Built in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and located in the Magelang District in central Java is the magnificent Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the world. Constructed by the Sailendra Dynasty between 750AD-850AD with over two million stone blocks, the massive structure sits majestically in the middle of lush greenery peppered with coconut and palm trees.
Together with the decline of Buddhism in the 14th century as Java converted to Islam, Borobudur was soon forgotten, hidden and buried under layers of volcanic ash for centuries only to be discovered in 1815 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.
Surviving terrorist bombings in 1985 and the fury of Mt. Merapi’s explosions in 2010, Borobudur stands colossal and proud beaming in architectural beauty and the main attraction to all who visit Yogyakarta. When you arrive at the Cultural Park that also houses an archaeological museum, the Borobudur Research Centre and Manohara Hotel, its best to get directions on the right way to enter the stupa.
This is how:
- Enter the temple from the East entrance
- Continue to circle the temple grounds clockwise as you ascend
- Circle each level except for the ground level of the temple three times (optional)
This journey around the temple takes you through 3 levels of Buddhist Cosmology: (1) Kamadhatu (realm of desire), (2) Rupadhatu (realm of forms), (3) Arupadhatu (realm of formlessness) and over 2500 relief panels. The act of circumambulating is called ‘Pradakshina‘ and is taken as a sign of respect to the temple.
Borobudur has 10 levels that consist of 6 square terraces, 1 courtyard and 3 circular terraces that form the ‘Dacabumi‘ or ‘Daśabhūmika Sūtra’ that translates into the ‘Ten Stages Sutra’ that describes the ten stages to enlightenment or Buddha-hood (bodhisattva).
Two forms of Buddhism originated from India, Theravada and Mahayana. The significant difference in the Mahayana aspect of Buddhism, is that it is heavily influenced by local religious ideas and rituals transmitted through the cultures of China, Japan and Tibet. Theravada and Mahayana are both rooted in the basic teachings of the historical Buddha, and both emphasise on the individual search for liberation from the cycle of birth, death and reincarnation. However, the methods or practices for doing that can be very different, like that of the Bodhisattva.
Mahayana talks a great deal about bodhisattvayana (the ‘enlighten being’) as the ideal way for a Buddhist to live. The ten levels (Dacabumi) in Borobudur represent the ten grounds a Buddhist should go through to attain Buddha-hood. Click here for more information on the ten grounds.
The relief panels along the corridors
Level 7 of Borobudur
How to Get There
Fly into Yogyakarta, put up at the Sheraton Mustika Yogyakarta Resort and Spa and hire a car and driver to take you to the magnificent Borobudur. You can also visit Prambanan Temple that is situated just 15 minutes away from the hotel.
As a child growing up in India I heard a lot about Borobudur…and temples of course are so systematic –there is a right and wrong way for everything. Thanks for this extremely insightful and zen post, Rosemarie!
Great information about Borobudur! We just got back from a trip there about a month ago. We did the circuit as you described but we were so blown away by the beauty of the structure that was all we could really focus on 🙂
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