Sunday, October 9, 2011

Grandeur & Beauty of Borobudur

On the island of Java, Indonesia, stands a mountain of a thousand statues which is shrouded in mystery and surrounded by volcanoes. Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist stupa and temple complex, was abandoned for centuries. In fact, it was forgotten for so long that it was hidden beneath volcanic ash and overgrown by thick jungle for hundreds of years. But now beautiful Borobudur is hugely popular Buddhist monument in central Java. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Borobudur, or Barabudur, is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist monument near Magelang and Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa. The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path circumambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). During the journey, the monument guides the pilgrims through a system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades.

Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Borobudur is still used for pilgrimage; once a year Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia's single most visited tourist attraction


In Indonesian, ancient temples are known as candi; thus "Borobudur Temple" is locally known as Candi Borobudur. The term candi is also used more loosely to describe any ancient structure, for example gates and bathing structures. The origins of the name Borobudur however are unclear, although the original names of most ancient Indonesian temples are no longer known. The name Borobudur was first written in Sir Thomas Raffles' book on Javan history. Raffles wrote about a monument called borobudur, but there are no older documents suggesting the same name. The only old Javanese manuscript that hints at the monument as a holy Buddhist sanctuary is Nagarakretagama, written by Mpu Prapanca in 1365.

The name Bore-Budur, and thus BoroBudur, is thought to have been written by Raffles in English grammar to mean the nearby village of Bore; most candi are named after a nearby village. If it followed Javanese language, the monument should have been named 'BudurBoro'. Raffles also suggested that 'Budur' might correspond to the modern Javanese word Budha ("ancient") – i.e., "ancient Boro". However, another archaeologist suggests the second component of the name (Budur) comes from Javanese term bhudhara (mountain). The references about the construction and inauguration of a sacred buddhist building — possibly refer to Borobudur — was mentioned in two inscriptions, both discovered in Kedu, Temanggung Regency. The Karangtengah inscription dated 824 mentioned vaguely about a sacred building named Jinalaya (the realm of those who have conquer worldly desire and reach enlightenment) inaugurated by Pramodhawardhani daughter of Samaratungga. The Tri Tepusan inscription dated 842 mentioned about the sima (tax-free) lands awarded by Çrī Kahulunnan (Pramodhawardhani) to ensure the funding and maintenance of a Kamūlān called Bhūmisambhāra. Kamūlān itself from the word mula which means 'the place of origin', a sacred building to honor the ancestors, probably the ancestors of the Sailendras. Casparis suggested that Bhūmi Sambhāra Bhudhāra which in Sanskrit means "The mountain of combined virtues of the ten stages of Boddhisattvahood", was the original name of Borobudur.


Approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) northwest of Yogyakarta, Borobudur is located in an elevated area between two twin volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi, and two rivers, the Progo and the Elo. According to local myth, the area known as Kedu Plain is a Javanese 'sacred' place and has been dubbed 'the garden of Java' due to its high agricultural fertility.

Straight-line arrangement of Borobudur, Pawon, and Mendut
Besides Borobudur, there are other Buddhist and Hindu temples in the area, including the Prambanan temples compound. During the restoration in the early 20th century, it was discovered that three Buddhist temples in the region, Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut, are positioned along a straight line. It might be accidental, but the temples' alignment is in conjunction with a native folk tale that a long time ago, there was a brick-paved road from Borobudur to Mendut with walls on both sides. The three temples (Borobudur–Pawon–Mendut) have similar architecture and ornamentation derived from the same time period, which suggests that ritual relationship between the three temples, in order to have formed a sacred unity, must have existed, although exact ritual process is yet unknown.

Unlike other temples, which were built on a flat surface, Borobudur was built on a bedrock hill, 265 m (869 ft) above sea level and 15 m (49 ft) above the floor of the dried-out paleolake. The lake's existence was the subject of intense discussion among archaeologists in the 20th century; Borobudur was thought to have been built on a lake shore or even floated on a lake. In 1931, a Dutch artist and a scholar of Hindu and Buddhist architecture, W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, developed a theory that Kedu Plain was once a lake and Borobudur initially represented a lotus flower floating on the lake. Lotus flowers are found in almost every Buddhist work of art, often serving as a throne for buddhas and base for stupas. The architecture of Borobudur itself suggests a lotus depiction, in which Buddha postures in Borobudur symbolize the Lotus Sutra, mostly found in many Mahayana Buddhism (a school of Buddhism widely spread in the east Asia region) texts. Three circular platforms on the top are also thought to represent a lotus leaf Nieuwenkamp's theory, however, was contested by many archaeologists because the natural environment surrounding the monument is a dry land.

Geologists, on the other hand, support Nieuwenkamp's view, pointing out clay sediments found near the site. A study of stratigraphy, sediment and pollen samples conducted in 2000 supports the existence of a paleolake environment near Borobudur, which tends to confirm Nieuwenkamp's theory. The lake area fluctuated with time and the study also proves that Borobudur was near the lake shore c. 13th and 14th centuries. River flows and volcanic activities shape the surrounding landscape, including the lake. One of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia, Mount Merapi, is in the direct vicinity of Borobudur and has been very active since the Pleistocene.


There is no written record of who built Borobudur or of its intended purpose. The construction time has been estimated by comparison between carved reliefs on the temple's hidden foot and the inscriptions commonly used in royal charters during the 8th and 9th centuries. Borobudur was likely founded around 800 AD. This corresponds to the period between 760 and 830 AD, the peak of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java, when it was under the influence of the Srivijayan Empire. The construction has been estimated to have taken 75 years and been completed during the reign of Samaratungga in 825.

There is confusion between Hindu and Buddhist rulers in Java around that time. The Sailendras were known as ardent followers of Buddhism, though stone inscriptions found at Sojomerto suggest they may have been Hindus. It was during this time that many Hindu and Buddhist monuments were built on the plains and mountains around the Kedu Plain. The Buddhist monuments, including Borobudur, were erected around the same time as the Hindu Shiva Prambanan temple compound. In 732 AD, the Shivaite King Sanjaya commissioned a Shivalinga sanctuary to be built on the Ukir hill, only 10 km (6.2 mi) east of Borobudur. Construction of Buddhist temples, including Borobudur, at that time was possible because Sanjaya's immediate successor, Rakai Panangkaran, granted his permission to the Buddhist followers to build such temples. In fact, to show his respect, Panangkaran gave the village of Kalasan to the Buddhist community, as is written in the Kalasan Charter dated 778 AD. This has led some archaeologists to believe that there was never serious conflict concerning religion in Java as it was possible for a Hindu king to patronize the establishment of a Buddhist monument; or for a Buddhist king to act likewise. However, it is likely that there were two rival royal dynasties in Java at the time—the Buddhist Sailendra and the Saivite Sanjaya—in which the latter triumphed over their rival in the 856 battle on the Ratubaka plateau. This confusion also exists regarding the Lara Jonggrang temple at the Prambanan complex, which was believed that it was erected by the victor Rakai Pikatan as the Sanjaya dynasty's reply to Borobudur, but others suggest that there was a climate of peaceful coexistence where Sailendra involvement exists in Lara Jonggrang

Borobudur lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth. The facts behind its abandonment remain a mystery. It is not known when active use of the monument and Buddhist pilgrimage to it ceased. Sometime between 928 and 1006, King Mpu Sindok moved the capital of the Medang Kingdom to the region of East Java after a series of volcanic eruptions; it is not certain whether this influenced the abandonment, but several sources mention this as the most likely period of abandonment. The monument is mentioned vaguely as late as ca. 1365, in Mpu Prapanca's Nagarakretagama written during Majapahit era and mentioning "the vihara in Budur". Soekmono (1976) also mentions the popular belief that the temples were disbanded when the population converted to Islam in the 15th century.

The monument was not forgotten completely, though folk stories gradually shifted from its past glory into more superstitious beliefs associated with bad luck and misery. Two old Javanese chronicles (babad) from the 18th century mention cases of bad luck associated with the monument. According to the Babad Tanah Jawi (or the History of Java), the monument was a fatal factor for Mas Dana, a rebel who revolted against Pakubuwono I, the king of Mataram in 1709. It was mentioned that the "Redi Borobudur" hill was besieged and the insurgents were defeated and sentenced to death by the king. In the Babad Mataram (or the History of the Mataram Kingdom), the monument was associated with the misfortune of Prince Monconagoro, the crown prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in 1757. In spite of a taboo against visiting the monument, "he took what is written as the knight who was captured in a cage (a statue in one of the perforated stupas)". Upon returning to his palace, he fell ill and died one day later.


Following the Anglo-Dutch Java War, Java was under British administration from 1811 to 1816. The appointed governor was Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles, who took great interest in the history of Java. He collected Javanese antiques and made notes through contacts with local inhabitants during his tour throughout the island. On an inspection tour to Semarang in 1814, he was informed about a big monument deep in a jungle near the village of Bumisegoro. He was not able to make the discovery himself and sent H.C. Cornelius, a Dutch engineer, to investigate.

Taken in 1895, hand-tinted lantern slide of a guardian statue. Man in straw hat standing on Buddhist idol at ruins of Borobudur. This was before the largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In two months, Cornelius and his 200 men cut down trees, burned down vegetation and dug away the earth to reveal the monument. Due to the danger of collapse, he could not unearth all galleries. He reported his findings to Raffles including various drawings. Although the discovery is only mentioned by a few sentences, Raffles has been credited with the monument's recovery, as one who had brought it to the world's attention.

Hartmann, a Dutch administrator of the Kedu region, continued Cornelius' work and in 1835 the whole complex was finally unearthed. His interest in Borobudur was more personal than official. Hartmann did not write any reports of his activities; in particular, the alleged story that he discovered the large statue of Buddha in the main stupa. In 1842, Hartmann investigated the main dome although what he discovered remains unknown as the main stupa remains empty.

The Dutch East Indies government then commissioned F.C. Wilsen, a Dutch engineering official, who studied the monument and drew hundreds of relief sketches. J.F.G. Brumund was also appointed to make a detailed study of the monument, which was completed in 1859. The government intended to publish an article based on Brumund study supplemented by Wilsen's drawings, but Brumund refused to cooperate. The government then commissioned another scholar, C. Leemans, who compiled a monograph based on Brumund's and Wilsen's sources. In 1873, the first monograph of the detailed study of Borobudur was published, followed by its French translation a year later. The first photograph of the monument was taken in 1873 by a Dutch-Flemish engraver, Isidore van Kinsbergen.

first photograph of Borobudur (1873) after  was cleaned up
Appreciation of the site developed slowly, and it served for some time largely as a source of souvenirs and income for "souvenir hunters" and thieves. In 1882, the chief inspector of cultural artifacts recommended that Borobudur be entirely disassembled with the relocation of reliefs into museums due to the unstable condition of the monument. As a result, the government appointed Groenveldt, an archeologist, to undertake a thorough investigation of the site and to assess the actual condition of the complex; his report found that these fears were unjustified and recommended it be left intact.

Che Guevara in Borobudur 1959

Borobudur is built as a single large stupa, and when viewed from above takes the form of a giant tantric Buddhist mandala, simultaneously representing the Buddhist cosmology and the nature of mind. The foundation is a square, approximately 118 metres (387 ft) on each side. It has nine platforms, of which the lower six are square and the upper three are circular. The upper platform features seventy-two small stupas surrounding one large central stupa. Each stupa is bell-shaped and pierced by numerous decorative openings. Statues of the Buddha sit inside the pierced enclosures.

Approximately 55,000 cubic metres (72,000 cu yd) of stones were taken from neighbouring rivers to build the monument. The stone was cut to size, transported to the site and laid without mortar. Knobs, indentations and dovetails were used to form joints between stones. Reliefs were created in situ after the building had been completed.

A carved gargoyle for water drainage
The monument is equipped with a good drainage system to cater for the area's high stormwater run-off. To prevent flooding, 100 spouts are installed at each corner, each with a unique carved gargoyle in the shape of a giant or makara.

Borobudur differs markedly from the general design of other structures built for this purpose. Instead of being built on a flat surface, Borobudur is built on a natural hill. However, construction technique is similar to other temples in Java. Without the inner spaces seen in other temples, and with a general design similar to the shape of pyramid, Borobudur was first thought more likely to have served as a stupa, instead of a temple. A stupa is intended as a shrine for the Buddha. Sometimes stupas were built only as devotional symbols of Buddhism. A temple, on the other hand, is used as a house of worship. The meticulous complexity of the monument's design suggests that Borobudur is in fact a temple.

Congregational worship in Borobudur is performed in the form of pilgrimage. Pilgrims were guided by the system of staircases and corridors ascending to the top platform. Each platform represents one stage of enlightenment. The path that guides pilgrims was designed to symbolize Buddhist cosmology.

Little is known about Gunadharma, the architect of the complex. His name is recounted from Javanese folk tales rather than from written inscriptions.

The basic unit of measurement used during construction was the tala, defined as the length of a human face from the forehead's hairline to the tip of the chin or the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger when both fingers are stretched at their maximum distance. The unit is thus relative from one individual to the next, but the monument has exact measurements. A survey conducted in 1977 revealed frequent findings of a ratio of 4:6:9 around the monument. The architect had used the formula to lay out the precise dimensions of the fractal and self-similar geometry in Borobudur's design. This ratio is also found in the designs of Pawon and Mendut, nearby Buddhist temples. Archeologists have conjectured that the 4:6:9 ratio and the tala have calendrical, astronomical and cosmological significance, as is the case with the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The main structure can be divided into three components: base, body, and top. The base is 123×123 m (403.5 × 403.5 ft) in size with 4 metres (13 ft) walls. The body is composed of five square platforms, each of diminishing height. The first terrace is set back 7 metres (23 ft) from the edge of the base. Each subsequent terrace is set back 2 metres (6.6 ft), leaving a narrow corridor at each stage. The top consists of three circular platforms, with each stage supporting a row of perforated stupas, arranged in concentric circles. There is one main dome at the center; the top of which is the highest point of the monument, 35 metres (115 ft) above ground level. Stairways at the center of each of four sides give access to the top, with a number of arched gates overlooked by 32 lion statues. The gates are adorned with Kala's head carved on top of each and Makaras projecting from each side. This Kala-Makara motif is commonly found on the gates of Javanese temples. The main entrance is on the eastern side, the location of the first narrative reliefs. Stairways on the slopes of the hill also link the monument to the low-lying plain.

The monument's three divisions symbolize the three "realms" of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world). Ordinary sentient beings live out their lives on the lowest level, the realm of desire. Those who have burnt out all desire for continued existence leave the world of desire and live in the world on the level of form alone: they see forms but are not drawn to them. Finally, full Buddhas go beyond even form, and experience reality at its purest, most fundamental level, the formless ocean of nirvana. Kāmadhātu is represented by the base, Rupadhatu by the five square platforms (the body), and Arupadhatu by the three circular platforms and the large topmost stupa. The architectural features between three stages have metaphorical differences. For instance, square and detailed decorations in the Rupadhatu disappear into plain circular platforms in the Arupadhatu to represent how the world of forms – where men are still attached with forms and names – changes into the world of the formless.

In 1885, a hidden structure under the base was accidentally discovered. The "hidden foot" contains reliefs, 160 of which are narratives describing the real Kāmadhātu. The remaining reliefs are panels with short inscriptions that apparently provide instructions for the sculptors, illustrating the scenes to be carved. The real base is hidden by an encasement base, the purpose of which remains a mystery. It was first thought that the real base had to be covered to prevent a disastrous subsidence of the monument through the hill. There is another theory that the encasement base was added because the original hidden foot was incorrectly designed, according to Vastu Shastra, the Indian ancient book about architecture and town planning. Regardless of its intention, the encasement base was built with detailed and meticulous design and with aesthetics and religious considerations.

Budha Statues

Apart from the story of the Buddhist cosmology carved in stone, Borobudur has many statues of various Buddhas. The cross-legged statues are seated in a lotus position and distributed on the five square platforms (the Rupadhatu level) as well as on the top platform (the Arupadhatu level).

The Buddha statues are in niches at the Rupadhatu level, arranged in rows on the outer sides of the balustrades, the number of statues decreasing as platforms progressively diminish to the upper level. The first balustrades have 104 niches, the second 104, the third 88, the fourth 72 and the fifth 64. In total, there are 432 Buddha statues at the Rupadhatu level. At the Arupadhatu level (or the three circular platforms), Buddha statues are placed inside perforated stupas. The first circular platform has 32 stupas, the second 24 and the third 16, that add up to 72 stupas. Of the original 504 Buddha statues, over 300 are damaged (mostly headless) and 43 are missing (since the monument's discovery, heads have been stolen as collector's items, mostly by Western museums).

At first glance, all the Buddha statues appear similar, but there is a subtle difference between them in the mudras or the position of the hands. There are five groups of mudra: North, East, South, West and Zenith, which represent the five cardinal compass points according to Mahayana. The first four balustrades have the first four mudras: North, East, South and West, of which the Buddha statues that face one compass direction have the corresponding mudra. Buddha statues at the fifth balustrades and inside the 72 stupas on the top platform have the same mudra: Zenith. Each mudra represents one of the Five Dhyani Buddhas; each has its own symbolism.


Following the order of Pradakshina (clockwise circumumbulation) starting from the east, the mudras of the Borobudur buddha statues are:

 I live here. So if you want to visit this place, and need a person to accompany, just email me. ^_^

Source: Wikipedia

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