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Borobudur in 360°
- 1. History
- 2. Architecture
- 3. In Buddhist cosmology
- 4. What to see
- 5. When to see
- 6. Location
- 7. How to get there
- 8. Where to stay
World-heritage site Borobudur is a must for every tourist visiting Java. It is a uniquely-built ultra large Mandala-shaped temple, now carefully restored in perfect condition. Borobudur is an ensemble of Buddhist art with 2672 relief panels and hundreds of Buddha statues.
It is believed that Borobudur was founded around 800 AD, at the peak of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java. The temple was however finished only 75 years later, during the the reign of Samaratungga in 825. Golden age of Borobudur was short-lived, it was definitely abandoned by the 14th century as Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in Java declined and Java converted to Islam.
The ruined temple was rediscovered by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, father of Singapore in 1814 following the advise of local people who didn’t completely forget about it. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations and it has been listed as a World Heritage Site.
Unlike other temples erected on a flat surface, Borobudur is based on on a bedrock hill, 265 m above sea level and 15 m above the floor of the dried-out paleolake. According to a theory, this plain was once a lake and Borobudur initially represented a lotus flower floating on the lake. The monument has a foundation measuring approximately 118 meters on each side. It comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms featuring one central large stupa surrounded by 72 smaller ones. The total height of the builing is 42 meters. Not much is known about the architect, Gunadharma, whose name is only recounted from Javanese folk tales.
3. In Buddhist cosmology
From a Buddhist point of view, Borobudur is just a single large stupa and when viewed from above, it looks like a giant mandala. It can vertically be divided into three components: base, body (five square platforms), and top (circular platforms and the topmost stupa). These three divisions symbolize the stages of mental preparation towards the ultimate goal according to the Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world).
4. What to see
Borobudur is an ultra-large ensemble of Buddhist art with 2672 relief panels out of which 1460 are narrative reliefs and 1212 are decorative reliefs. The total relief surface is 2,500 square metres (27,000 sq ft) covering the facades and balustrades. In order to understand the reliefs, we have to enter through the east gate as the monks did and follow the circlular galleries always turning to left. Reliefs illustrate six religious doctrines, namely: law of karma (Karmavibhangga), birth of Buddha (Lalitavistara), legend of Prince Siddhartha (Jatakas), other legendary persons (Avadanas), Sudhana's search for the Ultimate Truth (Gandavyuha), and Bhadrachari.
There used to be 432 Buddha statues in open niches out of which 368 survived. Furthermore, each of the 72 stupas on the top of the building also contained a Buddha statue.
4.1. Hidden base
The hidden base of Borobudur was originally the first level, but it was converted into a base to prevent the building from collapsing after a landfall. 160 non-continuous panels were excavated here that depict illustrations of Karmavibhangga (Law of Karma). These panels show causes and effects in the world of desires, blameworthy activities with their corresponding punishments. As a contrast, pleasures of heaven are also illustrated. Scenes of daily life and the endless cycle of birth and death complete the story.
4.2. Birth of Buddha: Descent of the Bodhisattva
Birth of Buddha (Lalitavistara) is depicted on the upper panels of the first gallery. The Buddha-to-be resided in Tushita Heaven as a Bodhisattva. He was glorified by thousands of Devas, enjoying music and scent of flower blossoms. Their voices sang out in union “Now is the time come; let it not pass unused.” He decided to be reborn last time on Earth.
4.3. Birth of Buddha: Austerity of Queen Maya
It happened in the kingdom of Kapilavastu, that Queen Maya asked permission from his husband, King Suddhodana to allow her to follow an austere life with self-denial. This meant also to abstain from having intimate relations with the king, to which the king agreed. Queen Maya was selected to give birth to Buddha. Thus, Deva-daughters descended to Earth to visit her.
4.4. Birth of Buddha: Maya's dream
As the time of the Bodhisattva’s descent had arrived, a lot of bodhisattvas gathered including bodhisattvas from the countries of the ten winds to venerate the Buddha.
On the night Siddhartha was conceived, Queen Maya dreamt that the Boddhisatva descended to Earth in the shape of a white elephant with six white tusks. He entered her right side, and ten months later Siddhartha was born.
A jeweled pavilion (Ratnavyuha) sprang up to house the Bodhisattva where he was seated with crossed legs. Devas came to visit his earthly abode.
4.5. Birth of Buddha: Interpretation of the dream
The queen left for an Asoka wood and called for the king to meet her, but he was unable to enter the wood. Devas came and told him that his lack of power was due to the presence of the Bodhisattva in Queen Maya’s womb. As he understood this, he was finally able to meet the queen.
The king commanded brahmans to be summoned, to interpret the dream. The miraculous conception of prince Siddhartha was interpreted that he would either become a powerful king or if he choses a hermit life, he will become Buddha (and Enlightened One).
Devas and the Great kings of the cardinal directions offered to build palaces for the Queen and the Bodhisattva during her pregnancy. Through the power of meditation, the Bodhisattva made the queen appear simultaneously in all the palaces. Anyone suffering from various diseases was instantly cured when seeing the queen in one of the palaces.
4.6. Birth of Buddha: Departure to Lumbini Park
The king and queen distributed gifts among the poor. A total of thirty-two omens took place during the tenth and final month of the Maya’s pregnancy. White elephants bowed before them, tame lions gathered before the palace, and Devas arrived to visit the queen.
When the time for birth grew near, Queen Maya wished to travel from the capital to her childhood home, Devadaha. The king ordered to make ready a troop of horses, elephants, carriages and attendants. The relief depicts the queen sitting alone in the carriage. Finally she gave birth to his son in Lumbini Park, on the way to Devadaha.
4.7. Other reliefs
As we climb the stairs and walk along the corridors of the upper levels, we can marvel at scenes from the legend of Prince Siddhartha (Jatakas), other legendary persons (Avadanas), Sudhana's search for the Ultimate Truth (Gandavyuha), and Bhadrachari. The story of Sudhana represents the spiritual quest of the pilgrim, who embarks on a path that simultaneously symbolizes death and spiritual rebirth. The final Bhadrachari panels, 72 in number, encourage the practitioner to follow the Ten Great Vows of the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra.
The top three circular levels contain a large central stupa surrounded by 72 smaller ones. If weather is fine, visitors can enjoy a splendid panoramic view of the entire area with Mount Merapi.
5. When to see
Borobudur temple is open daily 6am-5pm.
7. How to get there
If travelling on a package tour to Java, it will definitely contain Borubudur since it is a must for all travellers.
If staying on the island of Bali, you can consider to take a one-day Yogyakarta guided trip. These trips usually include the famous Borobudur and Prambanan temples along with the sights of Yogyakarta. You'll arrive at the airport of Denpasar very early in the morning, fly to Yogyakarta with a local Indonesia flight (Lion Air / Garuda), enjoy the above mentioned monuments and finally get back to your hotel in Bali in the evening. It is important to know that you have to purchase the airplane tickets in advance, but it might be difficult, since Indonesian air flights only accept VISA cards issued in a few countries. Lion Air simply doesn't accept any European or US card, Garuda only accepts cards issued in Western Europe. If you are lucky, you can purchase your tickets in cash a few days before your excursion in a nearby country like Singapore.
It is not recommended to drive on your own in Indonesia due to the general negligance of driving rules. Singposts are written with Latin alphabet, but it might be difficult to find remote places on your own. The best solution is to rent a car with a driver for an entire day.
8. Where to stay
There are hotels in nearby Yogyakarta for every budget: from backpackers to luxuary 5* hotels.