What: Borobudur, the largest and oldest singular Buddhist Temple worldwide
Where: Approx. 38kms from Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta) in Central Java, Indonesia
When: 9th century until 14th century. Rediscovered 19th Century.
Historically, I’d only ever been interested in modern history, its relics and its people, what they did, suffered, enjoyed and built. Perhaps it was about my relatives and ancestors or those that I could make a direct connection to. When I arrived for the first day of my final year of school you cannot imagine my absolute horror at Modern History classes being cancelled (due lack of students) and I being placed in Ancient History. ANCIENT HISTORY? It was about the Greeks, the Romans, the Peloponnese, the Spartans.. …ANCIENT HISTORY? I didn’t know it, hadn’t studied it and wasn’t interested in it and it was just all so far away Sadly, I spent the first few months of this class with my head on my desk and catching on my teenage sleep, or pouring my efforts into my other subject of interest, Geography.
One day, during Ancient History class, I was completing a map of Indonesia and its cities (for Geography class) when my teacher, through my obvious disengagement, walked up to me and pointed to my map and said “put Borobudur there”
“teh, its ‘Yogyakarta’ Miss” I smart-arsingly responded.
“Next to it, Borobudur, another ancient monument of our wondrous world is right near Yogyakarta” Ms Brooken quipped.
Suddenly, I became interested in Ancient History as it was so very close, although I wouldn’t visit it for almost 20 years when I took a day trip from Bali in February 2012.
Borobudur is located around 38kms northwest of Yogyakarta, a large city (pop.2.5mil) on the main central Indonesian Island of Java. Yogyakarta, is approximately half way between the island of Bali and the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, about a one and a quarter hour flight from either.
The area is flat and surrounded by many active volcanoes, namely Mt Merapi which last erupted in 2010, causing destruction in the region from lava flows and ash, ash that also fell on Borobudur. Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction and being a UNESCO site, tourism and economic drawcard, a restoration project was launched and the temple was reopened to visitors and tourists in November 2011. The peak tourist period is during Chinese New Year usually toward the end of January, so when I visited in mid February it was relatively quiet with few visitors.
Borobudur is believed to have been built in the 9th century when many Buddhist and Hindu temples were constructed in the region. It took around 75 years to build and completed in about AD825. The structure was abandoned in the 14th century and covered in volcanic ash and jungle for hundreds of years until its rediscovery in the early 19th century by a party sent by Sir Thomas Raffles after rumors circulated of its existence.
Consisting of ten levels, Borobudur is built as one main Stupa and is divided into three main components of the base, body top.
All visitors to the temple must wear a sarong, which if you don’t happen to have will be loaned at the entrance, before entering the temple and climbing the steep staircases that take you between each level. Interestingly there is no cement, concrete or adhesive of any kind joining the large dark grey stone blocks and carvings of the structure.
Over the first square six levels there are over two and a half thousand intricate pictorial reliefs on the structure. As you make your way up and around in a clockwise direction, there are more than one and a half thousand which detail the past lives and enlightenment of Buddha.
The first few dozen of these panels describe Buddhas descent from heaven, or birth to a Hindu King and Queen. The panels then continue through to his earthly incarnation . Of these fifteen hundred panels, it is believed around only five hundred of the stories are completely understood.
There are hundreds of statues of Buddha throughout the structure, sitting in six different poses from top to bottom.
The Buddha statues, some beheaded for private collectors and museums around the world are surrounded by smaller stupas, resembling an upside down lotus flower, important still today in many Asian cultures.
After climbing and walking the laneways of 6 levels of reliefs, Buddha and stupa statues, the 6th level terrace leads out to the first of the 3 round levels.
On these three round terraces are larger stupas which lead up to the central main stupa, each of these levels represent stages of the journey to Nirvana. The first two levels have a diamond shape pattern on the main section, the last a square shape.
Inside each of these stupas is a statue of Buddha, in final pose, with fantastic views across the countryside.
Still affording magnificent views, the stupas of the last level have a square pattern in their structure and lead up to the solid central stupa.
The central large solid stupa, represent the end of the journey and reaching Nirvana. When discovered in the 19th century, it was expected there would be many treasures inside, yet they found nothing. It is widely believed the reason being, my guide informed me….”we do not know what Nirvana is like yet dare to imagine or symbolise it, but when you go there, it is so beautiful, you won’t want to come back”
I truly enjoyed visiting Borobudur, it was the highlight of my short visit to Indonesia. I was really surprised that I could get up close, climb and sit all over it. It was a fantastic feeling to get so close and be able to touch it, but I did feel concerned it perhaps wasnt being as protected as it could be. There is however, recent talk of limiting the numbers of tourists and where they can climb on the temple in the future.
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