One of the benefits of living in an industrial suburb of a small town in Indonesia was the opportunity we got to visit some very exotic sites , scattered around Central Java. One of them was BOROBUDUR .
The data about Borobudur :
A World Heritage Site .
The Largest Buddhist Stupa in the world.
" The Temple With No Inside".
Built between 740 and 852 AD, during the reign of King Samaratungga of Mataram Dynasty. Destroyed by seismic activity and abandoned around 950 AD ; swallowed by jungle and forgotten till 1814 when Stanford Raffles rediscovered the humongous rubble. Painstaking, continuous restoration by various nationalities ....
Opened for pilgrimage and tourism in 1973.
The monument is built like a stone ( lava-rock) cladding over a natural hill ( hence, "no Inside") in Central Java, not very far from the holy volcano Merapi. It is 9 tiered,(six of them square and three, circular) with stairways to ascend to each tier or terrace. It is surrounded by tropical forests , encircled by mountain ranges.
Pilgrimage consists of climbing up, level by level, doing circumambulation in each terrace. The walls of the terraces are encrusted with prodigious bas relief panels ( close to 1500 panels , extending over a total of 2 km. in all) illustrating Buddhist mythology from Karmavibhanga, Lalitavistara,Jataka,Avadana Sataka , Gandhavyuha etc .
Buddhas, Buddhas and more Buddhas are scattered all over the rampart walls , balustrades and alcoves.
The pyramidal structure is a representation of the Buddhist concept of Cosmos. The nine tiers are divided into Three Divisions representing the threefold progressive journey to The Ultimate Goal through Kamadhatu ( World of Desires), Rupa Dhatu ( World of Forms) and Arupadhatu ( The Formless World).
The pinnacle is single large stupa , the top point being 35 meters from ground level. The last three circular terraces have 72 large Buddhas sitting inside the unique , perforated bell shaped stupas. All are different, with different mudras. One Buddha is left open now, for pilgrims to touch and gain Merit.
A birds eye-view of the architecture shows the shrine to resemble a "Mandala" or "Yantra".
( Above : Birds eye view, seen in a chart in the Info.Kiosk The small 'buttons' are the perforated stupas)
My impression :
There's a word in English : "Breath taking". I experienced the cannotation of the word fully in Borobudur.
To begin with, its sheer immensity is overwhelming. It looks like some fairy tale mountain.
The first time I saw it, it was early morning . The misty, surreal, golden dawn light transformed it into an ethereal vision, an unbelievable dream rising from the lush jungles and resonating with birdsong , while all those silent, self-absorbed Buddhas surveyed the shimmering horizon with beatific calm.......Pure enchantment !
On the next visit, it was mid-day, drizzly ; and the wet relief panels, seemed alive !
Each individual figure in the panels is invested with a distinct characteristic and expression. No detail too negligible for the diligent sculptors. The painstaking labour of those ancient artisans must have been repeated by modern conservation workers who had to number and index all the discovered rubble , clean each bit carefully and then put them all together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Ascending, tier by tier, one can really feel the spirit being lifted to higher planes !
(Above: A chart hanging in the Info. Kiosk, showing the different Levels. )
( One of the lions guarding the base)
As I said, a Breathtaking Experience ! I consider myself very fortunate to have experienced the magic of Borobudur.
For a great tour of the place, see this Unesco link :
( Photographs by husband. )