The six lower levels of the temple were designed to guide the pilgrims on a spiritual jouney as they move upward from level to level, representing a higher plane of consciousness. Our guide gave us an exhaustive description of the meaning of the friezes, from the beggining of the life of Buddha, the inevitable laws of Karma until he began teaching buddhism.
Borobudur reflects the perfect Buddhist cosmology, dividing the universe in three levels; The Kamadhatu (world of desire) the base, Ruphadatu (world of forms) the body with it´s five square levels, and Arupadhatu (world of formlessness) the top with it´s the three round levels and the main stuppa.
The Rupadhatu level (the five square platforms) have hundreds of Buddha statues, all cross-leged and seated in a lotus position, some of them are located in niches, and the number of statues decrease on each new level.
Borobudur is a large Buddhist Mandala, a geometric pattern that represents the cosmos from the human perspective. The building has a a perfect symetry with nine platforms, the lower six are square and the upper three are circular. All the platforms have corridors beautiful carved with friezes representing the Buddha´s life from the Jakata Tales.
The first excavation of the temple was ordered by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British Governor oj Java. When he finally reached the colossal pyramid, he was unable to determine the date of the Borobudur´s construction, but he introduced the opinion that the temple was built as a worship place for Buddha.
The easiest way to get to Borobudur is joined a package guided tour from Yogyakarta that will drive you almost 45 km in the north westerly direction into Central Java.
It took over an hour to get there and so have to start early in the morning to get there and climb this monument while it is not too hot. The gates are open at 6am.
As the nearest town Magelang does not provide much international accommodation, it is best to return to Yogyakarta or to Surakata (Solo) after your trip.
When you are the top of Borobudur, you will see as far the eyes can see.
Borobudur is located in the Kedu plain of rice fields with the distant towering volcanoes around it, Gunung Sumbing, Gunung Sundoro and Gunung Merapi and Gunung Merbabu.
Ask your tour guide to help you identify which volcanoes are visible. The view is inspiring and worth the climb.
At the top of Borobudur, you see many stupa which are perforated.
Each stupa may contain Buddha statue/s and/or holy items.
Our tour guide told us that at one of the stupa, if we could reach inside and touched one of the fingers of the Buddha, it would bring good luck and fortune. A few tried but it was not to be reached.
Another one of tourist guide gimmick to add some excitement into the tour. Don't fall for it.
When in Borobudur, it is good to know that there are two major branches of Buddhism, the Mahayana (the Great Wheel( and the Theravada (the Small Wheel).
It is like in Christianity, there is Roman Catholics and Protestants and in Islam, there is Shiite and Sunni.
Without trying to go into religious details, the Borobudur is under Mahayan Buddhism which is practised mainly in China, Korea and Japan and Vietnam. A tantric version covers Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Mongolia.
While the other major branch of Theravada Buddhism is practised in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
So when in Borobudur, it is Mhayana Buddhism.
It is reported that there are over 500 Buddha Statues in Borobudur. However, only about 200 are restored with many missing, stolen or unaccounted for.
For a Buddha statue sitting in the lotus formation, the facial feature and the upturned or down-turned palm and positions of the thumb and fingers signify different symbols.
Our tour guide also explained that there are 5 different group of Buddha statues covering the five cardinal directions of north, east, south, west and zenith.
So if you must, also buy a replica of a Buddha statue and never a stolen original or decapitated head.
As part of the tour, we stopped at another 8th century AD Buddhist temple - Mendut Temple which is 3km away.
The tour guide will shine a mirror which will reflect light into the inside of the temple.
There is an impressive large size Buddha sitting not in the lotus position but with both feet on the ground.
During the holy month of Vesak, Buddhist pilgrims will walk started from Mendut temple, to Pawon and end at Borobudur.
Like in Angkor Wat, the bass reliefs of Borobudur has been painstakenlhy documented and restored panel by panel. There is a reported of over 2600 individual panels.
So it is impossible to spend too much time on each panel. Just take a sampling and enjoy the moment. No point taking a picture of every panel either, you can buy a book.
Thanks to UNESCO restoration funds and know-how together with the Indonesian Government, extensive work between 1975 to 1982 has fortunately ensured the integrity of the entire structural of the monument with enforced foundation and internal drainage.
The entire monument can be divided into 3 levels - the foot, the body and the head. Each level have several terraces.
Our tour guide took us in the counter-clockwise direction which tell the story of Buddha (Siddharta Gautama) from his birth to his leaving of his sheltered life as a prince, to meeting the sick and poor outside the palace ground and to enlightenment under the bayan tree.
As you go from the lower level to the higher level, you are following the path of Buddhist pilgrim of journeying from worldly desires to the cycles of life and death and towards englightentment (Nirvana).
Take caution when climbing up the steps of Borobudur especially when it rains.
The height of the temple is 35 meter. The foundation of entire monument is a square of 115 meter and from the top view looks like a Buddhist mantra symbol.
The entire structure is built from stone and thus explained how it has survived since it was built around 800 AD during the Sailendra empire when Buddhism was at the height of influence in Java.
The monument was lost and rediscovered when Java was under British Administration in 1814 under the direction of Sir Stamford Raffles (later founder of Modern Singapore), the Dutch engineer H.C. Cornelius rediscovered this legendary monument.
You can enter the grounds prior to 6am to watch the sunrise over Borobodur. To do this the admission price jumps from 120,000 Rp to 230,000 Rp. Tickets can be purchased at the Manohara Hotel on the temple grounds and you get a complimentary flashlight with admission. Your hotel will have to call ahead to give your names so the gaurds at the gate will let you in.
We went during the start of the rainy season. It wasn't raining but the overcast, hazy sky made for a pretty unspectacular sunset. We also went during Ramadan so it wasn't very busy. The rest of the year, the crowds are supposedd to be pretty bad.
- Historical Travel