Borobudur Buddhist temple complex, Indonesia


Borobudur is a solid jewel in the province of Central Java. This temple complex is considered to be the oldest among the Buddhist shrines. About the colossal size of the structure is not worth mentioning! Borobudur vividly illustrates the proverb: “better to see once than hear a hundred times”. The temple is recognized as an example of Indonesian medieval architecture and therefore since 1991 it is included in the list of World Heritage Sites under No. 522.

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Video: Borobudur

Basic Information

Borobudur rises in one of the picturesque regions of the island of Java, the sacred valley of Kebu, 40 km from Yogyakarta. The discovery of the temple is reminiscent of the plot of an Indiana Jones adventure novel. For a long time Borobudur was hidden under the volcanic ash among the dense jungles of Java and has seen the light again only at the beginning of the XIX century. Now the Buddhist “stone lotus” – one of the most popular attractions in Indonesia.

The origin of the name of the temple is still a mystery and gives rise to new hypotheses. The first version suggests that the word “borobudur” came from a forgotten dialect of the Indonesian language and means “Thousand Buddhas”. The second theory says: “boro” is the name of the territory, “boudur” is translated as “antiquity”. Accordingly, the name of the Buddhist temple means “ancient territory”. The third version is the most logical: the word “boro” is the name of a complex of monasteries, but “boudur” is a modified form of the Balinese adverb “beduhur” – “above”.

History of Borobudur

Documentary sources have not preserved accurate information about the period affected by the construction of the temple complex. The era was established tentatively, based on the results of comparing the carved reliefs of the hidden foot of Borobudur and inscriptions found in the royal charters of the VIII-IX centuries. It is likely that the first stone of the temple was laid in 800, when power over the Mataram kingdom was in the hands of the Sailendra dynasty. The construction supposedly dragged on for 75 years.

The history of Borobudur cannot be called a happy one. The peak of popularity of the temple complex among pilgrims was followed by a long period of desolation, when the priests-Brahmans left the sacred place. The reasons for this remain a mystery. In the X-XI centuries, King Mpu Sindok moved the capital of Mataram to the region of East Java for fear of volcanic eruptions. During the next one Borobudur was also affected: it was partially hidden by a thick layer of ash from the volcano Merapi.

However, the temple continued to live on in people’s memories, but as a source of superstition associated with misfortune and bad luck. It was the place where the rebels against King Pacubuwono I were executed; after a visit to the “hidden” Borobudur, the crown prince of Monkonagoro fell ill and died… Curious travelers came to the temple complex less and less often, and the jungle made the place inaccessible altogether. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Java became part of the British crown.

At the time, Governor T. S. Raffles was interested in the history of the island. Since the Englishman was a collector of antiques, he often traveled around Java and talked with the locals. The fateful trip was to Semarang, where Raffles was told about a legendary temple hidden in the jungle near the village of Bumisegoro. The governor decided to see if the rumors were true and sent a Dutch engineer, H. Cornelius, to investigate. He, enlisting the help of two hundred men, significantly thinned out the vegetation and began excavating Borobudur.

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Fearing that the walls of the ancient temple would collapse, Cornelius did not venture to free all the galleries from volcanic ash and earth. The result, however, was enough for a report that included detailed drawings of the structure. Although Raffles mentioned the engineer’s involvement in passing, the governor is still credited with the rediscovery of the temple and the glory of the man who brought Borobudur to the world’s attention.

The Dutchman’s work was continued by a resident of the Kedu region, C. L. Hartmann, and by 1835 the excavations of the temple complex were complete. The study and sketches of the monument of Indonesian architecture were undertaken by F. K. Winsel and J. F. G. Brumund. F. G. Brumund. They completed their research of Borobudur in 1859. However, their work on the temple was never published, as Brumund declined cooperation at the last minute. A more cooperative scholar, C. Leemans, was commissioned to write the monograph. It was published in 1873, and a year later translated into French. The first photo of Borobudur was made in the same period.

The ancient temple complex became a kind of magnet for thieves and treasure hunters who wanted to profit from the “souvenirs” of Borobudur. The activities of some vandals were even approved by the colonial government. For example, in 1896 King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited the island and returned home accompanied by eight carts laden with sculptures from the temple. Among them were statues of an usher (dvarapala) and lions, a gargoyle, images of the founder of Buddhism, relief panels and even drainpipes! Now most of the exhibits are in the collection of the National Museum of Bangkok.

The Inspector of Cultural Exhibits was also dismissive of the shrine. Speaking of the unstable state of the monument, he suggested that the temple be “dismantled” down to its foundations and the sculptures and bas-reliefs be made part of the museum displays. Only the intervention of V. P. Groeneveld saved Borobudur from an unenviable fate. The curator of the archaeological collection of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences conducted a thorough examination of the shrine. The report showed that the inspector’s fears were unfounded, so the temple was left untouched.

Borobudur attracted attention at the end of the nineteenth century when the chairman of the Archaeological Society in Yogyakarta, Y. V. Ijerman discovered the hidden foot of the temple. At that time, measures were taken to protect the religious monument. In 1900 he initiated the creation of a commission to assess the condition of Borobudur. It consisted of engineer B. W. van de Kamer, officer T. van Erp and historian J. L. A. Brandes.

The restoration of the shrine took about five years (1907-1911). After the walls of the temple galleries “sagged” and cracks appeared in the reliefs, the reconstruction of Borobudur was resumed, but not for long. World War II and the Indonesian National Revolution put the reconstruction work on hold. This left the Buddhist temple in imminent danger of destruction in the middle of the twentieth century. The initiative of UNESCO representatives and Soekmono’s “Save Borobudur” campaign helped to preserve the monument.

The reconstruction of the temple complex began on a large scale in 1975. Germany, France, Cyprus, Belgium and Australia partly sponsored it. The restoration of Borobudur cost 6.9 million dollars. In 1991, the temple was included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Now Borobudur is recognized as the most visited attraction in Indonesia. Popular “stone lotus” and among Buddhist pilgrims.

Architecture of Borobudur

The temple complex covers an area of 1.5 hectares. It was built in the form of a huge stupa made of 2 million stone blocks, and from a bird’s eye view resembles a mandala (Buddhist model of the universe). Gunadharma is considered to be the architect of the temple. Unfortunately, not much is known about this man. Even his name was retrieved not from official documents, but from Javanese folk tales. The foundation of Borobudur is made in the form of a square with each side equal to 118 meters. There are 9 tiers on this base: 6 square and 3 round ones. As the height above the ground increases, the area of the levels of the temple decreases.

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The upper platform is home to 72 stupas of smaller dimensions, which surround the central stupa. They are distinguished by their bell-shaped shape and numerous diamond-shaped holes (probably playing the role of decorative elements). Statues of Buddha lurk behind these carved “fences”. There is a popular belief among tourists: if you slip your hand stealthily into one of the stupa’s holes and touch the stone fingers of a spiritual teacher, you will be accompanied by happiness and good luck.

Borobudur is notable for the fact that it has no inner space. The temple complex was erected around a hill, previously surrounded by stones. The result was a kind of pyramid, which rises above the ground for more than 30 meters. Each side of Borobudur is oriented in the directions of the world, has a staircase and entrance to the upper levels. However, the central “gate” to the Buddhist temple is located on the east side. It is open only to monks. The staircases pass under the arched gates decorated with 32 sculptures of lions. At the top of each arch is the head of Kali and on the sides are figures of macaques – mythical sea monsters.

Climbing up the tiers of Borobudur from the central gate, you can admire the reliefs that tell the story of the development of Buddhism. Remarkable is the impeccable adherence to the storyline, which stretches for more than 5 km. It is conventionally divided into three levels – Kamadhatu, Rupadhatu and Arapadhatu.

The first level, represented by the base of the temple, symbolizes the world of passions. The 160 panels depicted vicious temptations and the karmic punishment for them. The second, the so-called sphere of forms, signifying the struggle against desires, is located on five square platforms. It tells the story of several incarnations of the Buddha, in which the spiritual teacher reveals the principles of Buddhism in different ways and tells of wanderings in pursuit of wisdom.

The third level, which occupies the circular tiers of Borobudur, signifies a sphere without forms and the anticipation of nirvana. There are no bas-reliefs here, but the symbolic meaning is still there. The statues of Buddha, hidden in small stupas, are the embodiment of absolute serenity and detachment from the earthly world. The central “bell” completely conceals the sculpture.

At first glance, the statues of the spiritual teacher are identical. But if you look closely, you can see the difference between the mudras – the ritual arrangement of the hands. In Buddhism, there are five groups of mudras, each of which has a symbolic meaning:

  • North is fearlessness, courage;
  • south – benevolence, giving alms to the needy;
  • west – meditation, concentration;
  • east – asking the Earth to bestow wisdom;
  • zenith – virtue, prudence, spinning the wheel of dharma (dharmachakra).

Mudras are oriented to the five main points of the compass, according to one of the directions of the religion, Mahayana. Four balustrades adorn sculptures of the Buddha with the first four mudras. The fifth balustrade and the stupas on the upper platform are statues with the last mudra.

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Excavations at the Borobudur site have revealed: the temple complex was formerly painted black, green, red, blue and gold pigments applied to white plaster. Over the centuries, torrential tropical rains washed away the paint, turning the temple into a dark gray pile of volcanic stone. Despite its unassuming appearance, Borobudur is still considered a major religious edifice of Indonesian culture.

The temple complex is equipped with a drainage system with numerous storm drains. Each corner of the temple has a special “neck” decorated with a small carved sculpture of a gargoyle, giant or macara.

Borobudur Museums

A few hundred meters north of the temple is the Karmavibhang Museum. It contains photographs of Borobudur bas-reliefs, stone fragments, and archaeological artifacts found in the vicinity of the temple complex. In addition, the museum exhibition includes documentation that tells not only about the architecture and structure of Borobudur, but also about the official restoration project of the temple.

In the western part of Karmavibhanga is a second museum, the Samudra Raksa. Its exhibits tell tourists about the ancient maritime trade between Indonesia, Madagascar and East Africa (the so-called cinnamon trade route). A visit to both museums is included in the ticket price.

Practical information

The area around the temple complex is fenced, which forms the archaeological temple of Borobudur. You can enter here only after purchasing a ticket (22 EUR), which entitles you to a single visit. Walking around the complex as part of a tour will cost you less: 6-8 EUR. For an opportunity to see Borobudur at sunrise or sunset, you’ll pay more: about 30 EUR.

Temple is open to visitors from 6:00 to 17:00, but Manohara Hotel kindly provides an unofficial tour to visit Borobudur before or after closing time. It can be used even if you are staying at another hotel. All that is required is to arrive at the entrance of Manohara Hotel as early as possible (preferably around 4:00-4:30) and purchase your ticket when the ticket office opens. After you meet the sunrise, you need to buy a standard ticket and, if you wish, book a sunset tour.

If you dream of saving money on your trip, it is worth considering the possibility of visiting not only Borobudur but also Prambanan (with one ticket, of course). In this case you will pay 9-10 EUR less. The ticket is valid for two days (including the day of purchase), but only entitles you to single access to both temples. For unknown reasons the sale of these tickets is not advertised, so you have to ask the cashier about the Ticket Package Borobudur – Prambanan.

How to get to Borobudur

There are several ways to get to the temple complex:

  • by minibus, using the services of travel agencies in Yogyakarta. The trip will cost 5 EUR. Most often minibuses stop at batik factories to encourage tourists to buy souvenirs, so the journey to the temple may take longer than planned;
  • by bus. Transport leaves from the Jombor stop. You need to take a bus to Magelang. Usually tourists are dropped off at the Muntilan Bus Terminal in the village of Muntilan, but it’s best to check the stop in advance. The fare is 2 EUR. After getting off the bus, immediately take a shuttle bus to Borobudur. The stop is located a hundred meters from the main entrance of the archaeological park;
  • by rented vehicles. Rental prices start at 20 EUR per day. A car with a driver will cost more: 30 EUR. This option will require the least time and is the most comfortable.

You can also visit Borobudur as a part of a tour. Their starting point is the island of Bali, or the famous tourist town of Java.

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Temple of Borobudur (Candi Borobudur)

Borobudur Temple

On the island of Java in Indonesia, 40 km from Yogyakarta, is the largest Buddhist temple in the world – Borobudur. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists come to its feet every day. Candi Borobudur, a majestic and mysterious cult building from pre-Islamic times, is now one of the main attractions on the island of Java. The name “Borobudur” is translated by some scholars as “many Buddhas,” while others link it with the Sanskrit expression “Vihara Buddha Ur,” which means “Temple on top of the hill.”

All the knowledge of modern scholars about the exact time of the establishment of the Borobudur temple complex and the reasons for its oblivion are only hypotheses. There is no written historical evidence of the fate of the Buddhist temple complex. The temple is thought to have been built in the Ⅸ century, during the Sailendra dynasty in Central Java and the heyday of Buddhism and Hinduism in Indonesia.

Borobudur Temple

There are different versions about the reasons for the oblivion of Borobudur. According to one of them, the temple fell into decay and was abandoned in the ⅩⅣ century, after the spread of Islam in Indonesia. Another version attributes its demise to the year 1006 when the big eruption of the volcano Merapi took place, during which the surroundings and the temple complex were covered with a thick layer of ash and people abandoned the place for a long time. Lush vegetation quickly grew on the fertile volcanic soil and for hundreds of years hid the unique historical monument and the largest religious building of Buddhism from human eyes. By the way, in 2010 the volcano Merapi woke up again, and after its eruption the temple, as in the distant past, was covered with ash. But this time, volunteers, using powerful industrial vacuum cleaners, quickly cleared it.

History of the discovery

The credit for the discovery of the Borobudur Buddhist complex belongs to Europeans. The large jungle-covered hill was noticed by the British military in 1814. Among the impenetrable thickets of the earth peeked out of the fragments of carved stones. Excavations were begun by Dutch soldiers who replaced the British. By 1835 most of the giant religious edifice was free of brush and a thick layer of volcanic ash. In the middle of the ⅩⅨ century numerous bas-reliefs of the temple were sketched by the artist Wilsen, and in 1873 his photographs appeared.

Borobudur Temple

Having studied the construction of Borobudur, the Dutch authorities wanted to dismantle it completely in order to transport it from the jungle to another place or to distribute it in pieces to museums around the world. Fortunately this project was not realized and the greatest temple of Buddhism remained in its place. Its first major restoration was carried out in 1907-1911 and the second in 1973-84. – The second. The hill, bearing a giant stone structure of 55000 cubic meters in volume, was fortified and protection from erosion of the soil was done. The architectural monument was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The architecture of Borobudur Temple

The architecture of Borobudur is based on the fundamental tenets of the Buddhist philosophy of the eight steps of Enlightenment, so the ancient structure has eight tiers of floors. The temple is square in plan, with a side at the base of 118 m, the design resembles a mandala figure – a symbol of the Buddhist universe. In total in the niches and stupas of the temple were installed 504 statues of Buddha, some of which to date are lost, and some of the sculptures missing the head. The structure is built without mortar of 2 million blocks carved from gray stone of volcanic origin.

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Borobudur Temple

Bas-reliefs carved on the walls tell the story of the mundane life of people and the 12 earthly incarnations of Buddha. Researchers count 1,460 bas-reliefs with different subjects, to examine them all carefully, it will take more than a dozen trips to the terraces of Borobudur. Pilgrims and sightseers move from the lower tiers to the upper tiers in a spiral around the terraces and gradually approaching the top.

The lower tier – Kamadhatu (level of passions) – the bas-reliefs depict the mundane life and the karmic ways and destinies of ordinary people.

The middle tier, Rupadhatu (the level of form), tells of the overcoming and trials that the Buddha went through in his earthly incarnations.

The upper tier of three terraces, Arupadhatu (the world without form) or Nirvana, symbolizes the higher world, which is incomprehensible to the human mind. On the upper terraces are 72 carved stone stupas, in each of which sits the Buddha. Crowning the structure is the largest but empty stupa, which houses Nothingness – the ultimate symbol of Buddhist Enlightenment.

Borobudur Temple

The temple is surrounded by a beautiful park, through which it is pleasant to stroll and take a break from the heat in the shade of the trees. Travelers inspired by Buddhist philosophy and simply romantics greet the sunrise at Borobudur. Unfortunately, the popularity of this unique place and the crowds of tourists does not always allow you to immerse yourself in meditation and make your way to Enlightenment on top of the temple, and the cost of visiting at dawn is different in a larger way than the usual tour.

Ticket Fees

The cost of a regular ticket to visit the Borobudur Temple is the equivalent of $25 USA. For children 3 to 10 years old and students, the ticket price is $15 USA. The price includes the possibility of parking and an audio guide. You can save a little money by purchasing a general ticket to visit two attractions for $45 USA.

In addition to Borobudur with such a ticket can visit the temple complex Prambanan, or the palace complex Ratu Boko. Such a price for the tickets pay foreign tourists, locals visit the Buddhist temple is much cheaper.

Google panorama of Borobudur temple stupa

How to get there

To visit the Borobudur temple, you first have to go to one of the nearby towns. The most common places to visit the temple are Yogyakarta (40 km), Semarang (90 km) or Magelang (17 km). Most often, the journey to the temple begins in Yogyakarta, where for $ 40 you can fly from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. From Yogyakarta Airport Adisucipto (Adisujipto) take a bus Trans Jogja to the bus station Jombor. From there, there are local flights to the bus station in Borobudur. From the bus station you can walk to the temple, take a cycle rickshaw or an Indonesian horse-drawn carriage. There is a direct bus service from the airport to Borobudur by the Damri campaign.

To reach the Buddhist temple by rented car, you must leave Yogyakarta in a northwestern direction along Jalan Magelang Street. The road will pass through Sleman, Tempel, Salam, Muntilan, Palbapang, and Mendut. You can leave your car in the parking lot. A comfortable way to visit the Borobudur Temple is by cab. There is a flat rate of 300,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $20 USA) from Yogyakarta.

At the exit of the temple grounds there is a whole maze of shops with themed souvenirs, toilets are working, and you can buy refreshments and snacks here.

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