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Riding the buses » Cultural travel, Indonesia, Spiritual travel, Travel itinerary » Borobudur Temple, Java, one of the world’s great Buddhist monuments

Borobudur Temple, Java, one of the world’s great Buddhist monuments

One of the reasons foreign tourists go to Yogyakarta in central Java, Indonesia is to visit the Borobudur Temple, which is 42 km outside the city. Borobudur Temple, one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world, is a terraced shrine that is an unroofed pyramid with three circular platforms topped by a large, bell-shaped stupa (Buddhist spiritual monument).

This temple has a long history, having been built in the 8th and 9th centuries, 300 years before Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It is located between two volcanoes and was left in ruins for many centuries, hidden by jungle and volcanic ash, until rediscovered and restored in the 19th century.

Borobudur Temple was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the following criterion: “Its harmonious marriage of stupas, temple and mountain that is a masterpiece of Buddhist architecture and monumental arts; It is an outstanding example of Indonesia’s art and architecture from between the early 8th and late 9th centuries that exerted considerable influence on an architectural revival between the mid-13th and early 16th centuries; Laid out in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha, Borobudur Temple Compounds is an exceptional reflection of a blending of the very central idea of indigenous ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. The ten mounting terraces of the entire structure correspond to the successive stages that the Bodhisattva has to achieve before attaining to Buddhahood.”

Around the platforms are 72 monuments, each containing a statue of the Buddha. Altogether, there are 504 Buddha statues in sitting or standing position. The walls and railings have been sculpted with more than 1400 reliefs illustrating the series of reincarnations towards the attainment of Nirvana and events from Buddha’s life.  UNESCO says it is the largest and most complete collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world, “unsurpassed in artistic merits, each scene an individual masterpiece”, including stories about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Sidharta and Sudhana’s tireless wanderings in search of the Highest Perfect Wisdom.

UNESCO says the property could be considered a Buddhist pilgrimage site but that it tends to be compromised. Certainly volcanic eruptions continue to be a concern, as does tourism, although there were few tourists there the day I visited. The site lacks the vitality of other Buddhist temples that I have been to in India and Southeast Asia. No bells were ringing nor was incense burning.
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It is spectacular though and easy to visit by hiring a car and driver out of Yogyakarta. Agencies seem to promote the Borobudur Temple and the Hindu Prambanan Temple as two separate day trips but I saw them both the same day without any difficulty.

By Sylvia Fanjoy

Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2012


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