Borobudur, or Barabudur (Indonesian: Candi Borobudur, Javanese:
ꦕꦤ꧀ꦣꦶꦧꦫꦧꦸꦣꦸꦂ, translit. Candhi
Barabudhur) is a 9th-century
Buddhist temple in Magelang,
Central Java, Indonesia, and the world's largest Buddhist
temple. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six
square and three circular, topped by a central dome. It 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
Built in the 9th century during the reign of the
the temple design follows Javanese Buddhist architecture, which blends
the Indonesian indigenous cult of ancestor worship and the Buddhist
concept of attaining Nirvana. The temple demonstrates the
influences of Gupta art that reflects India's influence on the region,
yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to
Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is a shrine to
Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The pilgrim
journey begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around
the monument, ascending 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
Borobudur has the largest and most complete ensemble of
Buddhist reliefs in the world.
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
Borobudur has since been preserved through several
restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between
1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, followed by the
monument's listing as a
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Borobudur remains popular for pilgrimage. Once a year, Buddhists in
Vesak at the monument, and
Indonesia's single most visited tourist attraction.
2.1 The three temples
2.2 Ancient lake hypothesis
3.5 Contemporary events
3.5.1 Religious ceremony
3.5.5 Security threats
3.5.6 Visitor overload problem
4.2 Building structure
5.1 The law of karma (Karmavibhangga)
5.2 The story of Prince Siddhartha and the birth of Buddha
5.3 The stories of Buddha's previous life (Jataka) and other legendary
5.4 Sudhana's search for the ultimate truth (Gandavyuha)
8.1 Gallery of reliefs
8.2 Gallery of Borobudur
9 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Borobudur view from the northwest, the monument was mentioned in
Karangtengah and Tri Tepusan inscription.
In Indonesian, ancient temples are referred to as candi; thus locals
refer to "
Borobudur Temple" as Candi Borobudur. The term candi also
loosely describes ancient structures, for example gates and baths. The
origins of the name Borobudur, however, are unclear, although the
original names of most ancient Indonesian temples are no longer
known. The name
Borobudur was first written in Sir Thomas
Raffles's book on Javan history. Raffles wrote about a monument
called Borobudur, but there are no older documents suggesting the same
name. The only old Javanese manuscript that hints the monument
called Budur as a holy Buddhist sanctuary is Nagarakretagama, written
by Mpu Prapanca, a Buddhist scholar of
Majapahit court, in 1365.
Most candi are named after a nearby village. If it followed Javanese
language conventions and was named after the nearby village of Bore,
the monument should have been named "BudurBoro". Raffles thought that
Budur might correspond to the modern Javanese word Buda
("ancient")—i.e., "ancient Boro". He also suggested that the name
might derive from boro, meaning "great" or "honourable" and Budur for
Buddha. However, another archaeologist suggests the second
component of the name (Budur) comes from Javanese term bhudhara
Another possible etymology suggests that
Borobudur is a corrupted
simplified local Javanese pronunciation of Biara Beduhur written in
Buddha Uhr. The term Buddha-Uhr could mean "the
city of Buddhas", while another possible term Beduhur is probably an
Old Javanese term, still survived today in Balinese vocabulary, which
means "a high place", constructed from the stem word dhuhur or luhur
(high). This suggests that
Borobudur means vihara of
Buddha located on
a high place or on a hill.
The construction and inauguration of a sacred Buddhist
building—possibly a reference to Borobudur—was mentioned in two
inscriptions, both discovered in Kedu, Temanggung Regency. The
Karangtengah inscription, dated 824, mentioned a sacred building named
Jinalaya (the realm of those who have conquered worldly desire and
reached enlightenment), inaugurated by Pramodhawardhani, daughter of
Samaratungga. The Tri Tepusan inscription, dated 842, is mentioned in
the sima, the (tax-free) lands awarded by Çrī Kahulunnan
(Pramodhawardhani) to ensure the funding and maintenance of a
Kamūlān called Bhūmisambhāra. Kamūlān is from the word mula,
which means "the place of origin", a sacred building to honor the
ancestors, probably those of the Sailendras. Casparis suggested that
Bhūmi Sambhāra Bhudhāra, which in
Sanskrit means "the mountain of
combined virtues of the ten stages of Boddhisattvahood", was the
original name of Borobudur.
Temple is surrounded by mountains nearby
The three temples
Straight-line arrangement of Borobudur, Pawon, and Mendut
Approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) northwest of
86 kilometres (53 mi) west of Surakarta,
Borobudur is located in
an elevated area between two twin volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and
Merbabu-Merapi, and two rivers, the Progo and the Elo. According to
local myth, the area known as
Kedu Plain is a Javanese "sacred" place
and has been dubbed "the garden of Java" due to its high agricultural
fertility. During the restoration in the early 20th century, it
was discovered that three Buddhist temples in the region, Borobudur,
Pawon and Mendut, are positioned along a straight line. A ritual
relationship between the three temples must have existed, although the
exact ritual process is unknown.
Ancient lake hypothesis
See also: Lake Borobudur
Speculation about a surrounding lake's existence was the subject of
intense discussion among archaeologists in the 20th century. In 1931,
a Dutch artist and scholar of Hindu and Buddhist architecture, W.O.J.
Nieuwenkamp, developed a hypothesis that the
Kedu Plain was once a
Borobudur initially represented a lotus flower floating on
the lake. It has been claimed that
Borobudur was built on a
bedrock hill, 265 m (869 ft) above sea level and 15 m
(49 ft) above the floor of a dried-out paleolake.
Dumarçay together with Professor Thanikaimoni took soil samples in
1974 and again in 1977 from trial trenches that had been dug into the
hill, as well as from the plain immediately to the south. These
samples were later analysed by Thanikaimoni, who examined their pollen
and spore content to identify the type of vegetation that had grown in
the area around the time of Borobudur's construction. They were unable
to discover any pollen or spore samples that were characteristic of
any vegetation known to grow in an aquatic environment such as a lake,
pond or marsh. The area surrounding
Borobudur appears to have been
surrounded by agricultural land and palm trees at the time of the
monument's construction, as is still the case today. Caesar Voûte and
the geomorphologist Dr J.J. Nossin in 1985–86 field studies
Borobudur lake hypothesis and confirmed the absence of
a lake around
Borobudur at the time of its construction and active use
as a sanctuary. These findings A New Perspective on Some Old Questions
Borobudur were published in the 2005
titled "The Restoration of Borobudur".
A painting by G.B. Hooijer (c. 1916—1919) reconstructing the scene
Borobudur during its heyday
There are no known records of construction or the intended purpose of
Borobudur. The duration of construction has been estimated by
comparison of carved reliefs on the temple's hidden foot and the
inscriptions commonly used in royal charters during the 8th and 9th
Borobudur was likely founded around 800 CE. This
corresponds to the period between 760 and 830 CE, the peak of the
Sailendra dynasty rule of Mataram kingdom in central Java, when it
was under the influence of the Srivijayan Empire. The construction has
been estimated to have taken 75 years with completion during the reign
Samaratungga in 825.
There is uncertainty about Hindu and Buddhist rulers in
that time. The Sailendras were known as ardent followers of Buddhism,
though stone inscriptions found at Sojomerto also suggest they may
have been Hindus. It was during this time that many Hindu and
Buddhist monuments were built on the plains and mountains around the
Kedu Plain. The Buddhist monuments, including Borobudur, were erected
around the same period as the Hindu
Prambanan temple compound.
In 732 CE, the Shivaite King Sanjaya commissioned a Shivalinga
sanctuary to be built on the Wukir hill, only 10 km (6.2 mi)
east of Borobudur.
Construction of Buddhist temples, including Borobudur, at that time
was possible because Sanjaya's immediate successor, Rakai Panangkaran,
granted his permission to the Buddhist followers to build such
temples. In fact, to show his respect, Panangkaran gave the
Kalasan to the Buddhist community, as is written in the
Kalasan Charter dated 778 CE. This has led some archaeologists to
believe that there was never serious conflict concerning religion in
Java as it was possible for a Hindu king to patronize the
establishment of a Buddhist monument; or for a Buddhist king to act
likewise. However, it is likely that there were two rival royal
Java at the time—the Buddhist
Sailendra and the Saivite
Sanjaya—in which the latter triumphed over their rival in the 856
battle on the Ratubaka plateau. Similar confusion also exists
regarding the Lara Jonggrang temple at the
Prambanan complex, which
was believed to have been erected by the victor
Rakai Pikatan as the
Sanjaya dynasty's reply to Borobudur, but others suggest that
there was a climate of peaceful coexistence where Sailendra
involvement exists in Lara Jonggrang.
Borobudur stupas overlooking a mountain. For centuries, it was
Borobudur lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and
jungle growth. The facts behind its abandonment remain a mystery. It
is not known when active use of the monument and Buddhist pilgrimage
to it ceased. Sometime between 928 and 1006, King
Mpu Sindok moved the
capital of the
Medang Kingdom to the region of East
Java after a
series of volcanic eruptions; it is not certain whether this
influenced the abandonment, but several sources mention this as the
most likely period of abandonment. The monument is mentioned
vaguely as late as c. 1365, in Mpu Prapanca's Nagarakretagama, written
Majapahit era and mentioning "the vihara in Budur".
Soekmono (1976) also mentions the popular belief that the temples were
disbanded when the population converted to Islam in the 15th
The monument was not forgotten completely, though folk stories
gradually shifted from its past glory into more superstitious beliefs
associated with bad luck and misery. Two old Javanese chronicles
(babad) from the 18th century mention cases of bad luck associated
with the monument. According to the
Babad Tanah Jawi
Babad Tanah Jawi (or the History
of Java), the monument was a fatal factor for Mas Dana, a rebel who
revolted against Pakubuwono I, the king of Mataram in 1709. It was
mentioned that the "Redi Borobudur" hill was besieged and the
insurgents were defeated and sentenced to death by the king. In the
Babad Mataram (or the History of the Mataram Kingdom), the monument
was associated with the misfortune of Prince Monconagoro, the crown
prince of the
Yogyakarta Sultanate in 1757. In spite of a taboo
against visiting the monument, "he took what is written as the knight
who was captured in a cage (a statue in one of the perforated
stupas)". Upon returning to his palace, he fell ill and died one day
Borobudur's main stupa in mid 19th-century, a wooden deck had been
installed above the main stupa.
Following its capture,
Java was under British administration from 1811
to 1816. The appointed governor was Lieutenant
Stamford Raffles, who took great interest in the history of Java. He
collected Javanese antiques and made notes through contacts with local
inhabitants during his tour throughout the island. On an inspection
Semarang in 1814, he was informed about a big monument deep in
a jungle near the village of Bumisegoro. He was not able to make
the discovery himself and sent H.C. Cornelius, a Dutch engineer, to
investigate. In two months, Cornelius and his 200 men cut down trees,
burned down vegetation and dug away the earth to reveal the monument.
Due to the danger of collapse, he could not unearth all galleries. He
reported his findings to Raffles, including various drawings. Although
the discovery is only mentioned by a few sentences, Raffles has been
credited with the monument's recovery, as one who had brought it to
the world's attention.
Hartmann, a Dutch administrator of the Kedu region, continued
Cornelius's work, and in 1835, the whole complex was finally
unearthed. His interest in
Borobudur was more personal than official.
Hartmann did not write any reports of his activities, in particular,
the alleged story that he discovered the large statue of
Buddha in the
main stupa. In 1842, Hartmann investigated the main dome, although
what he discovered is unknown and the main stupa remains empty.
Borobudur in 1872.
Dutch East Indies
Dutch East Indies government then commissioned F.C. Wilsen, a
Dutch engineering official, who studied the monument and drew hundreds
of relief sketches. J.F.G. Brumund was also appointed to make a
detailed study of the monument, which was completed in 1859. The
government intended to publish an article based on Brumund's study
supplemented by Wilsen's drawings, but Brumund refused to cooperate.
The government then commissioned another scholar, C. Leemans, who
compiled a monograph based on Brumund's and Wilsen's sources. In 1873,
the first monograph of the detailed study of
Borobudur was published,
followed by its French translation a year later. The first
photograph of the monument was taken in 1872 by a Dutch-Flemish
engraver, Isidore van Kinsbergen.
Appreciation of the site developed slowly, and it served for some time
largely as a source of souvenirs and income for "souvenir hunters" and
thieves. In 1882, the chief inspector of cultural artifacts
Borobudur be entirely disassembled with the
relocation of reliefs into museums due to the unstable condition of
the monument. As a result, the government appointed Groenveldt, an
archaeologist, to undertake a thorough investigation of the site and
to assess the actual condition of the complex; his report found that
these fears were unjustified and recommended it be left intact.
Borobudur was considered as the source of souvenirs, and parts of its
sculptures were looted, some even with colonial-government consent. In
King Chulalongkorn of
Java and requested and was
allowed to take home eight cartloads of sculptures taken from
Borobudur. These include thirty pieces taken from a number of relief
panels, five buddha images, two lions, one gargoyle, several kala
motifs from the stairs and gateways, and a guardian statue
(dvarapala). Several of these artifacts, most notably the lions,
dvarapala, kala, makara and giant waterspouts are now on display in
Java Art room in The National Museum in Bangkok.
Borobudur after Van Erp's restoration in 1911. Note the reconstructed
chhatra pinnacle on top of the main stupa (now dismantled).
Buddha from the main stupa of
Karmawibhangga Museum, to which the Buddhists give offerings, along
with the main stupa's chhatra on its back.
Borobudur attracted attention in 1885, when Yzerman, the Chairman of
the Archaeological Society in Yogyakarta, made a discovery about the
hidden foot. Photographs that reveal reliefs on the hidden foot
were made in 1890–1891. The discovery led the Dutch East Indies
government to take steps to safeguard the monument. In 1900, the
government set up a commission consisting of three officials to assess
the monument: Brandes, an art historian, Theodoor van Erp, a Dutch
army engineer officer, and Van de Kamer, a construction engineer from
the Department of Public Works.
In 1902, the commission submitted a threefold plan of proposal to the
government. First, the immediate dangers should be avoided by
resetting the corners, removing stones that endangered the adjacent
parts, strengthening the first balustrades and restoring several
niches, archways, stupas and the main dome. Second, after fencing off
the courtyards, proper maintenance should be provided and drainage
should be improved by restoring floors and spouts. Third, all loose
stones should be removed, the monument cleared up to the first
balustrades, disfigured stones removed and the main dome restored. The
total cost was estimated at that time around 48,800 Dutch guilders.
The restoration then was carried out between 1907 and 1911, using the
principles of anastylosis and led by Theodor van Erp. The first
seven months of restoration were occupied with excavating the grounds
around the monument to find missing
Buddha heads and panel stones. Van
Erp dismantled and rebuilt the upper three circular platforms and
stupas. Along the way, Van Erp discovered more things he could do to
improve the monument; he submitted another proposal, which was
approved with the additional cost of 34,600 guilders. At first glance,
Borobudur had been restored to its old glory. Van Erp went further by
carefully reconstructing the chhatra (three-tiered parasol) pinnacle
on top of the main stupa. However, he later dismantled the chhatra,
citing that there were not enough original stones used in
reconstructing the pinnacle, which means that the original design of
Borobudur's pinnacle is actually unknown. The dismantled chhatra now
is stored in Karmawibhangga Museum, a few hundred meters north from
Due to the limited budget, the restoration had been primarily focused
on cleaning the sculptures, and Van Erp did not solve the drainage
problem. Within fifteen years, the gallery walls were sagging, and the
reliefs showed signs of new cracks and deterioration. Van Erp used
concrete from which alkali salts and calcium hydroxide leached and
were transported into the rest of the construction. This caused some
problems, so that a further thorough renovation was urgently needed.
Embedding concrete and pvc pipe to improve Borobudur's drainage system
during the 1973 restoration
Small restorations had been performed since then, but not sufficient
for complete protection. During
World War II
World War II and Indonesian National
Revolution in 1945 to 1949,
Borobudur restoration efforts were halted.
The monument suffered further from the weather and drainage problems,
which caused the earth core inside the temple to expand, pushing the
stone structure and tilting the walls. By 1950s some parts of
Borobudur were facing imminent danger of collapsing. In 1965,
Indonesia asked the
UNESCO for advice on ways to counteract the
problem of weathering at
Borobudur and other monuments. In 1968
Professor Soekmono, then head of the Archeological Service of
Indonesia, launched his "Save Borobudur" campaign, in an effort to
organize a massive restoration project.
A 1968 Indonesian stamp promoting restoration of Borobudur
In the late 1960s, the Indonesian government had requested from the
international community a major renovation to protect the monument. In
1973, a master plan to restore
Borobudur was created. Through an
Agreement concerning the Voluntary Contributions to be Given for the
Execution of the Project to Preserve
Borobudur (Paris, 29 January
1973), 5 countries agreed to contribute to the restoration: Australia
Belgium (BEF fr.250,000),
Cyprus (CYP £100,000),
France (USD $77,500) and
Germany (DEM DM 2,000,000). The
Indonesian government and
UNESCO then undertook the complete overhaul
of the monument in a big restoration project between 1975 and
1982. In 1975, the actual work began. Over one million stones were
dismantled and removed during the restoration, and set aside like
pieces of a massive jig-saw puzzle to be individually identified,
catalogued, cleaned and treated for preservation.
Borobudur became a
testing ground for new conservation techniques, including new
procedures to battle the microorganisms attacking the stone. The
foundation was stabilized, and all 1,460 panels were cleaned. The
restoration involved the dismantling of the five square platforms and
the improvement of drainage by embedding water channels into the
monument. Both impermeable and filter layers were added. This colossal
project involved around 600 people to restore the monument and cost a
total of US$6,901,243.
After the renovation was finished,
Borobudur as a World
Heritage Site in 1991. It is listed under Cultural criteria (i) "to
represent a masterpiece of human creative genius", (ii) "to exhibit an
important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a
cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or
technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design", and
(vi) "to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living
traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary
works of outstanding universal significance".
Buddhist pilgrims meditate on the top platform
Following the major 1973 renovation funded by UNESCO,
once again used as a place of worship and pilgrimage. Once a year,
during the full moon in May or June, Buddhists in
Vesak (Indonesian: Waisak) day commemorating the birth, death, and the
time when Siddhārtha Gautama attained the highest wisdom to become
Vesak is an official national holiday in
Indonesia, and the ceremony is centered at the three Buddhist
temples by walking from
Pawon and ending at Borobudur.
Vesak ceremony at Borobudur
The monument is the single most visited tourist attraction in
Indonesia. In 1974, 260,000 tourists, of whom 36,000 were foreigners,
visited the monument. The figure climbed to 2.5 million visitors
annually (80% were domestic tourists) in the mid-1990s, before the
country's economic crisis. Tourism development, however, has been
criticized for not including the local community, giving rise to
occasional conflicts. In 2003, residents and small businesses
Borobudur organized several meetings and poetry protests,
objecting to a provincial government plan to build a three-storey mall
complex, dubbed the "
International tourism awards were given to
park, such as PATA Grand Pacific Award 2004, PATA Gold Award Winner
2011, and PATA Gold Award Winner 2012. In June 2012,
recorded in the
Guinness Book of World Records
Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest
Buddhist archaeological site.
Tourists in Borobudur
UNESCO identified three specific areas of concern under the present
state of conservation: (i) vandalism by visitors; (ii) soil erosion in
the south-eastern part of the site; and (iii) analysis and restoration
of missing elements. The soft soil, the numerous earthquakes and
heavy rains lead to the destabilization of the structure. Earthquakes
are by far the most important contributing factors, since not only do
stones fall down and arches crumble, but the earth itself can move in
waves, further destroying the structure. The increasing popularity
of the stupa brings in many visitors, most of whom are from Indonesia.
Despite warning signs on all levels not to touch anything, the regular
transmission of warnings over loudspeakers and the presence of guards,
vandalism on reliefs and statues is a common occurrence and problem,
leading to further deterioration. As of 2009, there is no system in
place to limit the number of visitors allowed per day or to introduce
mandatory guided tours only.
In August 2014, the Conservation Authority of
Borobudur reported some
severe abrasion of the stone stairs caused by the scraping of
visitors' footwear. The conservation authority planned to install
wooden stairs to cover and protect the original stone stairs, just
like those installed in Angkor Wat.
Borobudur relative to
Mount Merapi and Yogyakarta
Borobudur was heavily affected by the eruption of
Mount Merapi in
October and November 2010.
Volcanic ash from Merapi fell on the temple
complex, which is approximately 28 kilometres (17 mi)
west-southwest of the crater. A layer of ash up to 2.5 centimetres
(1 in) thick fell on the temple statues during the eruption
of 3–5 November, also killing nearby vegetation, with experts
fearing that the acidic ash might damage the historic site. The temple
complex was closed from 5 to 9 November to clean up the
UNESCO donated US$3 million as a part of the costs towards the
Borobudur after Mount Merapi's 2010 eruption.
More than 55,000 stone blocks comprising the temple's structure were
dismantled to restore the drainage system, which had been clogged by
slurry after the rain. The restoration was finished in November.
In January 2012, two German stone-conservation experts spent ten days
at the site analyzing the temples and making recommendations to ensure
their long-term preservation. In June,
Germany agreed to
contribute $130,000 to
UNESCO for the second phase of rehabilitation,
in which six experts in stone conservation, microbiology, structural
engineering and chemical engineering would spend a week in Borobudur
in June, then return for another visit in September or October. These
missions would launch the preservation activities recommended in the
January report and would include capacity building activities to
enhance the preservation capabilities of governmental staff and young
On 14 February 2014, major tourist attractions in
Central Java, including Borobudur,
Prambanan and Ratu Boko, were
closed to visitors, after being severely affected by the volcanic ash
from the eruption of
Kelud volcano in East Java, located around 200
kilometers east from Yogyakarta. Workers covered the iconic stupas and
Borobudur temple to protect the structure from volcanic
Kelud volcano erupted on 13 February 2014 with an explosion
heard as far away as Yogyakarta.
On 21 January 1985, nine stupas were badly damaged by nine
bombs. In 1991, a blind Muslim preacher, Husein Ali Al
Habsyie, was sentenced to life imprisonment for masterminding a series
of bombings in the mid-1980s, including the temple attack. Two
other members of the Islamic extremist group that carried out the
bombings were each sentenced to 20 years in 1986, and another man
received a 13-year prison term.
On 27 May 2006, an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude struck the south coast
of Central Java. The event caused severe damage around the region and
casualties to the nearby city of Yogyakarta, but
In August 2014, Indonesian police and security forces tightened the
security in and around
Borobudur temple compound, as a precaution to a
threat posted on social media by a self-proclaimed Indonesian branch
of ISIS, citing that the terrorists planned to destroy
other statues in Indonesia. The security improvements included the
repair and increased deployment of
CCTV monitors and the
implementation of a night patrol in and around the temple compound.
The jihadist group follows a strict interpretation of Islam that
condemns any anthropomorphic representations such as sculptures as
Visitor overload problem
The high volume of visitors ascending the Borobudur's narrow stairs,
has caused a severe wear out on the stone of the stairs, eroding the
stones surface and made them thinner and smoother. Overall, Borobudur
has 2,033 surfaces of stone stairs, spread over four cardinal
directions; including the west side, the east, south and north. There
are around 1,028 surfaces of them, or about 49.15 percent, that are
severely worn out.
To avoid further wear of stairs' stones, since November 2014, two main
Borobudur stairs — the eastern (ascending route) and
northern (descending route) sides — are covered with wooden
structures. The similar technique has been applied in
Angkor Wat in
Cambodia and Egyptian Pyramids. In March 2015, Borobudur
Conservation Center proposed further to seal the stairs with rubber
cover. Proposals have also been made that visitors be issued
The archaeological excavation into
Borobudur during reconstruction
suggests that adherents of Hinduism or a pre-Indic faith had already
begun to erect a large structure on Borobudur's hill before the site
was appropriated by Buddhists. The foundations are unlike any Hindu or
Buddhist shrine structures, and therefore, the initial structure is
considered more indigenous Javanese than Hindu or Buddhist.
Borobudur ground plan taking the form of a Mandala
Borobudur is built as a single large stupa and, when viewed from
above, takes the form of a giant tantric Buddhist mandala,
simultaneously representing the
Buddhist cosmology and the nature of
mind. The original foundation is a square, approximately 118
metres (387 ft) on each side. It has nine platforms, of which the
lower six are square and the upper three are circular. The upper
platform features seventy-two small stupas surrounding one large
central stupa. Each stupa is bell-shaped and pierced by numerous
decorative openings. Statues of the
Buddha sit inside the pierced
The design of
Borobudur took the form of a step pyramid. Previously,
the prehistoric Austronesian megalithic culture in
constructed several earth mounds and stone step pyramid structures
called punden berundak as discovered in Pangguyangan site near
Cisolok and in Cipari near Kuningan. The construction of stone
pyramids is based on native beliefs that mountains and high places are
the abode of ancestral spirits or hyangs.  The punden berundak
step pyramid is the basic design in Borobudur, believed to be the
continuation of older megalithic tradition incorporated with Mahayana
Buddhist ideas and symbolism.
Borobudur architectural model
The monument's three divisions symbolize the three "realms" of
Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu
(the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world).
Ordinary sentient beings live out their lives on the lowest level, the
realm of desire. Those who have burnt out all desire for continued
existence leave the world of desire and live in the world on the level
of form alone: they see forms but are not drawn to them. Finally, full
Buddhas go beyond even form and experience reality at its purest, most
fundamental level, the formless ocean of nirvana. The liberation
from the cycle of
Saṃsāra where the enlightened soul had no longer
attached to worldly form corresponds to the concept of Śūnyatā, the
complete voidness or the nonexistence of the self. Kāmadhātu is
represented by the base, Rupadhatu by the five square platforms (the
body), and Arupadhatu by the three circular platforms and the large
topmost stupa. The architectural features between the three stages
have metaphorical differences. For instance, square and detailed
decorations in the Rupadhatu disappear into plain circular platforms
in the Arupadhatu to represent how the world of forms—where men are
still attached with forms and names—changes into the world of the
Congregational worship in
Borobudur is performed in a walking
pilgrimage. Pilgrims are guided by the system of staircases and
corridors ascending to the top platform. Each platform represents one
stage of enlightenment. The path that guides pilgrims was designed to
symbolize Buddhist cosmology.
In 1885, a hidden structure under the base was accidentally
discovered. The "hidden footing" contains reliefs, 160 of which
are narratives describing the real Kāmadhātu. The remaining reliefs
are panels with short inscriptions that apparently provide
instructions for the sculptors, illustrating the scenes to be
carved. The real base is hidden by an encasement base, the purpose
of which remains a mystery. It was first thought that the real base
had to be covered to prevent a disastrous subsidence of the monument
into the hill. There is another theory that the encasement base
was added because the original hidden footing was incorrectly
designed, according to Vastu Shastra, the Indian ancient book about
architecture and town planning. Regardless of why it was
commissioned, the encasement base was built with detailed and
meticulous design and with aesthetic and religious consideration.
Half cross-section with 4:6:9 height ratio for foot, body and head,
Approximately 55,000 cubic metres (72,000 cu yd) of andesite
stones were taken from neighbouring stone quarries to build the
monument. The stone was cut to size, transported to the site and
laid without mortar. Knobs, indentations and dovetails were used to
form joints between stones. The roof of stupas, niches and arched
gateways were constructed in corbelling method. Reliefs were created
in situ after the building had been completed.
The monument is equipped with a good drainage system to cater to the
area's high stormwater run-off. To prevent flooding, 100 spouts are
installed at each corner, each with a unique carved gargoyle in the
shape of a giant or makara.
Borobudur through arches of Kala
A narrow corridor with reliefs on the wall
Borobudur differs markedly from the general design of other structures
built for this purpose. Instead of being built on a flat surface,
Borobudur is built on a natural hill. However, construction technique
is similar to other temples in Java. Without the inner spaces seen in
other temples, and with a general design similar to the shape of
Borobudur was first thought more likely to have served as a
stupa, instead of a temple. A stupa is intended as a shrine for
the Buddha. Sometimes stupas were built only as devotional symbols of
Buddhism. A temple, on the other hand, is used as a house of worship.
The meticulous complexity of the monument's design suggests that
Borobudur is in fact a temple.
Little is known about Gunadharma, the architect of the complex.
His name is recounted from Javanese folk tales rather than from
The basic unit of measurement used during construction was the tala,
defined as the length of a human face from the forehead's hairline to
the tip of the chin or the distance from the tip of the thumb to the
tip of the middle finger when both fingers are stretched at their
maximum distance. The unit is thus relative from one individual to
the next, but the monument has exact measurements. A survey conducted
in 1977 revealed frequent findings of a ratio of 4:6:9 around the
monument. The architect had used the formula to lay out the precise
dimensions of the fractal and self-similar geometry in Borobudur's
design. This ratio is also found in the designs of
Mendut, nearby Buddhist temples. Archeologists have conjectured that
the 4:6:9 ratio and the tala have calendrical, astronomical and
cosmological significance, as is the case with the temple of Angkor
Wat in Cambodia.
The main structure can be divided into three components: base, body,
and top. The base is 123 m × 123 m (404 ft
× 404 ft) in size with 4 metres (13 ft) walls. The
body is composed of five square platforms, each of diminishing height.
The first terrace is set back 7 metres (23 ft) from the edge of
the base. Each subsequent terrace is set back 2 metres (6.6 ft),
leaving a narrow corridor at each stage. The top consists of three
circular platforms, with each stage supporting a row of perforated
stupas, arranged in concentric circles. There is one main dome at the
center, the top of which is the highest point of the monument, 35
metres (115 ft) above ground level. Stairways at the center of
each of the four sides give access to the top, with a number of arched
gates overlooked by 32 lion statues. The gates are adorned with Kala's
head carved on top of each and Makaras projecting from each side. This
Kala-Makara motif is commonly found on the gates of Javanese temples.
The main entrance is on the eastern side, the location of the first
narrative reliefs. Stairways on the slopes of the hill also link the
monument to the low-lying plain.
The position of narrative bas-reliefs stories on
Borobudur is constructed in such a way that it reveals various levels
of terraces, showing intricate architecture that goes from being
heavily ornamented with bas-reliefs to being plain in Arupadhatu
circular terraces. The first four terrace walls are showcases for
bas-relief sculptures. These are exquisite, considered to be the most
elegant and graceful in the ancient Buddhist world.
The bas-reliefs in
Borobudur depicted many scenes of daily life in
8th-century ancient Java, from the courtly palace life, hermit in the
forest, to those of commoners in the village. It also depicted temple,
marketplace, various flora and fauna, and also native vernacular
architecture. People depicted here are the images of king, queen,
princes, noblemen, courtier, soldier, servant, commoners, priest and
hermit. The reliefs also depicted mythical spiritual beings in
Buddhist beliefs such as asuras, gods, bodhisattvas, kinnaras,
gandharvas and apsaras. The images depicted on bas-relief often served
as reference for historians to research for certain subjects, such as
the study of architecture, weaponry, economy, fashion, and also mode
of transportation of 8th-century Maritime Southeast Asia. One of the
famous renderings of an 8th-century Southeast Asian double outrigger
Borobudur Ship. Today, the actual-size replica of
Borobudur Ship that had sailed from
Indonesia to Africa in 2004 is
displayed in the Samudra Raksa Museum, located a few hundred meters
north of Borobudur.
Borobudur reliefs also pay close attention to Indian aesthetic
discipline, such as pose and gesture that contain certain meanings and
aesthetic value. The reliefs of noblemen, and noble women, kings, or
divine beings such as apsaras, taras and boddhisattvas are usually
portrayed in tribhanga pose, the three-bend pose on neck, hips, and
knee, with one leg resting and one upholding the body weight. This
position is considered as the most graceful pose, such as the figure
Surasundari holding a lotus.
Borobudur excavation, archeologists discovered colour pigments
of blue, red, green, black, as well as bits of gold foil, and
concluded that the monument that we see today — a dark gray mass of
volcanic stone, lacking in colour — was probably once coated with
varjalepa white plaster and then painted with bright colors, serving
perhaps as a beacon of Buddhist teaching. The same vajralepa
plaster can also be found in Sari,
Sewu temples. It is
likely that the bas-reliefs of
Borobudur was originally quite
colourful, before centuries of torrential tropical rainfalls
peeled-off the colour pigments.
Narrative Panels Distribution
Borobudur contains approximately 2,670 individual bas reliefs (1,460
narrative and 1,212 decorative panels), which cover the façades and
balustrades. The total relief surface is 2,500 square metres
(27,000 sq ft), and they are distributed at the hidden foot
(Kāmadhātu) and the five square platforms (Rupadhatu).
The narrative panels, which tell the story of
Manohara, are grouped into 11 series that encircle the monument
with a total length of 3,000 metres (9,800 ft). The hidden foot
contains the first series with 160 narrative panels, and the remaining
10 series are distributed throughout walls and balustrades in four
galleries starting from the eastern entrance stairway to the left.
Narrative panels on the wall read from right to left, while those on
the balustrade read from left to right. This conforms with pradaksina,
the ritual of circumambulation performed by pilgrims who move in a
clockwise direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right.
The hidden foot depicts the workings of karmic law. The walls of the
first gallery have two superimposed series of reliefs; each consists
of 120 panels. The upper part depicts the biography of the Buddha,
while the lower part of the wall and also the balustrades in the first
and the second galleries tell the story of the Buddha's former
lives. The remaining panels are devoted to Sudhana's further
wandering about his search, terminated by his attainment of the
The law of karma (Karmavibhangga)
The Karmavibangga scene on Borobudur's hidden foot, on the right
depicting sinful act of killing and cooking turtles and fishes, on the
left those who make living by killing animals will be tortured in
hell, by being cooked alive, being cut, or being thrown into burning
The 160 hidden panels do not form a continuous story, but each panel
provides one complete illustration of cause and effect. There are
depictions of blameworthy activities, from gossip to murder, with
their corresponding punishments. There are also praiseworthy
activities, that include charity and pilgrimage to sanctuaries, and
their subsequent rewards. The pains of hell and the pleasure of heaven
are also illustrated. There are scenes of daily life, complete with
the full panorama of samsara (the endless cycle of birth and death).
The encasement base of the
Borobudur temple was dissembled to reveal
the hidden foot, and the reliefs were photographed by Casijan Chepas
in 1890. It is these photographs that are displayed in Borobudur
Museum (Karmawibhangga Museum), located just several hundred meters
north of the temple. During the restoration, the foot encasement was
reinstalled, covering the Karmawibhangga reliefs. Today, only the
southeast corner of the hidden foot is revealed and visible for
The story of Prince Siddhartha and the birth of Buddha
Siddhartha Gautama became an ascetic hermit.
Queen Maya riding horse carriage retreating to
Lumbini to give birth
to Prince Siddhartha Gautama
Main article: The birth of
The story starts with the descent of the
Lord Buddha from the Tushita
heaven and ends with his first sermon in the Deer Park near
Benares. The relief shows the birth of the
Buddha as Prince
Siddhartha, son of King
Queen Maya of Kapilavastu (in
The story is preceded by 27 panels showing various preparations, in
the heavens and on the earth, to welcome the final incarnation of the
Bodhisattva. Before descending from
Tushita heaven, the
Bodhisattva entrusted his crown to his successor, the future Buddha
Maitreya. He descended on earth in the shape of white elephants with
six tusks, penetrated to Queen Maya's right womb.
Queen Maya had a
dream of this event, which was interpreted that his son would become
either a sovereign or a Buddha.
Queen Maya felt that it was the time to give birth, she went to
Lumbini park outside the Kapilavastu city. She stood under a
plaksa tree, holding one branch with her right hand, and she gave
birth to a son, Prince Siddhartha. The story on the panels continues
until the prince becomes the Buddha.
The stories of Buddha's previous life (Jataka) and other legendary
Jatakas are stories about the
Buddha before he was born as Prince
Siddhartha. They are the stories that tell about the previous
lives of the Buddha, in both human and animal form. The future Buddha
may appear in them as a king, an outcast, a god, an elephant—but, in
whatever form, he exhibits some virtue that the tale thereby
inculcates. Avadanas are similar to jatakas, but the main figure
is not the
Bodhisattva himself. The saintly deeds in avadanas are
attributed to other legendary persons. Jatakas and avadanas are
treated in one and the same series in the reliefs of Borobudur.
The first twenty lower panels in the first gallery on the wall depict
the Sudhanakumaravadana, or the saintly deeds of Sudhana. The first
135 upper panels in the same gallery on the balustrades are devoted to
the 34 legends of the Jatakamala. The remaining 237 panels depict
stories from other sources, as do the lower series and panels in the
second gallery. Some jatakas are depicted twice, for example the story
of King Sibhi (Rama's forefather).
Sudhana's search for the ultimate truth (Gandavyuha)
Gandavyuha is the story told in the final chapter of the Avatamsaka
Sutra about Sudhana's tireless wandering in search of the Highest
Perfect Wisdom. It covers two galleries (third and fourth) and also
half of the second gallery, comprising in total of 460 panels. The
principal figure of the story, the youth Sudhana, son of an extremely
rich merchant, appears on the 16th panel. The preceding 15 panels form
a prologue to the story of the miracles during Buddha's samadhi in the
Garden of Jeta at Sravasti.
During his search,
Sudhana visited no fewer than thirty teachers, but
none of them had satisfied him completely. He was then instructed by
Manjusri to meet the monk Megasri, where he was given the first
doctrine. As his journey continues,
Sudhana meets (in the following
order) Supratisthita, the physician Megha (Spirit of Knowledge), the
banker Muktaka, the monk Saradhvaja, the upasika Asa (Spirit of
Supreme Enlightenment), Bhismottaranirghosa, the
Princess Maitrayani, the monk Sudarsana, a boy called Indriyesvara,
the upasika Prabhuta, the banker Ratnachuda, King Anala, the god Siva
Mahadeva, Queen Maya,
Maitreya and then back to Manjusri.
Each meeting has given
Sudhana a specific doctrine, knowledge and
wisdom. These meetings are shown in the third gallery.
After the last meeting with Manjusri,
Sudhana went to the residence of
Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, depicted in the fourth gallery. The entire
series of the fourth gallery is devoted to the teaching of
Samantabhadra. The narrative panels finally end with Sudhana's
achievement of the Supreme Knowledge and the Ultimate Truth.
Buddha statue with the hand position of dharmachakra mudra
Apart from the story of the
Buddhist cosmology carved in stone,
Borobudur has many statues of various Buddhas. The cross-legged
statues are seated in a lotus position and distributed on the five
square platforms (the Rupadhatu level), as well as on the top platform
(the Arupadhatu level).
Buddha statues are in niches at the Rupadhatu level, arranged in
rows on the outer sides of the balustrades, the number of statues
decreasing as platforms progressively diminish to the upper level. The
first balustrades have 104 niches, the second 104, the third 88, the
fourth 72 and the fifth 64. In total, there are 432
Buddha statues at
the Rupadhatu level. At the Arupadhatu level (or the three circular
Buddha statues are placed inside perforated stupas. The
first circular platform has 32 stupas, the second 24 and the third 16,
which adds up to 72 stupas. Of the original 504
over 300 are damaged (mostly headless), and 43 are missing. Since the
monument's discovery, heads have been acquired as collector's items,
mostly by Western museums. Some of these
Buddha heads are now
displayed in numbers of museums, such as the
Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam
The British Museum
The British Museum in London.
Head from a
Buddha statue in Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.
Buddha statue in Borobudur, since its discovery numbers of
Buddha's head has been stolen and ended up in museums abroad.
Lion gate guardian
At first glance, all the
Buddha statues appear similar, but there is a
subtle difference between them in the mudras, or the position of the
hands. There are five groups of mudra: North, East, South, West and
Zenith, which represent the five cardinal compass points according to
Mahayana. The first four balustrades have the first four mudras:
North, East, South and West, of which the
Buddha statues that face one
compass direction have the corresponding mudra.
Buddha statues at the
fifth balustrades and inside the 72 stupas on the top platform have
the same mudra: Zenith. Each mudra represents one of the Five Dhyani
Buddhas; each has its own symbolism.
Following the order of Pradakshina (clockwise circumumbulation)
starting from the East, the mudras of the
Borobudur buddha statues
Location of the Statue
Calling the Earth to witness
Rupadhatu niches on the first four eastern balustrades
Benevolence, alms giving
Rupadhatu niches on the first four southern balustrades
Concentration and meditation
Rupadhatu niches on the first four western balustrades
Rupadhatu niches on the first four northern balustrades
Reasoning and virtue
Rupadhatu niches in all directions on the fifth (uppermost) balustrade
Turning the Wheel of dharma (law)
Arupadhatu in 72 perforated stupas on three rounded platforms
Nehru to visit
Borobudur in June 1950.
The aesthetic and technical mastery of Borobudur, and also its sheer
size, has evoked the sense of grandeur and pride for Indonesians. Just
Angkor Wat for Cambodian,
Borobudur has become a powerful symbol
Indonesia — to testify for its past greatness.
Sukarno made a
point of showing the site to foreign dignitaries. The
— realized its important symbolic and economic meanings —
diligently embarked on a massive project to restore the monument with
the help from UNESCO. Many museums in
Indonesia contain a scale model
replica of Borobudur. The monument has become almost an icon, grouped
with the wayang puppet play and gamelan music into a vague classical
Javanese past from which Indonesians are to draw inspiration.
Central Java displaying Borobudur.
Several archaeological relics taken from
Borobudur or its replica have
been displayed in some museums in
Indonesia and abroad. Other than
Karmawibhangga Museum within
Borobudur temple ground, some museums
boast to host relics of Borobudur, such as Indonesian National Museum
Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam,
British Museum in London, and
Thai National Museum in Bangkok.
Louvre museum in Paris, Malaysian
National Museum in Kuala Lumpur, and
Museum of World Religions in
Taipei also displayed the replica of Borobudur. The monument has
drawn global attention to the classical Buddhist civilization of
The rediscovery and reconstruction of
Borobudur has been hailed by
Indonesian Buddhist as the sign of the Buddhist revival in Indonesia.
In 1934, Narada Thera, a missionary monk from Sri Lanka, visited
Indonesia for the first time as part of his journey to spread the
Dharma in Southeast Asia. This opportunity was used by a few local
Buddhists to revive
Buddhism in Indonesia. A bodhi tree planting
ceremony was held in Southeastern side of
Borobudur on 10 March 1934
under the blessing of Narada Thera, and some Upasakas were ordained as
monks. Once a year, thousands of Buddhist from
neighboring countries flock to
Borobudur to commemorate national Vesak
The emblem of
Central Java province and
Magelang Regency bears the
image of Borobudur. It has become the symbol of Central Java, and also
Indonesia on a wider scale.
Borobudur has become the name of several
establishments, such as
Borobudur Hotel in
Central Jakarta, and several Indonesian restaurants abroad. Borobudur
has been featured in
Rupiah banknote, stamps, numbers of books,
publications, documentaries and Indonesian tourism promotion
materials. The monument has become one of the main tourism attraction
in Indonesia, vital for generating local economy in the region
surrounding the temple. The tourism sector of the city of Yogyakarta
for example, flourishes partly because of its proximity to Borobudur
Gallery of reliefs
Relief panel of a ship at Borobudur.
Musicians performing a musical ensemble, probably the early form of
Apsara of Borobudur.
The scene of King and Queen with their subjects.
One relief on a corridor wall.
A weapon, probably the early form of keris.
A detailed carved relief stone.
Tara holding a Chamara
Surasundari holding a lotus
Close up of a relief
Great Departure from Lalitavistara
Gallery of Borobudur
World Heritage inscription of
The procedures signage for visiting
The inscription of
Borobudur restoration in 1973 by the former
Indonesian president Soeharto
The scattered parts of
Temple at Karmawibhangga Museum.
People still can't locate their original positions.
Buddha statue inside a stupa
Ancient monuments of Java
Architecture of Indonesia
Candi of Indonesia
Trail of Civilizations
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