The Candi Arjuna temple complex is the most photographed and visited of the surviving temples on the Dieng Plateau. Situated just a few hundred metres from the homestays in Dieng village, they are an obvious first stop on a tour of the sights in the area. Though they are far from the most imposing of Javanese temples, they are the earliest surviving Hindu temples in Central Java, so they are of great importance historically. Built a century or two before the great temples around Yogyakarta and Magelang, they mark the original phase of temple-building in central Java; therefore, they offer a rare glimpse of the time when world religions were first gaining a toehold in the region. Apart from their magnificent setting, it is this historical dimension which makes the Dieng temples a compelling attraction.

Arjuna Temple has a square layout, measuring 6 meters x 6 meters, with the door facing west. Built from slabs of grey stone, it is one the “box-like” Javanese candis which are associated with the first phase of temple-building in Central Java. The Arjuna Temple’s body walls are decorated with three niches on three sides which are empty, their statuary having been pillaged. The top of each niche is decorated with a kala’s head-without-chin ornaments and connected to a pair of makara along the niche frame. The door of the temple in the west is also decorated with a kala’s head ornament; likewise, it is connected to a pair of makara, with a parrot placed in each of their gaping mouths.

The inner sanctuary is small, dark and damp, little more than 2 metres across. A yoni remains in situ, but the linga has been removed. This is further confirmation that this was a Shivaite sanctuary, suggesting that local leaders had already embraced Hinduism and the myth of the God-king. Though their are no remains of palaces or other residential architecture remaining on the Dieng plateau, the existence of Shiva worship at Dieng strongly suggests that these temples were built by a Hindu kingdom, and that somewhere in his domain a hierarchial court culture had already sprung up in Java. The age of the keraton had arrived. As part of this new court culture, a world of elaborate ceremony and ritual would have been established. Candi Semar, the long, flat building adjacent to Candi Arjuna, is one sign of these rituals; it was probably a storing place for equipment used in temple ceremonies.

Despite its small size and rather simple, square design, Candi Arjuna was to prove an influential building during the eighth and ninth centuries in Java. While there are a variety of temple styles evident on the Dieng Plateau, it is Candi Arjuna which was the most widely imitated in the coming years. All of the temples at Gedung Songo, a complex situated high on a mountainside near the hill station of Ambarawa, are closely modelled on Candi Arjuna, as is Candi Pringapus, a small temple located between the two sites. Many archaeologists have noted that temples on the Prambanan Plain such as Candi Merak have stylistic similarities to Arjuna. Its simple but elegant design was to prove very influential until the era of Prambanan and Borobudur, vast temple complexes which sprung up in the middle of the ninth century.