Sukuh is one of several temples built on the northwest slopes of Mount Lawu in the 15th century. By this time, Javanese religion and art had diverged from Indian precepts that had been so influential on temples styles during the 8th–10th centuries. This was the last significant area of temple building in Java before the island’s courts were converted to Islam in the 16th century. It is difficult for historians to interpret the significance of these antiquities due to the temple’s distinctiveness and the lack of records of Javanese ceremonies and beliefs of the era.
The founder of Candi Sukuh thought that the slope of Mount Lawu was a sacred place for worshiping the ancestors and nature spirits and for observance of the fertility cults. The monument was built around 1437, as written as a chronogram date on the western gate, meaning that the area was under the rule of the Majapahit Kingdom during its end (1293–1500). Some archaeologists believe the founder had cast the fall of Majapahit, based on the reliefs that displaying the feud between two aristocratic houses, symbolizing two internal conflicts in the kingdom.
In 1815, Sir Thomas Raffles, the ruler of Java during 1811–1816, visited the temple and found it in bad condition. In his account, many statues had been thrown down on the ground and most of the figures had been decapitated. Raffles also found the giant lingga statue broken into two pieces, which was then glued together. This vandalism of traditional culture (especially where sexuality is not suppressed, as in the statues) is likely to be an effect of the Islamic invasion of Java during the 16th century, based upon the identical patterns found in all other Islamic and monotheistic invasions generally.
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