Floating above the landscape of Central Java like a series of concentric circles that forms a giant mandala, there is Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. Even though there is no written record of who built the temple first, it is believed that Borobudur Temple was built between AD 780 and 840 when the Sailendra dynasty ruled the region. The building was abandoned for centuries and buried beneath layers of volcanic ash from Mount Merapi with only local people knew of its existence.
In 1814, the British ruler of Java, Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles, appointed a team led by Cornelius to investigate a hill, which, according to many local inhabitants, was the site of an ancient monument. The discovery got the Borobudur Temple worldwide attention, but it was not until 1835 that the entire area of the temple has been cleared. Unfortunately, the Dutch colonial government gave away eight containers full of Borobudur statues as presents for the King Chulalongkorn of Siam during his visit to Indonesia in 1896. The relics are still on display in the National Museum of Bangkok.
In 1885, the Chairman of the Archaeological Society in Yogyakarta, Yzerman, discovered the hidden reliefs at the base of the temple. These hidden reliefs revealed some Sanskrit instructions left for the carver, with very distinctive lettering that uncovered the date of the construction of the temple: the middle of the 9th century, the time when Sailendra dynasty ruled the area.
In 1907, a Dutchman Van Erp carried out a large scale restoration that finished in 1911. The work was significant and definitely safeguarded the temple for some time. However, many of the pieces were not put back in their original positions during the restoration.
In 1956, another assessment of the temple was made by a Belgian expert who was sent by UNESCO. His assessment concluded that water damage was significant, and would need to be stemmed if the temple was to have a long term future. The hill below the temple was eroding, the foundations were being weakened and also the reliefs were being eroded.
Preparatory work began in 1963, which amongst other things discovered that the hill was not a natural hill as it had always been assumed. Instead, some areas of the hill were loamy soil, mixed with stones and stone chips. The initial work assessed the scale of a restoration to be gigantic, and the Indonesian Government then submitted a proposal to UNESCO in 1968 outlining the works needed.
UNESCO gave full support and commenced work to raise funds for the restoration. From 1968 to 1983, research through to restoration took place under UNESCO. Specialists from the world over came to assist in the dismantling, and re-engineering of the site. A great deal of work was also done to develop procedures to prevent the microorganisms eating away the stone.
Finally, UNESCO listed Borobudur Temple as World Heritage Site in 1991.
Borobudur temple represents many layers of Buddhist theory. From a bird’s eye view, the temple is in the shape of a traditional Buddhist mandala. A mandala is central to a great deal of Buddhist and Hindu art, the basic form of most Hindu and Buddhist mandalas is a square with four entry points, and a circular centre point. Working from the exterior to the interior, three zones of consciousness are represented, with the central sphere representing unconsciousness or Nirvana.
Zone 1: Kamadhatu
This base level of Borobudur has been covered by a supporting foundation, so it is hidden from view. During an investigation by Yzerman in 1885 the original foot was discovered. Borobudur’s hidden Kamadhatu level consists of 160 reliefs depicting scenes of Karmawibhangga Sutra, the law of cause and effect. Illustrating the human behaviour of desire, the reliefs depict robbing, killing, rape, torture and defamation.
Evidence suggests that the additional base was added during the original construction of the temple. The reason for adding the base is not 100% certain, but likely to be either for stability of the structure, to prevent the base from moving, or for religious reasons – to cover up the more salacious content. The added base is 3.6m in height and 6.5m wide.
A corner of the covering base has been permanently removed to allow visitors to see the hidden foot, and some of the reliefs. See image to the right. Photography of the entire collection of 160 reliefs is displayed at the Borobudur Museum which is within the Borobudur Archeological Park.
Zone 2: Rapadhatu
The transitional sphere, humans are released from worldly matters.
The four square levels of Rapadhatu contain galleries of carved stone reliefs, as well as a chain of niches containing statues of Buddha. In total there are 328 Buddha on these balustrade levels which also have a great deal of purely ornate reliefs.
The Sanskrit manuscripts that are depicted on this level over 1 300 reliefs are Gandhawyuha, Lalitawistara, Jataka and Awadana. They stretch for 2.5km. In addition there are 1 212 decorative panels.
Zone 3: Arupadhatu
The highest sphere, the abode of the gods.
The three circular terraces leading to a central dome or stupa represent the rising above the world, and these terraces are a great deal less ornate, the purity of form is paramount.
The terraces contain circles of perforated stupas, an inverted bell shape, containing sculptures of Buddha, who face outward from the temple. There are 72 of these stupas in total. The impressive central stupa is currently not as high as the original version, which rose 42m above ground level, the base is 9.9m in diameter. Unlike the stupas surrounding it, the central stupa is empty and conflicting reports suggest that the central void contained relics, and other reports suggest it has always been empty.
The total of 504 Buddha are in meditative pose, and the 6 different hand positions represented throughout the temple, often according to the direction the Buddha faces.
These ‘mudra’ symbolise concepts such as charity, reasoning and fearlessness, it is said they tell a story that Buddha’s serene face does not.
The Temple Corridors
During the restoration in the early 20th century, it was discovered that two smaller temples in the region, called Pawon and Mendut, are positioned accurately in line with the Borobudur Temple. Pawon temple is located 1.15 km from Borobudur while Mendut Temple is located 3 km from Borobudur. It is believed that there is mutual religious relationship between the three temples, although the exact ritual process remains a mystery.
The three temples are used to form a route for the Waisak Day Festival held each year on the day of the full moon in April or May. The festival commemorates the birth, enlightenment and the death of Gautama Buddha.
This important day in the Buddhist calendar attracts many domestic and foreign tourists to see the walk in procession of local and international pilgrims from Mendut, through to Pawon and then on to Borobudur. It is a colourful and festive occasion supported by the Government of Indonesia.
Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur
Jl. Badrawati, Borobudur, Magelang, Jawa Tengah 56553 Indonesia
Phone : +62 293 788 266 / +62 293 788 267
Fax. : +62 293 788 132
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org