A heritage centre.
By D.B.N. Murthy
This must have been a place for pilgrimage for thousands of people who came to worship Lord Buddha in whose honour the Borobudur temple complex was built in the 9th century A.D. By that time Buddhism had made inroads into some of the South-East Asian countries including Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Those who conceived the monument on a gigantic scale had a good sense of aesthetics as they carved delicate figures in stone with utmost care and devotion. No visit to Indonesia can be complete without a trip to the World Heritage Site of Borobudur. Though largely a Muslim nation, Indonesia has taken care to preserve this monument.
The archaeological site of Borobudur is near the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and easily reached by road. The discovery of Borobudur temple is credited to Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles in 1814. He took keen interest in restoring the temple to its original condition, as far as practicable. The site was cleared of undergrowth and then the extent of damage could be assessed for restoration efforts that would take considerable time and money. What began as a modest conservation effort during 1905-1910 was the first phase under Dr Tb van Erp. The second phase, which commenced in 1913, was completed in1983, thanks to the assistance of UNESCO.
The temple of Borobudur, located on a small hillock, is of a massive scale rising to a height of 42 metres but now, after restoration, is 34.5 metres only, standing in an area of 123×123 metres. Ten levels represent the ten stages of the Bodhisatva. It is the largest Buddhist religious site in the world discovered, drawing crowds, the curious to the devout, from near and far.
Thus, crowds at times, up the monument resemble a mela, people jostling for space. Given such a situation, littering is unfortunately common. What a visitor sorely misses is the information on the monument at site since no signboards are put up for that purpose. Private guides are available on payment to be negotiated in advance. From each of the levels, the view of the surroundings, of hills, valleys and mountain stream, and of the monument itself from different angles, is enchanting. Lighting at night makes the monument appear ethereal.
A pair of lion statues guards the main entrance to the flight of narrow steps up the levels. Statues of Buddha, in many types of images -headless to arms cut, are located at various places on each level. An amazing 432 number of Buddha statues sit on the terraces. On the upper circular terraces, latticed stupas have Buddha statues, a total of 72. At the top is a statue of Buddha in serene meditation. 1500 narrative stone panels on the terraces tell the story of Buddha and the jataka tales. From this, one can see the high degree of organisation, planning and construction, which must have gone to build such a colossal monument over 1000 years ago.
Karma Wibhangga Museum has details of the restoration project with the help of photographs. Then there are stone panels from the archaeological site which depict various scenes – Bad effect of killing birds, offering alms and teaching, Swarga, view of the heaven, teaching for the followers and so on, akin to the Hindu mythology. In a pavilion outside, some of the ancient musical instruments of the earlier times are kept for public viewing. The museum has a few statutes of Hindu gods like Ganesha and a few broken pieces of sculpture recovered from the archaeological site.
Borobudur is worth a visit where one can view a World Heritage Centre kept in a fair degree of maintenance. The monument is so gigantic yet aesthetically so appealing. In the past, it might have lost its importance with the decline of Buddhism, but for any present-day visitor, it is a step back into history to glimpse into a glorious civilisation.
How to reach: By road from Yogyakarta a distance of 41 kms. Buses, minibuses and taxis can be hired
Where to stay: Borobudur Guest House and other private lodges. One can stay in Yogyakarta, hotels and lodges (about US$35 for two per day gets a decent room with A/C) and make a day’s trip.
When to go: Throughout the year. Weather: Hot and humid
Entry fee: About US$10, this includes use of tram within the archaeological site
Note: Umbrella (sold on site), sun cap / hat, bottled water, comfortable footwear, cotton wear recommended