Central Java, Indonesia, Shailendra dynasty, 9th century, Andesite
Less well-known than its monumental neighbor Borobudur, Candi Mendut was likely an important stop along the road to that temple. The square shrine stands on a high platform, accessible by a flight of stairs. Like nearby Candi Pawon, Candi Mendut is positioned directly to the east of Borobudur. These smaller temples therefore face west, opening towards the main site.
Candi Mendut is a shrine that can be entered, as opposed to a Buddhist stupa (reliquary mound) like Borobudur, which can only be circumambulated. Candi Mendut’s interior walls have niches in which to place sculptures of buddhas or lamps to illuminate the dark space.
The relief carvings on Candi Mendut suggest a royal connection. In the vestibule leading inside, Buddhist deities and members of their celestial supporting cast flock toward the shrine, bearing offerings fit for gods and kings.
The main sanctum contains three massive seated Buddhist figures, each carved from a single block of stone. The central buddha, Vairochana, holds his hands in dharmachakra mudra, a teaching gesture, and plants his two feet firmly on a double-lotus pedestal. Flanking him are the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Vajrapani.