Borobudur - Buddhism rises to a spectacular summit (28 May)
Interesting Facts about Borobudur
THE GREATEST INSTANCE of Buddhist architecture in all of Indonesia, the massive temple complex of Borobudur is the world’s biggest Buddhist temple. It’s also debatably the largest stone structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
Constructed during the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., Borobudur was a crowning achievement of the Shailendra dynasty, a Buddhist monarchy that reigned over much of Java island. The fertile Kedu Plain of central Java, not far from modern-day Yogyakarta, was the center of their kingdom and the place where the Shailendra erected their most enduring monuments. Rising 95 feet (29 m) above the plain is Borobudur, fashioned from some two million volcanic stones gathered from the surrounding plain and fitted together in perfect harmony. From a distance, it resembles a step pyramid, but on closer examination, the temple is actually a much more complicated structure.
The architecture (and the path to the summit) reflects Buddhist cosmology—most agree that it mimics a giant mandala: three levels of human existence rising to a state of nirvana. The base is a metaphor for kamadhatu, the sphere of humanly desires; the five square terraces of the midsection represent rupadhatu, the sphere of form where humans have abandoned their desires but not yet their bodies; the three circular platforms and large stupa (or dome-shaped structure) at the summit symbolize arupadhatu, the sphere of formlessness or cosmic consciousness that marks the paramount achievement of existence.
It gets even more complex. The terraces house 72 smaller stupas and more than 500 Buddha statues. Arrayed along the walls and balustrades are 1,460 stone reliefs representing scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha as well as teachings from the dharma and sutras (rules). Many of the latter are masterpieces of Buddhist art.
Borobudur was rediscovered by Sir Stamford Raffles during the British occupation of Java during the Napoleonic Wars. It was meticulously restored in the 1970s and became a place of active Buddhist worship again.
Buddhist monks visit almost daily, but the apex of the sacred calendar is Vesak Day, when hundreds of saffron-clad monks flock to the holy site. Celebrated during a full moon in May or June, the holy day commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and passage into nirvana of Gautama Buddha.
Vesak rites also take place at nearby Mendut and Pawon Temples. Built about the same time as Borobudur, these smaller shrines are cosmically linked to the larger temple, the trio arranged in a perfect line across the plain.