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Welcome to the largest Buddhist monument in the world; the massive Borobudur. In Indonesian,
ancient temples are known as candi; thus "Borobudur Temple" is locally known as Candi Borobudur.
This amazing temple not only serves as a shrine to the Lord Buddha, but it is also a place
for Buddhist pilgrimage. I will now tell you the history behind Borobudur,
before going into detail why the temple looks the way it does.
It's hard to say exactly when and why Borobudur was built, as there are no written records
to be found. Archeoligists and historians estimate that it was built during the Sailendra
dynasty, in mid 8th century and took around 75 years to complete. Borobudur is only one
of several temples located in central Java built during this era.
This was an era where power shifted between two rival families, the Buddhist Sailendras
and the Hindu Sanjayas. Both built large temples, this one being Saildendras largest temple
and the Prambanan temple compound was the Sanjayas greatest temple. Even though these
two dynasties were rivals, archelogogists have come to believe that there was never
a large scale religious conflict on Java, as temples of different religion have been
allowed to remain, even during times when the rival was in power.
Borobudur was later abandoned, for what reason is still unknown. What is known is that the
center of power moved from central Java to east Java in the 10th century and that several
volcanic eruptions took place during the same period. If the latter influenced the former
is hard to say, but many say it is the most likely reason for the abandonment. Others
believe it was used actively as a temple all the way into the 16th century, until the majority
of the population converted to Islam. Again, the exact reason why it was abandoned is impossible
say. Even though Borobudur layed hidden for centuries
under layers of volcanic ash and jugle growth; the monument was not completely forgotten.
According the Javanese history scripts, smaller rebel battles have taken place close to the
temple and some notes associate the temple with bad luck and misery. One script mentions
the misfortune of the crown prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate, who despite the curse
of the temple, payed it a visit in 1757. Upon returning to his palace after his Borobudur
visit, he fell ill and died the very next day. I hope you are not supersticiuous..
The temple was discovered for the first time by foreigners in the early 19th century, during
the short British rule of the Dutch East Indies. The appointed Governor, General Thomas Stamford
Raffles, had heard about a hidden temple in the jungle in central Java and he decided
to investigate it. He sent an expedition of around 200 men who found the temple and started
clearing it of vegetation and dug away earth to reveal it. Reports of the founding were
sent back to the Governer, who ordered the temple to be fully revealed. The work on removing
all the earth was finished in 1835. Although fully exposed in all its beauty,
appreciation of the site developed slowly and it served for some time largely as a source
of souvenirs and income for "souvenir hunters" and thieves.
Borobudur started to receive some attention in the early 20th century, when a restoration
project was initiated. Due to the limited budget, the restoration was primarily focused
on cleaning the sculptures. During this restoration, it was discovered
that three of the Buddhist temples in the region; Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut, are lined
in one straight line position. According to native folk tales, there used
to be a brick-paved road with walls on both sides connecting the three temples to eachother.
The three temples have similar architecture and ornamentation deriving from the same time
period, which suggests that some ritual relationship existed between the three temples. In order
to honor this relationship, the pilgrims of today start their pilgrimage from Mendut and
walk the distance to Pawon and Borobudur where they climb the temple.
In the late 1960s, the rather newly formed Indonesian Government initiated a major restoration
project in order to bring Borobudur back to its former glory. They requested help from
the international community in order to renovate and protect Borobudur. The Indonesian government
and UNESCO then undertook the complete overhaul of the monument in a big restoration project
between 1975 and 1982. The project involved more than 600 people and included improving
the foundation, cleaning of all the carvings and also a new drainage system. These restorations
saved the temple from slowly disintegrating and made Borobudur what it is today.
Now that you know the history behind Borobudur, I will move on to tell you why the temple
looks the way it does. Borobudur is essentially built as one massive
stupa. A stupa is a buddist burial mound for buddist leaders and holy relics. According
to the Buddhist cosmology, there are three stages of mental preparation. Each one of
these preparations is linked to one of the many worlds or "planes" that exists within
Buddhism. Borobudur is based around these three stages of mental preparation where each
platform represents one of the three stages of mental preparation.
The temple has a total of nine platforms, of which the lower six are square and the
upper three are circular. The first platform, the base, represents Kāmadhātu - the world
of desires. The rest of the square platforms represent Rupadhatu - the world of forms and
the upper three circular platforms, together with the main stupa, represent the formless
world - Arupadhatu. The walls on the lower platforms are covered
in beautiful relief panels, depicting stories from Buddhism. The main part shows the descent
of the Lord Buddha from the Tushita heaven and ends with his first sermon. The panels
on the wall are read from right to left, while on the balustrade read from left to right.
This conforms with the ritual performed by pilgrims who move climb the temple in a clockwise
direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right.
At the upper circular levels you will find seventy-two small stupas surrounding one large
central stupa. When you look at the stupas, you will see that they are decorated in different
ways. The outer levels have diamond shaped holes, while the inner levels have square
holes. The diamond shaped holes stands for instability, the square holes for stability
and the main stupa is solid which stands for eternity. This one again refers to the formless
world - Arupadhatu -- and represents how the world of forms changes to the world of the
formless. Each stupa holds a Statue of Buddha -- each one except the main stupa which is
empty. Of the original 504 Buddha statues covering Borobudur, over 300 are damaged and
43 are missing. Since the monument's discovery, Buddha heads have been stolen as collector's
items, which is the reason why many statues are headless.
In 1885, a hidden structure under the base was accidentally discovered. When the "hidden
foot" was fully reviled they say that it also contained reliefs which, like the base, describe
the world of desire. Only a small part of the hidden foot can be seen, as majority of
the hidden footare covered in a stone encasement, for which reason is unknown. The main theory
however, is that the encasement base was constructed long ago to add extra weight to the base,
as the original base might have been incorrectly designed.
Today, Borobudur is the single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia with several
million visitors each year. No wonder, as it is one of the most fascinating temples
ever built.
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2494 Folder Collection
阿多賓 published on January 18, 2014
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