'Kudu' statues attract collectors, thieves
The Jakarta Post, Wonosobo, Central Java
For locals and adherents of Javanese mysticism, Bima Temple is the most
sacred of all temples on Dieng plateau here.
The temple is home to the famous kudu statues. Ancient myth says the statues,
which have the face of a woman, can blink their eyes or even smile if you look
at them for long enough.
The sacredness of the temple has led Indonesia's former presidents, Sukarno and
Soeharto, to visit and meditate at the site.
Yet despite their mystical elements, kudu statues are in danger, for their
appeal not only to collectors, but to thieves.
Over the past twenty-five years, the theft of five kudu statues had been
recorded. The latest theft occurred on Oct. 31 this year. But just three days
later the missing statue was discovered among the bushes south of Telaga Warna
(literally means the colorful lake), not far from Bima temple.
Kudu statues are located on the four sides of the upper-part of the Bima temple.
Six statues were originally positioned on each side. But, out of a total of 24
statues, only several remain on the western and southern sides of the temple.
The statue which was located on the right lower part of the temple was
forcefully removed. The hollow space left behind by is clearly visible from
From the way the statue was removed, it seems obvious that the thief (or
thieves) was highly skilled. An ordinary person would not be capable of such a
theft as the statue stood about six meters from the ground and perpendicular to
the temple. You can reach its former position only with a ladder.
"Possibly, the thief climbed from the gate on the eastern side and then crawled
along the wall on the southern side. Given the time when the statue was stolen,
it was clear that the thief had a good knowledge of the routine of the
patrolling officers," said Haryanto, chief of the management and maintenance
board of Dieng archaeological site and museum.
It was estimated, he said, that the theft occurred at about 10 p.m. on Oct. 31.
It was a quiet, dark night, foggy and drizzling with rain.
"When our men last patrolled the area at 6.15 p.m., everything was still intact.
During the next patrol, at about 10 p.m., however, our men found fresh
footprints on the wet ground. When they arrived at the southern yard of the
temple, they found slabs of temple-stone lying on the ground. When they pointed
their flashlights upward, they found the statue was missing." he said.
Haryanto, who has been assigned to this area since 1974, said that there were
probably at least two thieves because the statue, made of andesite stone and
measuring the size of an adult's head, was too heavy for a single person to
"Look at the way the back part of the statue was detached from the temple, only
a professional could accomplish this (removal)," said Haryanto, presenting the
recovered statue, which is now kept at Dieng Museum.
The day after the statue was stolen, Haryanto contacted the police and a
psychic. The psychic told him that the statue was still in the area.
The psychic's claim was accurate. On Nov. 3, 2003, an officer at Telaga Warna
resort area found a cardboard box containing the missing kudu statue.
"It was put inside a cardboard box. The box was tied with plastic string.
Perhaps the thief hid the box until it was safe for him to take it to another
area. Or, perhaps, there was another factor related to the local belief that the
statue is sacred (or has properties that protect it from theft)," Haryanto said.
Several years ago, he continued, an attempt was made to steal this particular
statue. The thief had climbed up the temple, but when he saw the patrolling
guard, he jumped down and disappeared into the darkness.
Bima Temple is located far from other temples on Dieng plateau. It is situated
in the east, close to Telaga Warna and the Sikidang crater and far from locals'
residences. On both sides of the temple, there are only thick bushes.
The only lights provided for the temple's illumination have been broken. The
wooden fence securing it is only one-meter high and is damaged in several
places. It is therefore quite easy for anybody to enter the temple area.
Haryanto said that kudu statues were targeted by thieves as foreign collectors
were very fond of them. The first theft, he said, occurred in 1981, followed by
the second, the third and the fourth in 1984, 1991 and 1999 respectively.
"The thief that stole one of the Kudu statues in 1991 was arrested a year later.
He was a local and was then an elementary school teacher. When he was arrested,
the statue he stole was in the hands of a collector in Singapore. I believe the
recent theft was committed by locals, but the collector must be someone from
outside Wonosobo," he concluded.
Kudu statues in the form of a women's face wearing a crown, are considered rare
items as they can only be found at Bima Temple. Other temples on Dieng plateau,
such as Arjuna Temple, Gatotkaca Temple, Semar Temple and Dwarawati Temple have
no such statues.
"This statue may be taken as a depiction of an immortal but it is difficult to
find which immortal it is. What we know is that Bima temple and the other
temples in Dieng were built in about the 7th century A.D. and were the first
temples to be built in Java. That's why Bima temple resembles a temple in
India," said Dwi O. Prasetya, an archaeologist from Yogyakarta.
He also said that the temple was built at a height of some 2,000 meters above
sea level and close to an old caldera because it was then believed that this
site was a holy site, or a point of contact with the immortals. That's why, he
added, propagators of Hinduism from India built a spiritual center at this
Bima temple is unique in two respects. Apart from its
resemblance to the temple architecture of India, Bima temple also has a gate
that looks to the east, while other temples on the plateau looks toward the
Even today, there are people whose beliefs lie in Javanese mysticism and carry
out their rites at this temple. In 2004, Haryanto added, the temple site in
Dieng will be the location for the observance of the International Meditation