. These terraces are connected by stone steps. The excavation also shows that some of the rocks used to build the temple were not first processed. The foundation was also very simple because it went only to a depth of 40 cm.
A terraced holy site is the place where people living on Java Island worshiped the souls of their ancestors.
The highest terrace was the holiest place. This architectural style was also adopted for the Cetho and Sukuh temples, both located around the site of Kethek temple. These three temples are different in shape from the temples in Central Java, which were built in the classical era which have their center or the holiest part in the middle of the building.
In a terraced holy site, the holiest place is found at the top and slightly to the rear.
Kethek temple was estimated to have been built in the late 15th century after Majapahit, a Hindu kingdom, collapsed because it was attacked by Demak, an Islamic kingdom.
Experts believe Kethek, Cetho and Sukuh Temples were built by Majapahit noblemen who fled their kingdom and wished to maintain their Hindu culture. They went to safe places in mountainous areas like the slopes of Mount Lawu.
The assumption that Kethek temple, like Sukuh and Cetho Temples, is a Hindu temple is corroborated by the discovery of a rock with a turtle engraved on it.
A turtle is the symbol of the deity Vishnu, the god of preservation or sustenance in Hinduism.
Although those who built the Kethek, Cetho and Sukuh temples were Hindus, they also worshipped the souls of their ancestors.
That’s why they adopted the architectural style of a terraced holy site for their temples. Andi said they hoped the souls of their ancestors would save them and their people, who had been politically and socially marginalized.
The excavation conducted at the site of Kethek temple also uncovered the foundation of the temple’s fence, a stone base and fragments of terra-cotta for the roof.
The last two items indicate that Cetho temple used to have a roof. Andi said that the roofed part of the temple was its top terrace. If this assumption can be proven correct, Kethek temple will be the only temple built as a terraced holy site that was provided with a roof.
Another unique feature of Kethek temple is that the stones used to make the building have little engraving. The only engraving is found at the lowest step. As it is the only engraving, it is highly likely that this denotes a chronogram.
“”In our discussion we thought the engraved ornament was a chronogram that indicates the year in which the temple was built. However, we have yet to decipher it,”” said Mimi Sawitri, also of the archaeological department of UGM.
As the temple has little ornamentation, Haryadi speculated that the temple was a temporary place of worship used while Cetho temple, the real place of worship, was still under construction.
Andi, however, said that given the unique shape of the temple, it was likely that those who built the Kethek temple were different from those who built the Cetho temple. “”Perhaps, the people who built the Kethek temple were an older generation than those who built the Cetho temple,”” he said.
Kethek temple is still enveloped in mystery. That’s why, Haryadi said, a technical study of the temple will continue to be made. However, he expressed pessimism that the temple, some 80 percent of which has been destroyed, could ever be reconstructed. “”Erosion has destroyed most of the temple structure,”” he stressed. Besides, the roof, of which only the terra-cotta is now left, is also difficult to reconstruct.
Besides further research, it is also necessary to keep the artifacts of Kethek temple.
In future, it is not unlikely that the entire temple will completely disappear because of erosion or a landslide, especially given the fact that the trees growing on the slope of the hill where the temple is located have begun to be felled. The mystery of the temple, therefore, may also be buried for posterity.