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Borobudur. A UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Location within Java Topography
General information
Architectural style stupa and candi
Town or city near Magelang, Central Java
Country Indonesia
Coordinates 7°36′29″S 110°12′14″E / 7.608°S 110.204°E / -7.608; 110.204
Completed circa AD 800
Design and construction
Client Sailendra
Architect Gunadharma

Borobudur is a ninth-century Mahayana Buddhist monument in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.[1] A main dome, located at the center of the top platform, is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.

The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path circumambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). During the journey the monument guides the pilgrims through a system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.

Evidence suggests Borobudur was abandoned following the fourteenth century decline of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms in Java, and the Javanese conversion to Islam.[2] Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the then British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians. Borobudur has since been preserved through several restorations. The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[3] Borobudur is still used for pilgrimage; once a year Buddhists in Indonesia celebrate Vesak at the monument, and Borobudur is Indonesia's single most visited tourist attraction.[4][5][6]


Borobudur stupas overlooking a mountain. For centuries, it was deserted.

In Indonesian, ancient temples are known as candi; thus "Borobudur Temple" is locally known as Candi Borobudur. The term candi is also used more loosely to describe any ancient structure, for example gates and bathing structures. The origins of the name Borobudur however are unclear,[7] although the original names of most ancient Indonesian temples are no longer known.[7] The name Borobudur was first written in Sir Thomas Raffles' book on Javan history.[8] Raffles wrote about a monument called borobudur, but there are no older documents suggesting the same name.[7] The only old Javanese manuscript that hints at the monument as a holy Buddhist sanctuary is Nagarakretagama, written by Mpu Prapanca in 1365.[9]

The name 'Bore-Budur', and thus 'BoroBudur', is thought to have been written by Raffles in English grammar to mean the nearby village of Bore; most candi are named after a nearby village. If it followed Javanese language, the monument should have been named 'BudurBoro'. Raffles also suggested that 'Budur' might correspond to the modern Javanese word Buda ('ancient') – i.e., 'ancient Boro'.[7] However, another archaeologist suggests the second component of the name ('Budur') comes from Javanese term bhudhara (mountain).[10]

Karangtengah inscription dated 824 mentioned about the sima (tax free) lands awarded by Çrī Kahulunan (Pramodhawardhani) to ensure the funding and maintenance of a Kamūlān called Bhūmisambhāra. [11] Kamūlān itself from the word mula which means 'the place of origin', a sacred building to honor the ancestors, probably the ancestors of the Sailendras. Casparis suggested that Bhūmi Sambhāra Bhudhāra which in Sanskrit means "The mountain of combined virtues of the ten stages of Boddhisattvahood", was the original name of Borobudur. [12]


Location of Borobudur-Pawon-Mendut in one straight line.

Approximately 40 kilometers (25 mi) northwest of Yogyakarta, Borobudur is located in an elevated area between two twin volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi, and two rivers, the Progo and the Elo. According to local myth, the area known as Kedu Plain is a Javanese 'sacred' place and has been dubbed 'the garden of Java' due to its high agricultural fertility.[13] Besides Borobudur, there are other Buddhist and Hindu temples in the area, including the Prambanan temples compound. During the restoration in the early 1900s, it was discovered that three Buddhist temples in the region, Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut, are lined in one straight line position.[14] It might be accidental, but the temples' alignment is in conjunction with a native folk tale that a long time ago, there was a brick-paved road from Borobudur to Mendut with walls on both sides. The three temples (Borobudur–Pawon–Mendut) have similar architecture and ornamentation derived from the same time period, which suggests that ritual relationship between the three temples, in order to have formed a sacred unity, must have existed, although exact ritual process is yet unknown.[9]

Unlike other temples, which were built on a flat surface, Borobudur was built on a bedrock hill, 265 m (869 ft) above sea level and 15 m (49 ft) above the floor of the dried-out paleolake.[15] The lake's existence was the subject of intense discussion among archaeologists in the twentieth century; Borobudur was thought to have been built on a lake shore or even floated on a lake. In 1931, a Dutch artist and a scholar of Hindu and Buddhist architecture, W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, developed a theory that Kedu Plain was once a lake and Borobudur initially represented a lotus flower floating on the lake.[10] Lotus flowers are found in almost every Buddhist work of art, often serving as a throne for buddhas and base for stupas. The architecture of Borobudur itself suggests a lotus depiction, in which Buddha postures in Borobudur symbolize the Lotus Sutra, mostly found in many Mahayana Buddhism (a school of Buddhism widely spread in the east Asia region) texts. Three circular platforms on the top are also thought to represent a lotus leaf.[15] Nieuwenkamp's theory, however, was contested by many archaeologists because the natural environment surrounding the monument is a dry land.

Geologists, on the other hand, support Nieuwenkamp's view, pointing out clay sediments found near the site.[16] A study of stratigraphy, sediment and pollen samples conducted in 2000 supports the existence of a paleolake environment near Borobudur,[15] which tends to confirm Nieuwenkamp's theory. The lake area fluctuated with time and the study also proves that Borobudur was near the lake shore circa thirteenth and fourteenth century. River flows and volcanic activities shape the surrounding landscape, including the lake. One of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia, Mount Merapi, is in the direct vicinity of Borobudur and has been very active since the Pleistocene.[17]



Buddhist pilgrims meditate on the top platform.

There is no written record of who built Borobudur or of its intended purpose.[18] The construction time has been estimated by comparison between carved reliefs on the temple's hidden foot and the inscriptions commonly used in royal charters during the eight and ninth centuries. Borobudur was likely founded around 800 AD.[18] This corresponds to the period between 760–830 AD, the peak of the Sailendra dynasty in central Java,[19] when it was under the influence of the Srivijayan Empire. The construction has been estimated to have taken 75 years and been completed during the reign of Samaratungga in 825.[20][21]

There is confusion between Hindu and Buddhist rulers in Java around that time. The Sailendras were known as ardent followers of Lord Buddha, though stone inscriptions found at Sojomerto suggest they may have been Hindus.[20] It was during this time that many Hindu and Buddhist monuments were built on the plains and mountain around the Kedu Plain. The Buddhist monuments, including Borobudur, were erected around the same time as the Hindu Shiva Prambanan temple compound. In 732 AD, the Shivaite King Sanjaya commissioned a Shivalinga sanctuary to be built on the Ukir hill, only 10 km (6.2 miles) east of Borobudur.[22]

Construction of Buddhist temples, including Borobudur, at that time was possible because Sanjaya's immediate successor, Rakai Panangkaran, granted his permission to the Buddhist followers to build such temples.[23] In fact, to show his respect, Panangkaran gave the village of Kalasan to the Buddhist community, as is written in the Kalasan Charter dated 778 AD.[23] This has led some archaeologists to believe that there was never serious conflict concerning religion in Java as it was possible for a Hindu king to patronize the establishment of a Buddhist monument; or for a Buddhist king to act likewise.[24] However, it is likely that there were two rival royal dynasties in Java at the time—the Buddhist Sailendra and the Saivite Sanjaya—in which the latter triumphed over their rival in the 856 battle on the Ratubaka plateau.[25] This confusion also exists regarding the Lara Jonggrang temple at the Prambanan complex, which was believed that it was erected by the victor Rakai Pikatan as the Sanjaya dynasty's reply to Borobudur,[25] but others suggest that there was a climate of peaceful coexistence where Sailendra involvement exists in Lara Jonggrang.[26]


Borobudur lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth. The facts behind its abandonment remain a mystery. It is not known when active use of the monument and Buddhist pilgrimage to it ceased. Somewhere between 928 and 1006, the center of power moved to East Java region and a series of volcanic eruptions took place; it is not certain whether the latter influenced the former but several sources mention this as the most likely period of abandonment.[2][15] Soekmono (1976) also mentions the popular belief that the temples were disbanded when the population converted to Islam in the fifteenth century.[2]

The monument was not forgotten completely, though folk stories gradually shifted from its past glory into more superstitious beliefs associated with bad luck and misery. Two old Javanese chronicles (babad) from the eighteenth century mention cases of bad luck associated with the monument. According to the Babad Tanah Jawi (or the History of Java), the monument was a fatal factor for a rebel who revolted against the king of Mataram in 1709.[2] The hill was besieged and the insurgents were defeated and sentenced to death by the king. In the Babad Mataram (or the History of the Mataram Kingdom), the monument was associated with the misfortune of the crown prince of the Yogyakarta Sultanate in 1757.[27] In spite of a taboo against visiting the monument, "he took what is written as the knight who was captured in a cage (a statue in one of the perforated stupas)". Upon returning to his palace, he fell ill and died one day later.


Borobudur's main stupa, which is empty and has created a mystery during the discovery period.

Following the Anglo-Dutch Java War, Java was under British administration from 1811 to 1816. The appointed governor was Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles, who took great interest in the history of Java. He collected Javanese antiques and made notes through contacts with local inhabitants during his tour throughout the island. On an inspection tour to Semarang in 1814, he was informed about a big monument deep in a jungle near the village of Bumisegoro.[27] He was not able to make the discovery himself and sent H.C. Cornelius, a Dutch engineer, to investigate.

The first photograph of Borobudur by Isidore van Kinsbergen (1873) after the monument was cleared up.

In two months, Cornelius and his 200 men cut down trees, burned down vegetation and dug away the earth to reveal the monument. Due to the danger of collapse, he could not unearth all galleries. He reported his findings to Raffles including various drawings. Although the discovery is only mentioned by a few sentences, Raffles has been credited with the monument's recovery, as one who had brought it to the world's attention.[8]

Hartmann, a Dutch administrator of the Kedu region, continued Cornelius' work and in 1835 the whole complex was finally unearthed. His interest in Borobudur was more personal than official. Hartmann did not write any reports of his activities; in particular, the alleged story that he discovered the large statue of Buddha in the main stupa.[28] In 1842, Hartmann investigated the main dome although what he discovered remains unknown as the main stupa remains empty.

An 1895 hand tinted lantern slide of a guardian statue at Borobudur (Photograph by William Henry Jackson)

The Dutch East Indies government then commissioned F.C. Wilsen, a Dutch engineering official, who studied the monument and drew hundreds of relief sketches. J.F.G. Brumund was also appointed to make a detailed study of the monument, which was completed in 1859. The government intended to publish an article based on Brumund study supplemented by Wilsen's drawings, but Brumund refused to cooperate. The government then commissioned another scholar, C. Leemans, who compiled a monograph based on Brumund's and Wilsen's sources. In 1873, the first monograph of the detailed study of Borobudur was published, followed by its French translation a year later.[28] The first photograph of the monument was taken in 1873 by a Dutch-Flemish engraver, Isidore van Kinsbergen.[29]

Appreciation of the site developed slowly, and it served for some time largely as a source of souvenirs and income for "souvenir hunters" and thieves. In 1882, the chief inspector of cultural artifacts recommended that Borobudur be entirely disassembled with the relocation of reliefs into museums due to the unstable condition of the monument.[29] As a result, the government appointed Groenveldt, an archeologist, to undertake a thorough investigation of the site and to assess the actual condition of the complex; his report found that these fears were unjustified and recommended it be left intact.

Contemporary events

Tourists in Borobudur.

Following the major 1973 renovation funded by UNESCO,[30] Borobudur is once again used as a place of worship and pilgrimage. Once a year, during the full moon in May or June, Buddhists in Indonesia observe Vesak (Indonesian: Waisak) day commemorating the birth, death, and the time when Siddhārtha Gautama attained the highest wisdom to become the Buddha Shakyamuni. Vesak is an official national holiday in Indonesia[31] and the ceremony is centered at the three Buddhist temples by walking from Mendut to Pawon and ending at Borobudur.[32]

The monument is the single most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia. In 1974, 260,000 tourists of whom 36,000 were foreigners visited the monument.[5] The figure hiked into 2.5 million visitors annually (80% were domestic tourists) in the mid 1990s, before the country's economy crisis.[6] Tourism development, however, has been criticized for not including the local community on which occasional local conflict has arisen.[5] In 2003, residents and small businesses around Borobudur organized several meetings and poetry protests, objecting to a provincial government plan to build a three-story mall complex, dubbed the 'Java World'.[33]

"Mahakarya Borobudur" ballet performance at Borobudur

On 21 January 1985, nine stupas were badly damaged by nine bombs.[34] In 1991, a blind Muslim evangelist, Husein Ali Al Habsyie, was sentenced to life imprisonment for masterminding a series of bombings in the mid 1980s including the temple attack.[35] Two other members of a right-wing extremist group that carried out the bombings were each sentenced to 20 years in 1986 and another man received a 13-year prison term. On 27 May 2006, an earthquake of 6.2 magnitude on the Richter scale struck the south coast of Central Java. The event had caused severe damage around the region and casualties to the nearby city of Yogyakarta, but Borobudur remained intact.[36]

On 28 August 2006 the Trail of Civilizations symposium was held in Borobudur under the auspices of the governor of Central Java and the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, also present the representatives from UNESCO and predominantly Buddhist nations of Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Climax of the event was the "Mahakarya Borobudur" ballet performance in front of the temple of Borobudur. It was choreographed to feature traditional Javanese dancing, music and costumes, and tell the history about the construction of the Borobudur. After the symposium, the Mahakarya Borobudur ballet is performed several times, especially during annual national Waisak commemoration at Borobudur attended by Indonesian President.


Borobudur ground plan took form of a Mandala.

Borobudur is built as a single large stupa, and when viewed from above takes the form of a giant tantric Buddhist mandala, simultaneously representing the Buddhist cosmology and the nature of mind.[37] The foundation is a square, approximately 118 meters (387 ft) on each side. It has nine platforms, of which the lower six are square and the upper three are circular. The upper platform features seventy-two small stupas surrounding one large central stupa. Each stupa is bell-shaped and pierced by numerous decorative openings. Statues of the Buddha sit inside the pierced enclosures.

Approximately 55,000 cubic metres (72,000 cu yd) of stones were taken from neighbouring rivers to build the monument.[38] The stone was cut to size, transported to the site and laid without mortar. Knobs, indentations and dovetails were used to form joints between stones. Reliefs were created in-situ after the building had been completed. The monument is equipped with a good drainage system to cater for the area's high stormwater run-off. To avoid inundation, 100 spouts are provided at each corner with a unique carved gargoyles in the shape of giants or makaras.

Half cross-section with 4:6:9 height ratio for foot, body and head, respectively.

Borobudur differs markedly with the general design of other structures built for this purpose. Instead of building on a flat surface, Borobudur is built on a natural hill. The building technique is, however, similar to other temples in Java. With no inner space as in other temples and its general design similar to the shape of pyramid, Borobudur was first thought more likely to have served as a stupa, instead of a temple.[38] A stupa is intended as a shrine for the Lord Buddha. Sometimes stupas were built only as devotional symbols of Buddhism. A temple, on the other hand, is used as a house of deity and has inner spaces for worship. The complexity of the monument's meticulous design suggests Borobudur is in fact a temple. Congregational worship in Borobudur is performed by means of pilgrimage. Pilgrims were guided by the system of staircases and corridors ascending to the top platform. Each platform represents one stage of enlightenment. The path that guides pilgrims was designed with the symbolism of sacred knowledge according to the Buddhist cosmology.[39]

A narrow corridor with reliefs on the wall.

Lion gate guardian.

Little is known about the architect Gunadharma.[40] His name is actually recounted from Javanese legendary folk tales rather than written in old inscriptions. The basic unit measurement he used during the construction was called tala, defined as the length of a human face from the forehead's hairline to the tip of the chin or the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger when both fingers are stretched at their maximum distance.[41] The unit metrics is then obviously relative between persons, but the monument has exact measurements. A survey conducted in 1977 revealed frequent findings of a ratio of 4:6:9 around the monument. The architect had used the formula to lay out the precise dimensions of Borobudur.[41] The identical ratio formula was further found in the nearby Buddhist temples of Pawon and Mendhut. Archeologists conjectured the purpose of the ratio formula and the tala dimension has calendrical, astronomical and cosmological themes, as of the case in other Hindu and Buddhist temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.[40]

A carved gargoyle-shaped water spout for water drainage.

The main vertical structure can be divided into three groups: base (or foot), body, and top, which resembles the three major division of a human body.[40] The base is a 123x123 m (403.5x403.5 ft) square in size and 4 meters (13 ft) high of walls.[38] The body is composed of five square platforms each with diminishing heights. The first terrace is set back 7 meters (23 ft) from the edge of the base. The other terraces are set back by 2 meters (7 ft), leaving a narrow corridor at each stage. The top consists of 3 circular platforms, with each stage supporting a row of perforated stupas, arranged in concentric circles. There is one main dome at the center; the top of which is the highest point of the monument (35 meters (115 ft) above ground level). Access to the upper part is through stairways at the centre of each 4 sides with a number of arched gates, watched by a total of 32 lion statues. The gates is adorned with Kala's head carved on top center of each portals with Makaras projecting from each sides. This Kala-Makara style is commonly found in Javanese temples portal. The main entrance is at the eastern side, the location of the first narrative reliefs. On the slopes of the hill, there are also stairways linking the monument to the low-lying plain.

The monument's three divisions symbolize three stages of mental preparation towards the ultimate goal according to the Buddhist cosmology, namely Kāmadhātu (the world of desires), Rupadhatu (the world of forms), and finally Arupadhatu (the formless world).[42] Kāmadhātu is represented by the base, Rupadhatu by the five square platforms (the body), and Arupadhatu by the three circular platforms and the large topmost stupa. The architectural features between three stages have metaphorical differences. For instance, square and detailed decorations in the Rupadhatu disappear into plain circular platforms in the Arupadhatu to represent how the world of forms – where men are still attached with forms and names – changes into the world of the formless.[43]

In 1885, a hidden structure under the base was accidentally discovered.[44] The "hidden foot" contains reliefs, 160 of which are narrative describing the real Kāmadhātu. The remaining reliefs are panels with short inscriptions that apparently describe instruction for the sculptors, illustrating the scene to be carved.[45] The real base is hidden by an encasement base, the purpose of which remains a mystery. It was first thought that the real base had to be covered to prevent a disastrous subsidence of the monument through the hill.[45] There is another theory that the encasement base was added because the original hidden foot was incorrectly designed, according to Vastu Shastra, the Indian ancient book about architecture and town planning.[44] Regardless of its intention, the encasement base was built with detailed and meticulous design with aesthetics and religious compensation.


Narrative Panels Distribution[46]
section location story #panels
hidden foot wall Karmavibhangga 160
first gallery main wall Lalitavistara 120
Jataka/Avadana 120
balustrade Jataka/Avadana 372
Jataka/Avadana 128
second gallery balustrade Jataka/Avadana 100
main wall Gandavyuha 128
third gallery main wall Gandavyuha 88
balustrade Gandavyuha 88
fourth gallery main wall Gandavyuha 84
balustrade Gandavyuha 72
Total 1,460

Borobudur contains approximately 2,670 individual bas reliefs (1,460 narrative and 1,212 decorative panels), which cover the façades and balustrades. The total relief surface is 2,500 square meters (26,909.8 sq ft) and they are distributed at the hidden foot (Kāmadhātu) and the five square platforms (Rupadhatu).[46]

The narrative panels, which tell the story of Sudhana and Manohara,[47] are grouped into 11 series encircled the monument with the total length of 3,000 meters (9,843 ft). The hidden foot contains the first series with 160 narrative panels and the remaining 10 series are distributed throughout walls and balustrades in four galleries starting from the eastern entrance stairway to the left. Narrative panels on the wall read from right to left, while on the balustrade read from left to right. This conforms with pradaksina, the ritual of circumambulation performed by pilgrims who move in a clockwise direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right.[48]

The hidden foot depicts the workings of karmic law. The walls of the first gallery have two superimposed series of reliefs; each consists of 120 panels. The upper part depicts the biography of the Buddha, while the lower part of the wall and also balustrades in the first and the second galleries tell the story of the Buddha's former lives.[46] The remaining panels are devoted to Sudhana's further wandering about his search, terminated by his attainment of the Perfect Wisdom.

The law of karma (Karmavibhangga)

The 160 hidden panels do not form a continuous story, but each panel provides one complete illustration of cause and effect.[46] There are depictions of blameworthy activities, from gossip to murder, with their corresponding punishments. There are also praiseworthy activities, that include charity and pilgrimage to sanctuaries, and their subsequent rewards. The pains of hell and the pleasure of heaven are also illustrated. There are scenes of daily life, complete with the full panorama of samsara (the endless cycle of birth and death).

The birth of Buddha (Lalitavistara)

Queen Maya riding horse carriage retreating to Lumbini to give birth to Prince Siddhartha Gautama.

The story starts from the glorious descent of the Lord Buddha from the Tushita heaven, and ends with his first sermon in the Deer Park near Benares.[48] The relief shows the birth of the Buddha as Prince Siddhartha, son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of Kapilavastu (in present-day Nepal).

The story is preceded by 27 panels showing various preparations, in heavens and on earth, to welcome the final incarnation of the Bodhisattva.[48] Before descending from Tushita heaven, the Bodhisattva entrusted his crown to his successor, the future Buddha Maitreya. He descended on earth in the shape of white elephants with six tusks, penetrated to Queen Maya's right womb. Queen Maya had a dream of this event, which was interpreted that his son would become either a sovereign or a Buddha.

While Queen Maya felt that it was the time to give birth, she went to the Lumbini park outside the Kapilavastu city. She stood under a plaksa tree, holding one branch with her right hand and she gave birth to a son, Prince Siddhartha. The story on the panels continues until the prince becomes the Buddha.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama become an ascetic hermit.

Prince Siddhartha story (Jataka) and other legendary persons (Avadana)

Jatakas are stories about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Siddhartha.[49] Avadanas are similar to jatakas, but the main figure is not the Bodhisattva himself. The saintly deeds in avadanas are attributed to other legendary persons. Jatakas and avadanas are treated in one and the same series in the reliefs of Borobudur.

The first 20 lower panels in the first gallery on the wall depict the Sudhanakumaravadana or the saintly deeds of Sudhana. The first 135 upper panels in the same gallery on the balustrades are devoted to the 34 legends of the Jatakamala.[50] The remaining 237 panels depict stories from other sources, as do for the lower series and panels in the second gallery. Some jatakas stories are depicted twice, for example the story of King Sibhi (Rama's forefather).

Sudhana's search for the Ultimate Truth (Gandavyuha)

Gandavyuha is the story told in the final chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra about Sudhana's tireless wandering in search of the Highest Perfect Wisdom. It covers two galleries (third and fourth) and also half of the second gallery; comprising in total of 460 panels.[51] The principal figure of the story, the youth Sudhana, son of an extremely rich merchant, appears on the 16th panel. The preceding 15 panels form a prologue to the story of the miracles during Buddha's samadhi in the Garden of Jeta at Sravasti.

During his search, Sudhana visited no less than 30 teachers but none of them had satisfied him completely. He was then instructed by Manjusri to meet the monk Megasri, where he was given the first doctrine. As his journey continues, Sudhana meets (in the following order) Supratisthita, the physician Megha (Spirit of Knowledge), the banker Muktaka, the monk Saradhvaja, the upasika Asa (Spirit of Supreme Enlightenment), Bhismottaranirghosa, the Brahmin Jayosmayatna, Princess Maitrayani, the monk Sudarsana, a boy called Indriyesvara, the upasika Prabhuta, the banker Ratnachuda, King Anala, the god Siva Mahadeva, Queen Maya, Bodhisattva Maitreya and then back to Manjusri. Each meeting has given Sudhana a specific doctrine, knowledge and wisdom. These meetings are shown in the third gallery.

After the last meeting with Manjusri, Sudhana went to the residence of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra; depicted in the fourth gallery. The entire series of the fourth gallery is devoted to the teaching of Samantabhadra. The narrative panels finally end with Sudhana's achievement of the Supreme Knowledge and the Ultimate Truth.[52]

Buddha statues

A Buddha statue with the hand position of dharmachakra mudra (turning the Wheels of the Law).

Apart from the story of Buddhist cosmology carved in stone, Borobudur has many statues of various Buddhas. The cross-legged statues are seated in a lotus position and distributed on the five square platforms (the Rupadhatu level) as well as on the top platform (the Arupadhatu level).

A headless Buddha statue inside a stupa.

The Buddha statues are in niches at the Rupadhatu level, arranged in rows on the outer sides of the balustrades, the number of statues decreasing as platforms progressively diminish to the upper level. The first balustrades have 104 niches, the second 104, the third 88, the fourth 72 and the fifth 64. In total, there are 432 Buddha statues at the Rupadhatu level.[1] At the Arupadhatu level (or the three circular platforms), Buddha statues are placed inside perforated stupas. The first circular platform has 32 stupas, the second 24 and the third 16, that add up to 72 stupas.[1] Of the original 504 Buddha statues, over 300 are damaged (mostly headless) and 43 are missing (since the monument's discovery, heads have been stolen as collector's items, mostly by Western museums).[53]

At glance, all the Buddha statues appear similar, but there is a subtle difference between them in the mudras or the position of the hands. There are five groups of mudra: North, East, South, West and Zenith, which represent the five cardinal compass points according to Mahayana. The first four balustrades have the first four mudras: North, East, South and West, of which the Buddha statues that face one compass direction have the corresponding mudra. Buddha statues at the fifth balustrades and inside the 72 stupas on the top platform have the same mudra: Zenith. Each mudra represents one of the Five Dhyani Buddhas; each has its own symbolism.[54] They are Abhaya mudra for Amoghasiddhi (north), Vara mudra for Ratnasambhava (south), Dhyana mudra for Amitabha (west), Bhumisparsa mudra for Aksobhya (east) and Dharmachakra mudra for Vairochana (zenith).


Embedding concrete and pvc pipe to improve Borobudur's drainage system during the 1973 restoration.

Borobudur attracted attention in 1885, when Yzerman, the Chairman of the Archaeological Society in Yogyakarta, made a discovery about the hidden foot.[44] Photographs that reveal reliefs on the hidden foot were made in 1890–1891.[55] The discovery led the Dutch East Indies government to take steps to safeguard the monument. In 1900, the government set up a commission consisting of three officials to assess the monument: Brandes, an art historian, Theodoor van Erp, a Dutch army engineer officer, and Van de Kamer, a construction engineer from the Department of Public Works.

In 1902, the commission submitted a threefold plan of proposal to the government. First, the immediate dangers should be avoided by resetting the corners, removing stones that endangered the adjacent parts, strengthening the first balustrades and restoring several niches, archways, stupas and the main dome. Second, fencing off the courtyards, providing proper maintenance and improving drainage by restoring floors and spouts. Third, all loose stones should be removed, the monument cleared up to the first balustrades, disfigured stones removed and the main dome restored. The total cost was estimated at that time around 48,800 Dutch guilders.

The restoration then was carried out between 1907 and 1911, using the principles of anastylosis and led by Theodor van Erp.[56] The first seven months of his restoration was occupied with excavating the grounds around the monument to find missing Buddha heads and panel stones. Van Erp dismantled and rebuilt the upper three circular platforms and stupas. Along the way, Van Erp discovered more things he could do to improve the monument; he submitted another proposal that was approved with the additional cost of 34,600 guilders. At first glance Borobudur had been restored to its old glory.

Due to the limited budget, the restoration had been primarily focused on cleaning the sculptures, and Van Erp did not solve the drainage problem. Within fifteen years, the gallery walls were sagging and the reliefs showed signs of new cracks and deterioration.[56] Van Erp used concrete from which alkali salts and calcium hydroxide leached and were transported into the rest of the construction. This caused some problems, so that a further thorough renovation was urgently needed.

Small restorations have been performed since then, but not sufficient for complete protection. In the late 1960s, the Indonesian government had requested from the international community a major renovation to protect the monument. In 1973, a master plan to restore Borobudur was created.[30] The Indonesian government and UNESCO then undertook the complete overhaul of the monument in a big restoration project between 1975–1982.[56] The foundation was stabilized and all 1,460 panels were cleaned. The restoration involved the dismantling of the five square platforms and improved the drainage by embedding water channels into the monument. Both impermeable and filter layers were added. This colossal project involved around 600 people to restore the monument and cost a total of US$ 6,901,243.[57] After the renovation was finished, UNESCO listed Borobudur as a World Heritage Site in 1991.[3] It is listed under Cultural criteria (i) "to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius", (ii) "to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design", and (vi) "to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance".[3]

Gallery of reliefs

See also

Portal-puzzle.svg Indonesia portal


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Soekmono (1976), page 35–36.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Soekmono (1976), page 4.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Borobudur Temple Compounds". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  4. Indonesia. Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. November 2003. pp. 211–215. ISBN 1-74059-154-2. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mark P. Hampton (2005). "Heritage, Local Communities and Economic Development". Annals of Tourism Research 32 (3): 735–759. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2004.10.010. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 E. Sedyawati (1997). "Potential and Challenges of Tourism: Managing the National Cultural Heritage of Indonesia". in W. Nuryanti (ed.). Tourism and Heritage Management. Yogyakarta: Gajah Mada University Press. pp. 25–35. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Soekmono (1976), page 13.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Thomas Stamford Raffles (1817). The History of Java (1978 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-580347-7. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 J. L. Moens (1951). "Barabudur, Mendut en Pawon en hun onderlinge samenhang (Barabudur, Mendut and Pawon and their mutual relationship)" (PDF). Tijdschrift voor de Indische Taai-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Het Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen): 326–386. "trans. by Mark Long". 
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.G. de Casparis, "The Dual Nature of Barabudur", in Gómez and Woodward (1981), page 70 and 83.
  11. Drs. R. Soekmono, (1973, 5th reprint edition in 1988). Pengantar Sejarah Kebudayaan Indonesia 2, 2nd ed.. Yogyakarta: Penerbit Kanisius. p. 46. 
  12. Walubi. "Borobudur : Candi Berbukit Kebajikan". 
  13. Soekmono (1976), page 1.
  14. N. J. Krom (1927). Borobudur, Archaelogical Description. The Hague: Nijhoff. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Murwanto, H.; Gunnell, Y; Suharsono, S.; Sutikno, S. and Lavigne, F (2004). "Borobudur monument (Java, Indonesia) stood by a natural lake: chronostratigraphic evidence and historical implications". The Holocene 14 (3): 459–463. doi:10.1191/0959683604hl721rr. 
  16. R.W. van Bemmelen (1949). The geology of Indonesia, general geology of Indonesia and adjacent archipelago, vol 1A, The Hague, Government Printing Office, Martinus Nijhoff. cited in Murwanto (2004).
  17. Newhall C.G., Bronto S., Alloway B., Banks N.G., Bahar I., del Marmol M.A., Hadisantono R.D., Holcomb R.T., McGeehin J., Miksic J.N., Rubin M., Sayudi S.D., Sukhyar R., Andreastuti S., Tilling R.I., Torley R., Trimble D., and Wirakusumah A.D. (2000). "10,000 Years of explosive eruptions of Merapi Volcano, Central Java: archaeological and modern implications". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 100 (1): 9–50. doi:10.1016/S0377-0273(00)00132-3. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Soekmono (1976), page 9.
  19. Miksic (1990)
  20. 20.0 20.1 Dumarçay (1991).
  21. Paul Michel Munoz (2007). Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Singapore: Didier Millet. pp. 143. ISBN 9814155675. 
  22. W. J. van der Meulen (1977). "In Search of "Ho-Ling"". Indonesia 23: 87–112. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 W. J. van der Meulen (1979). "King Sañjaya and His Successors". Indonesia 28: 17–54. doi:10.2307/3350894. 
  24. Soekmono (1976), page 10.
  25. 25.0 25.1 D.G.E. Hall (1956). "Problems of Indonesian Historiography". Pacific Affairs 38 (3/4): 353–359. doi:10.2307/2754037. 
  26. Roy E. Jordaan (1993). Imagine Buddha in Prambanan: Reconsidering the Buddhist Background of the Loro Jonggrang Temple Complex. Leiden: Vakgroep Talen en Culturen van Zuidoost-Azië en Ocenanië, Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden. ISBN 90-73084-08-3. 
  27. 27.0 27.1 Soekmono (1976), page 5.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Soekmono (1976), page 6.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Soekmono (1976), page 42.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Caesar Voute (1973). "The Restoration and Conservation Project of Borobudur Temple, Indonesia. Planning: Research: Design". Studies in Conservation 18 (3): 113–130. doi:10.2307/1505654. 
  31. Coordinating Ministry for Public Welfare. "Keputusan Bersama tentang Hari Libur Nasional dan Cuti Bersama tahun 2006" (in Indonesian). Press release. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  32. "The Meaning of Procession". Waisak. Walubi (Buddhist Council of Indonesia). Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  33. Jamie James (2003-01-27). "Battle of Borobudur". Time.,8816,501030203-411454,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  34. "1,100-Year-Old Buddhist Temple Wrecked By Bombs in Indonesia". The Miami Herald. 1985-01-22. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  35. Harold Crouch (2002). "The Key Determinants of Indonesia’s Political Future" (PDF). Institute of Southeast Asian Studies 7. ISSN 0219-3213. 
  36. Sebastien Berger (2006-05-30). "An ancient wonder reduced to rubble". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  37. A. Wayman (1981). "Reflections on the Theory of Barabudur as a Mandala". Barabudu History and Significance of a Buddhist Monument. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 38.2 Soekmono (1976), page 16.
  39. Peter Ferschin and Andreas Gramelhofer (2004). "Architecture as Information Space". 8th Int. Conf. on Information Visualization. IEEE. pp. 181–186. doi:10.1109/IV.2004.1320142. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 Caesar Voûte and Mark Long. Borobudur: Pyramid of the Cosmic Buddha. D.K. Printworld Ltd.. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 Atmadi (1988).
  42. Tartakov, Gary Michael. "Lecture 17: Sherman Lee’s History of Far Eastern Art (Indonesia and Cambodja)". Lecture notes for Asian Art and Architecture: Art & Design 382/582. Iowa State University. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  43. Soekmono (1976), page 17.
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 "Borobudur Pernah Salah Design?" (in Indonesian). Kompas. 2000-04-07. Archived from the original on 2007-12-26. Retrieved 2008-08-23. 
  45. 45.0 45.1 Soekmono (1976), page 18.
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 46.3 Soekmono (1976), page 20.
  47. Jaini, P.S. (1966). "The Story of Sudhana and Manohara: An Analysis of the Texts and the Borobudur Reliefs". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 29 (3): 533–558. ISSN 0041977X. 
  48. 48.0 48.1 48.2 Soekmono (1976), page 21.
  49. Soekmono (1976), page 26.
  50. Soekmono (1976), page 29.
  51. Soekmono (1976), page 32.
  52. Soekmono (1976), page 35.
  53. Hiram W. Woodward Jr. (1979). "Acquisition". Critical Inquiry 6 (2): 291–303. doi:10.1086/448048. 
  54. Roderick S. Bucknell and Martin Stuart-Fox (1995). The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism. UK: Routledge. ISBN 0700702342. 
  55. Soekmono (1976), page 43.
  56. 56.0 56.1 56.2 UNESCO (2004-08-31). "UNESCO experts mission to Prambanan and Borobudur Heritage Sites". Press release. 
  57. UNESCO. "Cultural heritage and partnership; 1999" (PDF). Press release. Retrieved 2008-08-17. 


Further reading

  • Luis O. Gomez and Hiram W. Woodward (1981). Barabudur, history and significance of a Buddhist monument. presented at the Int. Conf. on Borobudur, Univ. of Michigan, May 16–17, 1974. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press. ISBN 0-89581-151-0. 
  • August J.B. Kempers (1976). Ageless Borobudur : Buddhist mystery in stone, decay and restoration, Mendut and Pawon, folklife in ancient Java. Wassenaar: Servire. ISBN 90-6077-553-8. 
  • John Miksic (1999). The Mysteries of Borobudur. Hongkong: Periplus. ISBN 962-593-198-8. 
  • Adrian Snodgrass (1985). The symbolism of the stupa. Southeast Asia Program. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University. ISBN 0-87727-700-1. 

External links

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