Borobudur – Indonesia


It is no surprise that Borobudur is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.  Built near 800AD during the Sailendra Dynasty, it was lost to the jungle and volcanic ash near 1000AD.  After it’s rediscovery and refurbishment, it has become used widely for Buddhist ceremonies as early as 1973.  It’s refurbishment was no small task.  France, Cyprus, Belgium, Australia, and Germany all contributed to the restoration, which lasted from 1975 to 1982 and cost nearly seven million dollars.  Workers disassembled the temple chunk by chunk and then put it back together.  Unfortunately they had some pieces left over.  (Citation wiki)  (Here is a great link with a variety of early pictures during reconstruction if you are interested click here).

Paying attention to all the details at this temple is difficult.  With 2,672 reliefs, 504 statues, and 72 large Buddha statues within the 72 stupas on the top three circular levels, there was certainly a lot to see.  However, given the design structure, it was not designed as a museum but as something for pilgrims to experience.  Original writings on the temple were lost, so there are lots of new interpretations of the different sections of the temple.

The temple is a step pyramid.  The lower section is the realm of desires, the middle section the realm of forms, and the top layer is enlightenment or nirvana.  Pilgrims to Borobudur climb their way through a series of staircases and walk around the different levels to symbolize their spiritual journey out of the world of desire (Kamadhatu), forms (Rupahatu),  and then formlessness (Arupadhatu).

Image Credit: Wiki

Like most crazy tourists-non-pilgrims, we rushed to the top  to catch the early morning light on the stupas.  (As if enlightenment can be attained so quickly).  Prepare yourself for some stupa-mania.

It was crowded at the top of the three circular “enlightenment levels”.  We rushed to the top and wandered about in awe of this phenomenal site, without really understanding the journey.  In this snap the differences between the top circle stupas and the lower circles can be seen.  Dovetail construction with rhombus openings versus square construction and square openings.  All of these blocks were put together without mortar.  Nameless stone-workers from centuries past notched each stone so they would fit together.
Within each stupa is a Buddha statue.  Each Buddha has a different pose depending on whether they face North, East, West, or South.
Many of the statues within the stupas were missing arms, heads, or other pieces of their body.  Some were gifted, stolen, or destroyed by looters, extremists, or by time.
Sharleen and Kylie share a moment together to take in the serene splendor before them.
Getting a shot like this took patience that only Sharleen could muster.  With so many people mulling around looking for the perfect angle meant someone was always in the frame.  I don’t know how she did it.
The location of this temple was no accident.  Before the sprawling cities and townships that lie here now, this valley, nestled between two volcanoes was extremely fertile farmland.

After getting our stupa fix, we started our walk along the balustrades to admire the reliefs.  There were five levels of balustrades to walk around.  Both sides were covered, with reliefs depicting stories from Buddhism lore.  Some seemed tied to the direction of the Buddha statues.  For example, in the South facing section, the Buddha statues were posed signifying benevolence and alms giving.  In this area, some of the reliefs clearly showed charity.  The archaeologists say the the stone was placed, and the the relief was carved directly into the stone.  The weather and tourist traffic are causing wear and tear on the reliefs.  In fact I overheard one guide saying that some of the reliefs will become indistinguishable within the next 50 years.  With 2,672 reliefs, that meant a lot of stone work.  It also becomes even more impressive knowing that they are all taken apart and reassembled in a giant three dimensional puzzle.  Kudos to the engineers who mapped out, executed it, and put it back together.

A typical relief

Many Buddha statues strike different poses.

Benevolence and alms giving Meditation and Concentration

The UNESCO restoration from 1973-1982 was a massive task.  Removing all stones, labeling them, washing and scrubbing, and disinfecting to remove fungus while the drainage system was redone and the foundation shored up was a big job.  Then all the stones had to be put back together.  It is understandable that there would be some mistakes and leftovers.

Original Temple Leftovers can be seen in the museum on site.

Here you can see the UNESCO replaced stone, as the original was destroyed or lost.

The three rocks above the relief are clearly out of place and not part of the original temple.

Like many early constructions, the math and architectural knowledge to create them is more than rudimentary.  Here is a great article about the fractals of  Borobadur. (Click Here).  Moreover, the layout of the temple is akin to a Buddhist Mandala which is a sophisticated geometric structure.

Photocredit: UNESCO Appears in Temple brochure

Exiting the grounds, we were funneled into the tourist shops.  Foods, treats, trinkets, and memorabilia galore.  We navigated nearly one whole city block of shanty shacks full of every knick-knack one could want.

It was hard to meditate on this grand temple as we were all tired and we needed to pack up for a local bus back to Yogyakarta.  (The ride back was super easy, as there was a direct bus from Borobadur to Ygyarkarta.  The bus  would slow to a crawl and passengers would hop on or off and then speed up again.  For only 25K per person it wasn’t bad, if you didn’t mind all the people smoking.)

Early Civilization Time Line (Click Here)


  1. […] We saw both amazing human accomplishments (like the Pyramids of Egypt, The Great Wall, Petra, Borobudur, My Son and many more) and some of the worst human failures like air quality in India, the killing […]


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