You probably wouldn’t expect to see one of the world’s most magnificent Buddhist temples in Islamic Indonesia, and for many years it was lost in time, covered by volcanic ash and jungle, but the temple of Borobudur near the city of Yogyakarta on the island of Java is the world’s biggest Buddhist monument.
Although all facts about the temple are not clear, Borobudur was most likely built in the 9th century. Indian traders were responsible for introducing both Buddhism and Hinduism to the islands which now make up Indonesia. Of course, back in the 9th century there was no unity amongst the islands, as the archipelago consisted of a network of local fiefdoms.
Borobudur’s design is in Gupta architecture which reflects India’s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian.
Steeped in tradition and belief, Borobudur is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. There are ten levels to the temple which symbolise the three divisions of that religion’s cosmic system. Visitors begin their journey at the base of the temple, then gradually make their way to the top of the monument passing through the three levels of Budhist cosmology. The first is Kamadhatu , which is the world of desire; then Rupadhatu, or the world of forms. Finally, you reach the highest plane called Arupadhatu, representing the world of formlessness.
On the way up to the top the monument you pass 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades which tell the story of reaching enlightenment.
The grandeur of the temple is truly inspiring, even for those with scant knowledge of Buddhism. When visiting it is best to either join a tour or use the services of a local guide to help you understand both the history and the philosophy behind this enormous edifice.
The temple is situated on the Kepu Plain, about 40 kilometres from the city of Yogyakarta, or about an hour’s drive away. From the temple you can clearly see the volcano Mt Merapi, which last erupted in 2010, coating the temple with a thick layer of ash. There are three other active volcanos within the vicinity, which explains why it was lost under ash for about five centuries.
Borobudur is not the only massive monument in the area that is worth visiting. Closer to Yogyakarta are the Prambanan Temple Complex and the Ratu Boko Palace which are also worth visiting whilst in the area.