Muaro Jambi archaeological stroll

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Muaro Jambi Temple
Discovered by a British soldier in the 18th century, excavation of the Muaro Jambi site continues. Photos: Freddy Wally

IO – Visiting Jambi Province, a must-see destination is Muaro Jambi Temple, an archaeological site stretching across 4 hectares. Located 26 km from Jambi city center, in Maro Sebo district, the Muaro Jambi temple has strikingly different concepts and architecture from most temples situated in Java. 

The temple is surrounded by shrubs and towering old trees. You arrive along a road heading towards the temple and flanked on both sides by the resident’s plantation, striking you as a journey to the past. Muaro Jambi Temple, was originally unearthed by English Lieutenant S.C. Crooke in 1824, while mapping the Batanghari river flow for a military operation, and is reputedly the largest archaeological site in Sumatra. It has been nominated by the government to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Muaro Jambi Temple
Unlike temples in Java with all the reliefs and statues, Muaro Jambi temple only contains a few statues: Kedaton guard statue

Located in Muaro Jambi District or the eastern part of Jambi city, the site is accessible by private car, coming from Jambi’s capital city. The local government has improved access to the 7th to 12th centuries temple complex to facilitate visiting tourists. A ticket entering the temple costs only IDR 9,000 per person. 

Several rules for the tourists to obey before getting into the site: a prohibition against flying drones, professional camera-picture taking or temple video recording with sophisticated video devices. 

Muaro Jambi Temple
Kotomahligai resembles the Cambodian Angkor Wat, buried under the towering trees.

On February 25, Independent Observer visited the Muaro Jambi Temple, accompanied by Ahok, a local guide and resident. As a historian who has shared in-depth knowledge since childhood, Ahok was highly voluble in explaining every detail. Temple excavation began around the end of the 1970s, overseen by an Indonesian archaeological team. “This is a temple complex and an academy during the reign of the Sriwijaya Kingdom, similar to Nalanda in India,” explained Ahok. 

Stretching along the side of an ancient embankment of the Batanghari river, Muaro Jambi Temple is a long way from its original structure in the past. There were 80 mounds of unidentified rocks and soil. That afternoon Ahok took us on a stroll around the reshaped sites: Gedong Satu, Gedong Dua, Kotomahligai, Kedaton, Kembar Batu, Astano, and Candi Tinggi. Some temples were private and in need of special access to enter. 

Some of the reconstructed sites are inaccessible to visitors, as their architecture is so fragile it can barely hold visitors. Ahok further explained that most bricks used in Muaro Jambi construction are of a special design, with two different contours on each side. 

Muaro Jambi Temple
Several piles of bricks, arranged randomly by the national archaeological excavation team in Kotomahligai

“The bricks are very bulky and solid, like a fort in the past. The resident used to call the soil and rock mounds Menapo or squirrels’ nests,” said Ahok pointed at the mounds of rocks around the Kotomahligai, covered in around 10 meters of old trees. 

The temple stands proudly, surrounded by a moat. Water pools are available in all the temples; it is likely they served as protection against foods, since they are located near the river. 

As an ancient Srivijaya heritage, Muaro Jambi’s architecture is decorated with statues. “Among the fgures are Prajnaparamita, Dwarapala, Gajasimha and stone mortars found during the excavation,” expressed Ahok again. 

Another activity to engage in at Muaro Jambi Temple is cycling around with a rented bike. However, this activity has somehow led to another problem on the site. Many irresponsible visitors cycle through the temple and disturb the cultural heritage. 

You can also purchase Sebelik Sumpah, a crafted bracelet made by the Anak Dalam tribe, for only IDR 20,000. The bracelet is made of brown wooden material, which holds mystical power to those who wear it; it is believed to fight hidden, covert evil eyes. 

What Muaro Jambi is still missing is complete board signs to access more information on functions or structures of the ancient temple.

 Muaro Jambi is a perfect choice for historical tourist attractions as an educational site. The five-century-old temple complex offers a unique getaway to enthrall your adventurous souls. Do bring your sunscreen as the climate tends to be hot and humid. 

As always, visitors are to comply with safety protocols at all times. Keep your masks on, wash hands thoroughly, keep your hands off the temple objects and avoid crowds. Happy exploring! (fred)