After visiting the largest Buddhist monument in the world, it is not hard to see why this is the most visited tourist site in Indonesia. The list of the Seven Wonders of the World has changed many times over the years, and often Borobudur has been included. UNESCO added the monument to its list of World Heritage Sites in 1991, and has been of great influence in restoring the monument to its former glory.
The temple is a massive step pyramid structure made from giant stone blocks, built on a hill, surrounded by valleys and hills. The levels rise up representing the stages of enlightenment. On the lower rectangular levels, stone carved panels tell the story of the Buddhist Sutras, in total there are 1,460 intricate scenes.
Higher terraces switch to a circular shape on which statues of Buddha sit inside perforated bell shaped stupas. These levels are a great deal less ornate, representing a rise from earthly ‘form’ to a higher state of formlessness. 504 Buddha statues sit, facing out to nature, demonstrating a range of hand positions.
The top of the monument is crowned with a massive bell shaped stupa, close to 10 metres is diameter. Currently the centre of this stupa is completely empty, and questions remain as to whether it has always been empty, or in fact held some form of icon within. Interestingly a hidden level of stone reliefs exists at the base of the monument, depicting stories of desire.
Artistically Borobudur represents a melding of Indian monuments and the traditional terraced sanctuaries of Indonesian art. In plan view, the monument represents a Mandala, which is a schematized representation of the cosmos, often drawn repeatedly as a meditative mechanism.
Borobudur Temple was built by Sailendra dynasty between 750 and 842 AD. In terms of world wide religious structures, it was very early, it would be 300 years before Cambodia’s Angkor Wat was constructed, 400 years before work began on the great European cathedrals. At this time the Saliendra dynasty built a great number of monuments, both Hindu and Buddhist, in the region there are even temples where the two religions combine, alternating symbolism. Abandoned at around 1100AD when the power shifted from central to western Java, ash from the local volcanoes covered Borobudur and the vivacious jungle then grew up around and over it.
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles is credited with the re-discovery of Borobudur in 1814. Raffles, who is known as a great admirer of history and culture, alerted the rest of the world to its existence and commissioneda clear up of the site, removing the trees, undergrowth and earth that had built up. 1907 to 1911 saw significant restorations lead by Theo Van Erp. UNESCO and Indonesian government undertook a complete overhaul of the monument in a big renovation project from 1975 to 1983.
GETTING THERE & GETTING IN
Borobudur is located 40 km northwest of Yogyakarta, 7 km south of the town of Magelang, Central Java. We recommend you organise a car and driver through either our Visitor Assistance Centre or your hotel. This way you can also have transport ready to take you back when you are ready to head back. The other alternatives are a tour group mini-bus, or even a taxi. The local buses can be a bit of a rough travel experience, but if you are game the bus leaves from Giwangan bus terminal in Yogyakarta and drops off in Borobudur bus station which is a little over 1km walk from the temple.
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Sources: Borobudur Park oficial website, credit photo: Borobodur Park website respective owner.