Borobudur is a Buddhist stupa and temple complex in Central Java, Indonesia dating from the 8th century, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of world’s truly great ancient monuments, the single largest Buddhist structure anywhere on earth, and few who visit fail to be taken by both the scale of place, and the remarkable attention to detail that went into the construction. Set as it is in the heart of the verdant Kedu Plain, the backdrop of mighty active volcanoes only enhances the sense of awe and drama.
Borobudur stupas overlooking a mountain. For centuries, it was deserted.
Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty, the temple was designed in Javanese Buddhist architecture, which blends the Indonesian indigenous cult of ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. The temple also demonstrates the influences of Gupta art that reflects India’s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument and ascends to the top through three levels symbolic of Buddhist cosmology: Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades. Borobudur has the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.
Borobudur, or Barabudur, is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa. It is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, as well as one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world.
Budha’s statue on Borobudur Temple.
Evidence suggests Borobudur was constructed in the 9th century and abandoned following the 14th-century decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java and the Javanese conversion to Islam. Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There is no definite written record of who built Borobudur or why it was built. It was likely founded as a religious site in the 8th century at the peak of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java. The construction is thought to have taken a period of 75 years, and completed in about 825 CE.
The haphazard jumble of Hinduism and Buddhism from this period in Java’s history can be baffling for visitors. Together with the records of many royal marriages between Hindu and Buddhist nobles, many Hindu and Buddhist monuments were constructed in the region at this time. For example, Borobudur and the nearby Hindu Prambanan temple complex were more or less contemporaneous. This, together with many records of royal marriages between Hindu and Buddhist nobles, has led academics to believe that there was little serious conflict concerning religion in central Java at this time.
Budha’s Statue on Borobudur Temple.
Borobudur lay abandoned and hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and thick jungle growth. Nobody knows for sure why it was abandoned, although the popular theories are that the local population just became uninterested when there were mass conversions to Islam in the 15th century, or they were simply driven away by a large volcanic eruption. It was never forgotten entirely though, with local folklore ensuring that stories of the great monument lived on.
Modern day Borobudur
In 1956 UNESCO began an assessment process for the full scale restoration of the monument. Finally in 1968, a major plan to restore Borobudur was created, and this huge project involved a complete overhaul of the monument up until 1983. The unsteady foundations were stabilized, everything was meticulously cleaned and a major drainage system installed. After the works were finished, UNESCO formally listed Borobudur as a World Heritage Site in 1991. Since then, the profile of Borobudur has increased enormously, and it is now a major international tourist attraction. Its statues, reliefs and stupas have spawned millions of replicas which adorn properties worldwide.
Side view of Borobudur.
This huge popularity has its downsides. Both deliberate vandalism and general wear and tear are of great concern for the future integrity of the monument. Pleas for visitors not to touch anything are made in the form of signs, by broadcast warnings, and by the presence of guards, but this does not stop the problem. Many have called for the monument to be closed to casual visitors, and for access to be only via timed guided tours.
North-West view of Borobudur.
As well as being the single most popular tourist attraction in modern day Indonesia, Borobudur has resumed its role as an important place of worship and pilgrimage for Indonesian Buddhists. Visitors should be understanding and respectful of this, especially during major Buddhist holiday periods.
The nearest larger airports are Yogyakarta‘s Adisucipto International Airport (IATA: JOG) and Solo‘s Adisumarmo International Airport (IATA: SOC). Both are well connected domestically, and also offer some international connections to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia for example flies from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Yogyakarta daily.
It is possible, if one rushes oneself a bit, to visit Borobudur on a day trip from Bali or Jakarta. You can also via Semarang to Borobudur. There are direct flights from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to Semarang with Air Asia.
The public buses to Borobudur from Yogyakarta are aimed mostly at Indonesian visitors, and only a few tourists venture aboard, but it is simple. The buses to Borobudur leave from the Jombor bus terminal. You can get to the Jombor bus terminal by either taxi (the simplist) or by local bus. The Trans-Jogja busses 2B and 2A (Rp 3,600) runs from central Yogyakarta to Jombor bus terminal in northern Yogyakarta, where you can change to another bus to get to Borobudur Bus Terminal. The Trans-Jogja staff and Jombor station staff are very friendly and will direct you to the correct buses. Bus takes about 60-90 minutes, and will cost Rp 25,000 one way (pay on the bus). The bus will stop at Muntilan Bus Terminal inbetween for around 10-15 min. From Borobudur Bus Terminal walk 5 minutes to the south and reach the big parking lot of Brobudur Temple.
On arrival in Borobudur, exit the bus station and turn left (away from the arch like structure on the main road). There temple is only 100 m away. Many tricycle and horse cart operators will try to convince you that it is very far and want you to take their transportation.
Vesak ceremony at Borobudur.
On Vesak, Buddha’s birthday (held on the night of the full moon in May), an elaborate and colourful multi-day Buddhist festival is held at Borobudur, culminating in a candle-lit procession from Candi Mendut to Borobudur. If you are lucky enough to be visiting at this time, the procession is magical event to witness. At other times, just walking the Waisak procession route from Borobudur to Candi Mendut (or vice versa) is an excellent experience.