The numerous temples clustered on the Prambanan plain gave, apparently, rise to a popular folk-tale that links the edifices today known as Sewu, Prambanan and Ratu Boko. A long time ago, a war broke out between the kingdoms of ogre king Ratu Boko and neighbouring Pengging. Ratu Boko lost; and Pengging warrior (or, in other versions, Pengging’s ruler’s son) Bandung Bandawasa fell in love with charming Lara (or Rara) Jonggrang, the human daughter of the ogre, whom he found hidden in Ratu Boko’s palace. Lara Jonggrang rejected his marriage proposals -had her unexpected suitor not killed her father?-, but, under rising pressure by victorious Pengging, eventually agreed, upon condition that Bandung Bandawasa would dig a well a thousand paces deep and construct a complex of a thousand temples in one night.
Our warrior hero summoned the jinn that had helped him win the war, and started on the well. When it was finished, Lara Jonggrang asked Bandawansa to ascend into it to measure its depth – and when he was at its bottom, she ordered her retainers to fill it up with stones and earth. Due to his magic powers, Bandung Bandawasa managed to escape; and still in feverish love with the princess, set forth to build the temples, convinced that he could still win her heart.
With the jinn’s assistance the temple complex emerged with amazing speed; yet Lara Jonggrang, fearing that she might loose her wager, some time before daybreak kindled a huge fire of hay in the east of the Ratu Boko palace and called upon her palace maidens and the girls of the surrounding villages to start pounding the breakfast rice. Startled by the unusual commotion, the villages’ roosters began to crow – and the jinn, hearing the cocks’ cries and the pounding of rice, looked up to the East, where the red reflection of the fire loomed: Alas, the sun was about to rise and burn them to ashes! Thus they left the construction site, having finished 999 temples only – today’s Sewu, the ‘thousand temples’. Lara Jonggrang now had a reason to reject her suitor. Bandung Bandawasa, however, found out about her ploy, and cursed her to become part of the last of the temples she had asked for: The Durga statue you find in the Shiva temple of Prambanan.