Borobudur is located at Magelang, in Central Java, Indonesia,  about 40 km NW of Yogyakarta. It was built in the ninth century as a shrine to Buddha, and abandoned in the fourteenth century after the decline of the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in Java, when the Javanese converted to Islam. It was rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Thomas Raffles, British ruler of Java.

Borobudur is one of three exactly aligned Buddhist Temples, located in Central Java, and each approximately a mile apart. The exact religious relationship between the three is known to exist, but is a long-forgotten mystery.

Borobudur is the most westerly of the three, one mile north-east of Pawon, and two miles north-east of Mendut. There is a strong relationship between the three, all of which were built in the eighth and ninth century, during the Sailendra dynasty.

Borobudur is a giant mountain-building. It is built entirely on a natural hill. The base is about 118 metres (387 feet) on each side. Nine terraced layers rise around the hill to a height of about 46 metres (150 feet), covering the entire hill. Although there is a stairway leading directly to the summit, there are 4.8 km (3 miles) of original passageways and stairways inside the monument. Exploring these and finding a way to the top is like stepping back in time 1,000 years, to when the temple was built.

The passageways and exterior of Borobudur contains over 2,600 bas-reliefs, which are both decorative and narrative. The narrative reliefs, arranged in nine sets, cover a total length of more than three kilometres. They tell the story of the prince Sudhana and his love for Manohara, a kinnari (half-female, half-bird celestial figure).

At the foot of Borobudur are karma reliefs, which are stand-alone depictions of wrongdoings, ranging from gossip to murder, and the punishments that each will attract. There are also depictions of good deeds, ranging from charity through to pilgrimage, and the rewards that will be bestowed.

In the galleries, starting from the ground, first there is the story of the life of Buddha, including his preparations in heaven before birth. Following this, climbing toward the top of Borobudur, there are the stories of his lives before being born, including Sudhana’s search for Gundavyuha (ultimate truth).

Also on the Borobudur are the famous Buddha statues. Of the original 504 statues, 43 are missing, and more than 300 are damaged. Many of the damaged statues are missing their heads, mostly stolen by western museums.

The view from the top of Borobudur is quite spectacular. It is high above the trees, with nothing but jungle for as far as the eye can see. One can ponder on how an ancient civilisation, with no modern mechanical equipment, could possibly build such a monument.

Many scholars believe that the hill Borobudur is built on was once in the middle of a lake. They maintain that the temple was built to represent a lotus leaf floating on the lake. There has been considerable debate on this, with supporters of the theory pointing to the dry clay beds surrounding the monument.

The Vesak annual ritual is observed by Indonesian Buddhists during the full moon in May or June, by walking from Mendut, passing through Pawon, and ending at Borobudur.

by: Craig Hill

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