Borobudur: a must-see site for Buddhist lovers

Borobudur : un site incontournable pour les amoureux du bouddhisme

Tourists passing through the island of Java, Indonesia, cannot miss a visit to the Borobudur temple. Above all, this is a must-see site for lovers of Buddhist spirituality and its history. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Here's what you need to know about this important construction.


A very old construction

The site where the Borobudur temple stands is said to have been built around 800 AD. The temple is said to have been abandoned in 1100 AD and then forgotten. It was not until 1814 that it was rediscovered at the instigation of the lieutenant governor of the island of Java, who had heard of a large monument lost in the forest, on the outskirts of the village of Bumisegoro. Trees had to be cut down and some digging in the ground to update the site.

A place of pilgrimage

Borobudur temple is now an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. It is indeed dedicated to the Buddha. Seen from the sky, it has the shape of a mandala. It is made of four superimposed galleries. The three highest galleries are arranged to represent Buddhist cosmology. The galleries feature several bas-reliefs, carved from volcanic stone by various craftsmen, showing important stages in the life of the Buddha.

There is also a mysterious fifth hidden gallery. The bas-reliefs found there represent the burdens of life on earth. Experts do not know why this gallery was covered up. Some suggest it was to obscure the harsh realities of life on earth. The bas-reliefs were carved on site once construction was completed. The builders have also planned a rainwater drainage system.

The pilgrims cross the four galleries and then reach the upper terrace. The terrace is topped by three circular terraces. These are bordered by stupid, that is, memorials intended to contain relics or symbolize Buddhist doctrine. Stupas appear in the form of stone bells containing bodhisatvas, or Buddhas on the way of awakening.

The center of these terraces constitutes the top of the temple of Borobudur. Another stupa is housed there, containing an unfinished Buddha. It is not known whether this Buddha was added in the years following the construction of the temple. The central stupa is accessible by stairs which are located in the center on each side. Doors framed with statues of lions meet on these stairs.

The three parts of the monument are symbolically linked to the three stages that lead to enlightenment according to Buddhist doctrine. These three steps are the world of desires, the world of shapes and the shapeless world. The architecture respects this worldview since the base is detailed, the body is circular and the top is smoother.

There is no document explaining the reason for the construction of the Borobudur temple. It is also unknown by whom it was built. It would have taken about 75 years to be built. The period corresponds to the construction of several Buddhist and Hindu monuments in the region of Kedu plain. It is also unclear why the site was abandoned and then more or less forgotten.

During the centuries which followed its abandonment, the site of Borobudur was hidden by the forest and by the volcanic ash. Periodic volcanic eruptions may have helped keep the pilgrims away. Legends have even made the place a bearer of bad luck.

A very frequented site

Nowadays, the temple has regained its prestige and its status as a place of pilgrimage. On the full moon in May or June, Buddhists celebrate various events in the life of the Buddha, including his birth, death and the time when he reached high wisdom. The day of the ceremony is a public holiday. A pilgrimage takes place from Mendut to Pawon before culminating at the Borobudur site. Today, the place is the most visited by tourists in Indonesia.

The integrity of Borobudur Temple as well as that of other temples is today threatened by the accelerated development. The regulations are rather vague and the ever increasing number of tourists is likely to cause damage. It was found that the stone of the temple is deteriorating without being able to determine precisely the cause. Damage was sometimes caused by visitors who had been neglected to watch.

The visit is particularly spectacular at sunrise and sunset. From the site, tourists also have an excellent view of the Merapi volcano, which is still in business. The temple is easily accessible from the city of Yogyakarta. It is possible to get there by bus or taxi inexpensively.

Bas-reliefs and statues

The many bas-reliefs of the Borobudur temple are worth the trip. They cover the facades and guardrails. The narrative panels on the walls should be viewed from right to left to follow the progress of the story. On the railings, the narrative panels are read from left to right. These provisions are linked to circular wandering ritual.

The Borobudur site also includes several statues of the Buddha. He is represented in the lotus position. At the level of the square platforms, the statues are located in niches. They are placed in a circle and their number decreases as the pilgrim goes up into the temple. At the level of the circular platforms, the statues are arranged in perforated stupas.

A heritage site

 borobudur temple

The Borobudur site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which supported the Indonesian government in the restoration of the temple. It is now possible to visit the places, which were saved from ruin. It was at the end of the 1960s, after decades of small renovations, that the Indonesian government proposed a more developed safeguarding plan to the international community and that UNESCO was called upon.

In the 1970s, a major project allowed the complete restoration of the site. The foundations of the temple were reinforced and all of the panels were cleaned. It was when the restoration was completed that UNESCO listed it on its World Heritage List.

The original materials were used for the reconstruction of the Borobudur temple. There were also a few additions to consolidate it. Modifications were also made necessary by the need to provide better drainage. The original materials were sufficient to ensure the entire reconstruction and renovation of the monument.

A region dedicated to Buddhist spirituality

Borobudur is located in the high plain of Kedu, which is part of the province of Central Java. Several Buddhist temples have been erected in this region. The plain of Kedu is itself considered a sacred place. Its soil is very fertile. Borobudur temple belongs to the city of Magelang, located near several volcanoes.

Other Buddhist temples have been discovered in the surrounding area during the restoration of the Borobudur site. The time in which the temple was built saw the emergence of several such constructions. In the region, for example, we find the Pawon and Mendut temples, which are also very important for pilgrims. These two temples are on the same line as the Borobudur temple.

Legend has it that a road has already connected the three temples. This paved road would have been located between two walls and would have allowed to pass from one temple to another. A relation between the three temples is possible since they were built at the same time, judging by their type of architecture.

Most of the temples built at this time were located on flat surfaces. The exception is Borobudur Temple, which was built on a hill. According to some experts, the Kedu Plain could be an ancient lake and the temple of Borobudur would represent a lotus flower floating on water. The lotus flower is often used as a throne for the Buddha in artistic representations. However, the region seems too dry for a lake to have been present there.

The construction technique of Borobudur temple resembles that used for the construction of other temples in the area. It is believed that Borobudur first served as a stupa before it became a temple. This has a different function since it is considered the abode of a god. It must therefore include in its interior places intended for worship. The complexity of the architecture testifies in favor of the temple thesis.

It seems that the Borobudur site was dedicated to pilgrimage rather than worship. A system of stairs and corridors allowed pilgrims to find their way and reach the upper platform. Cosmology Buddhistsuggests that each platform represents a step on the path to enlightenment.

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