The Next Indonesia Corner

The Borobodur Temple complex is one of the greatest monuments in the world. It is of uncertain age, but thought to have been built between the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century A.D. The structure, composed of 55,000 square meters of lava-rock is erected on a hill in the form of a stepped-pyramid of six rectangular storeys, three circular terraces and a central stupa forming the summit. The whole structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha.

Located on the island of Java, the temple sits majestically on a hilltop overlooking lush green fields and distant hills. It covers an enormous area, measuring 123 x 123 meters. The monument is a marvel of design, decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The architecture and stonework of this temple has no equal. And it was built without using any kind of cement or mortar! The structure is like a set of massive interlocking Lego blocks held together without any glue.

For about a century and a half it was the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java, then it was lost until its rediscovery in the eighteenth century. The temple has remained strong even through ten centuries of neglect. It was rediscovered in 1815, buried under volcanic ash. In the 1970’s the Indonesian Government and UNESCO worked together to restore Borobudur to its former majesty The restoration took eight years to complete and today Borobudur is one of Indonesia and the world’s most valuable treasures. The temple is decorated with stone carvings in bas-relief representing images from the life of Buddha. Commentators claim that this is the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world, unsurpassed in artistic merit.The structure, composed of 55,000 square meters of lava-rock is erected on a hill in the form of a stepped-pyramid of six rectangular storeys, three circular terraces and a central stupa forming the summit. The whole structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha. This monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The ten levels of the temple symbolize the three divisions of the religion’s cosmic system. As visitors begin their journey at the base of the temple, they make their way to the top of the monument through the three levels of Budhist cosmology, Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). As visitors walk to the top the monument guides the pilgrims past 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.For each direction there are ninety-two Dhyani Buddha statues and 1,460 relief scenes. The lowest level has 160 reliefs depicting cause and effect; the middle level contains various stories of the Buddha's life from the Jataka Tales; the highest level has no reliefs or decorations whatsoever but has a balcony, square in shape with round walls: a circle without beginning or end. Here is the place of the ninety-two Vajrasattvas or Dhyani Buddhas tucked into small stupas. Each of these statues has a mudra (hand gesture) indicating one of the five directions: east, with the mudra of calling the earth to witness; south, with the hand position of blessing; west, with the gesture of meditation; north, the mudra of fearlessness; and the centre with the gesture of teaching.

The whole monument itself resembles a giant stupa, but seen from above it forms a mandala. The great stupa at the top of the temple sits 40 meters above the ground. This main dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa. Besides being the highest symbol of Buddhism, the Borobodur stupa is also a replica of the universe. It symbolises the micro-cosmos, which is divided into three levels, in which man's world of desire is influenced by negative impulses; the middle level, the world in which man has control of his negative impulses and uses his positive impulses; the highest level, in which the world of man is no longer bounded by physical and worldly ancient desire.