Last weekend, Sara—who’s doing the same thing I am but in Banda Aceh—and I went to Taman Sari. I wanted to see the parts Wikipedia told me I’d missed (the underground mosque) and she hadn’t been here long enough to contradict me.
On our way there, I explained that there would be people who would want to be our guides and that she should just say no. So, of course, I ended up talking to one of them and letting him show us around. He was somewhat impressed to find that I spoke (a bit) of Indonesian, and we proceeded to have a conversation in a mix of English and Indonesian. Much to my surprise, I understood a fair amount of what he said.
The term ‘underground mosque’ is a bit misleading. However, now that I stop and think about it, that might just be a mistranslation on my part. The only time I heard it called this was when I was talking to my teacher and, strictly speaking, she was using a word better translated as ‘underneath.’ Underneath what was unclear to me, probably due to my lack of language skills.
At any rate, no matter what you call the mosque, it’s nice, especially if you’re into abandoned buildings. There are two floors, the top floor for the men to pray and the bottom floor for the women. The staircase between the floors is what really makes the building interesting. Three staircases meet at a platform halfway between the floors and a fourth staircase leads from there to the top floor. In the past, there was water surrounding the staircases so that people could wash before they prayed.
Our guide also said that there was a place on the first floor for Hindus to pray. At first I thought I hadn’t understood, so I questioned him at length. He continued to stand by the idea that, in the past, Muslims and Hindus prayed together, an idea that I liked but an idea that I still find suspect.
When I asked my teacher about it later she said, “Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”