Indonesia has much to offer from rolling hills and sun drenched beaches to sparkling paddy fields, exotic coffee, cuisine and a culture that goes backs in time. One of the places to visit in Indonesia is undoubtedly Borobudur, especially if you are a history or architecture buff. Indeed the magnificent Borobudur Temple dating back to the eighth century AD should be on the itinerary of all those who are considering Indonesia tours simply because it is an architectural feat that is nothing less than a marvel. Though finally it is what Borobudur represents – a testimony to Buddhism and its teachings – that makes it also an emotional and spiritual experience for many who visit.
Borobudur Temple is the largest and one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world, indeed it took about seventy five years to finish and is a UNESCO world heritage site today. It is located in Yogyakarta, Java, in a verdant valley amidst green fields and tropical vegetation, beneath the gaze of hills ranges and volcanoes. It evokes timelessness in its structure and scale and consists of nine concentric platforms, of which six are square and three circular with a central dome. The structure of the temple with its base, body and top superstructure is in accordance with the Buddhist concept of the universe. Buddhist cosmology believes that the universe is divided into three spheres: that of desire; that of form, where we are no longer attached to desire but are still tied to name and form, and the final sphere of formlessness or nirvana.
At Borobudur Temple the base is symbolic of the first sphere and our attachment to desire. Hence the reliefs around the base represent lust, greed, gossip and other actions of daily life that shows the relationship between cause and effect. The second sphere is represented by the five square platforms and the third and the final sphere of enlightenment by the three circular platforms as well as the big stupa.
Sunrise is the time to visit the temple when the air is fresh and filled with the twittering of waking birds. Not only do you miss the heat and crowds of the latter day but also get to enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding volcanoes and hill ranges wreathed in dense early morning mist, making it well worth the 4AM wake-up call. To make a sunrise tour though you have to stay at a hotel in the area, the Manohara resort is the closest and very popular as it is affordable, and for people seeking to experience luxury Indonesia tours there are also boutique hotels that are members of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World like the ‘Villa Borobudur’.
As dawn breaks the rays of the rising sun highlight the reliefs on the temple revealing the intricate scenes that are carved into the stone around each platform. More than two thousand bas reliefs and five hundred statues of Buddha decorate the temple, including the seventy two Buddhas inside the perforated stupas on the circular platforms making for a truly impressive sight. To add to that the truly amazing fact is that the temple was built only with interlocking volcanic stone, no pestle and mortar!
Part of the allure of Borobudur lies in its mystery. It is not clear why or who built the temple other than the fact that it was built during the Sailendra reign. Then in the fourteenth century it was abandoned and remained so till 1814 when Sir Stamford Raffles, the then British ruler of Java heard about its existence through the locals, and it was discovered buried under mounds of volcanic ash and rocks from Mount Merapi. In 1975 UNESCO and the Indonesian government undertook a massive restoration project of the temple that took eight years and involved the dismantling of over one million stones that were set aside, catalogued, treated for preservation and later put back like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
During the restoration two smaller temples called Pawon and Mendu were discovered to be positioned precisely in line with Borobudur Temple, which has led experts to believe in a religious relationship between the three temples. It is the Borobudur Temple though that draws the world’s attention for its ancient history, architecture and significance as a monument of worship and pilgrimage.
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