Borobudur, a Timeless Wonder
A group of Spanish tourists caught up with me as I was climbing to the highest platform. We were all a little out of breath, at least I hope it wasn’t just me. We had just reached the top level of the largest Buddhist temple in the world: Borobudur. “Magnifico,” said the Spaniard standing beside me to his wife, wiping his thick brows with the back of his hand. Sitting right in the middle of the platform was the temple’s biggest bell-shaped stupa. “Mister, mister, can you take photo with us, please?” a teenage Indonesian boy of about fifteen approached the youngest Spaniard, who in turn looked a little bewildered at the request. His friends coaxed the bemused man to oblige the boy’s request; he posed together with the grinning youngsters.
Borobudur never ceases to amaze me. I came here over thirty years ago as a child and now even though the parking lot, the ticket office, the shops had all expanded exponentially, the temple itself can still be described as nothing short of majestic. “Try to visit Borobudur, honestly, you won’t be disappointed,” I always advise friends when I hear they are embarking on a journey to Indonesia.
The Sailendra dynasty built the largest Buddhist heritage in the world between 780-840 AD. The Sailendra dynasty was a dynasty that ruled at that time. This heritage was built as a place of worship of Buddha and a place of pilgrimage. This place contains instructions for keeping people away from the lust of the world and towards enlightenment and wisdom according to the Buddha.
This 9th century temple is available for us to visit today thanks partly to Sir Thomas Raffles. He was told of its location by native Indonesians during the brief period when he was the British ruler of Java and had the site cleared in 1814. Sourced from andesite stone quarried nearby, the temple was built without the use of mortar: the stone masons fashioned hidden knobs and indentations on the blocks to allow the temple to be put together, jigsaw-style.
Borobudur was built in the Mandala style that reflected the universe in Buddhist beliefs. The structure of the building is square in shape with four entrances and a circular center point. When viewed from the outside to the inside is divided into two parts, namely the world of nature which is divided into three zones on the outside, and the nature of Nirvana in the center.
I walked to a quieter, shaded spot to find a little relief from the tropical midday sun. I had been traipsing around all the platforms of the temple; nine of them in total. It is said that the number nine is mystic in Buddhism. Fire ants were crawling in between the reliefs carved on the stone depicting the life of Buddha. A couple of Chinese tourists standing nearby, burdened by cameras, handbags and parasol, struggled to re-tie the brightly-coloured sarong, mandatory for us all to wear around our waists. It is hard to imagine the time when all Javanese men and women had to wear long, tight sarongs as they went up and down these steep temple steps.
From the temple terrace where I was standing, I looked down towards the horizon seeing the top of the trees, the paddy fields and little villages. From up here the view probably have not changed much in the last twelve centuries. My reverie was only slightly interrupted by the music coming from somewhere nearby, it was an unusual mélange of gentle Javanese gamelan music and a much more contemporary Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls. There’s a little dichotomy. Time moves on, nobody can stop modernity but I for one, am sure that Borobudur will still be there for centuries to come.
May 19, 2019 will be held at the peak of the celebration of the Buddhist day in Borobudur which was attended by thousands of Buddhists from all over the world, in addition to religious ceremonies there is also a cultural parade from Mendut temple to the Borobudur temple.
Written by Emira, our contributor in London
Image Cover by Zakaryya Satriandhana
“Temple, a place where heaven and earth meet.”