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Ancient Sailendra dynasty in Java - Reconstructing the scene of Borobudur

Archaeologists unearth remnants of ancient Sailendra dynasty in Java


The Sailendra (or officially Sailendravamça) is the name of an influential Indonesian dynasty that emerged in 8th century Java. The Sailendras were active promoters of Mahayana Buddhism and covered the Kedu Plain of Central Java with Buddhist monuments, including the world famous Borobudur. Now archaeologists have announced the discovery of building foundations and artifacts which they believe belong to the ancient Sailendra (“Lord of the Mountain”) civilization.

A joint team comprising archaeologists and experts from the National Archeological Center in Jakarta, Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University’s (UGM) Archeological Center, Bandung Institute of Technology’s (ITB) Geomorphology Department and the French Cultural Center in Jakarta, has been conducting an excavation in Ngreco hamlet for the past week to trace the remnants of the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty.

To date the excavation has produced pieces of masonry, artifacts, and a jaladwara waterway segment which was part of a sewage system commonly found in bath houses during ancient times. The tip of the jaladwara is usually the shape of a dragon’s head. More recently, the team also uncovered the foundation of what is believed to be a temple structure. Evidence suggests that the findings date back to the 7 th century when the Sailendra dynasty was flourishing.

The Sailendra dynasty was founded in 752 AD by King Bhanu with the influence of the Buddha Mahayana. Most of the historical information about the Sailendras comes from stone inscriptions found at Buddhist temple sites, from oral tradition, and from mentions in the records of other states.

ing and queen with subjects, bas relief from the Shailendra dynasty

King and queen with subjects, bas relief from the Shailendra dynasty, 8th century; in Borobudur, central Java, Indon. Photo source: Wikipedia

The dynasty was marked by a great cultural renaissance associated with the introduction of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and it attained a high level of artistic expression in the many temples and monuments built under its rule. One of its greatest legacies is the Borobudur temple complex in Magelang. 

Borobudur temple

Borobudur temple. Photo source: Wikipedia

Except for its legacy of monuments, little is known of the dynasty. It apparently emanated from the agricultural lowlands of interior Java but extended its real power to the north-western coasts of the island, from which its emissaries traded with and raided the Malay peninsula and Indochina.

According to the traditional account, the Sailendra kingdom came to an abrupt end when a prince from the rival Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, named Rakai Pikatan, displaced them in 832. Rakai Pikatan, who was the crown prince of the Sanjaya Dynasty, married Pramodhawardhani, a daughter of Samaratunga, king of Sailendra.

Featured image: A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916—1919) reconstructing the scene of Borobudur during its heyday when the Sailendra dynasty was in power. Photo source: Wikipedia

Location: Ngreco hamlet, Kesongo village, Tuntang district, Semarang regency, Central Java.

By April Holloway



Is there anyone out there who can recommend sites in South-East Asia to go and see? I have a wistful belief that that area of the world is still unexplored to me because I've not really read any books about Asian archaeology. I almost feel I'm too late to learn about it but I'm sure it's really very deep in knowledge already and there are probably thousands of articles to read. Maybe that's the problem. If anyone has even three places they would recommend visiting, I'd love to hear them, and thank you. 

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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