Saturday, April 25, 2015

Monuments of Southeast Asia: Borobudur

Borobodur (depicted in Civilization V)
It serves as the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. It stands as a reminder of a once great kingdom in Central Java. It is one of the greatest monuments in Southeast Asia. It is the temple of Borobudur in Java, Indonesia.

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Located in the Kedu Plains of Central Java, it once served a pilgrimage site for the followers of Mahayana Buddhism. Its name said to had come from Bhumtcambharabudara or the Mountain of the Accumulation of Virtue in the Ten States of Bodhisatva.

It took decades in order to complete the huge Borobudur Temple. Its construction began around 775 under the leadership of a Hindu dynasty called the Sanjay. Borobudur originally meant to become Hindu temple, probably dedicated to Shiva. They started to lay down the base of the temple in a natural hill. However, within few years into the construction of Borobudur, Central Java fell under the control of the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty. When they took over the Kedu Plain, they began to proselytize and promoted their Mahayan Buddhism. The Sailendra rulers continued the Borobudur but changed its purpose from a Hindu temple to a huge stupa or Buddhist temple.

Borobudur’s construction coincide with the construction of other two temples in the area. Along with Borobudur, the Sailendra rulers also built the temple or Candi (a term for temple in Indonesia) of Mendut and Pawon. The builder also laid a pathway from Borobudur to Pawon then Mendut, direction from west to east.  The layout of Borobudur resembled a Mandala, a representation of the Buddhist cosmology, with the Mt. Meru as its center.

The temple had three parts, the base, the square terraces, and the circular terraces with the Stupa at the centerpiece. It represented the three realms in Buddhist cosmology. The square terraces represented the kamadhatu, or the material attachment to earthly things. The circular terraces represented the rupadhatu, or the pursuit of enlightenment and Nirvana. Finally, the giant stupa in the top represented the Emptiness or Nirvana. The based used around 50,000 cubic feet of stones from the nearby Mt. Merapi. The square base measured around 500 feet in each side.

On the other hand, the terraces showed great bas reliefs that showed a chronology. It had over 1460 narrative reliefs and 2700 bas reliefs. Bas reliefs and narrative relief depicted the story of the Buddha, from the past lives of the Buddha, to his life of materialism, then the story of path towards enlightenment, and finally ending with emptiness. It showed images from the Buddhist text such as the Karmavibhanga, Lalitavistara, Jataka, Avadana, and Gandavyuha. Images of events in the life of Buddha was not original. Gupta art showed the same, however, placing it in chronological order was deemed as a Javanese innovation (Heidhues, 2000). In addition to bas reliefs, water sprouting gargoyles and lions also decorated Borobudur’s terraces. Each terraces had an arch with the image of Kalamakara at the top. Statues of Buddha too ornate Borododur. Around 400 statues of Buddha embellished the temple. In the higher terraces, the images of around 72 different Bodhisattvasm like Aksobhya, Ratnasambohava, Amitabha, Vairocana, and Amogasiddhi appeared inside latticed stupas. At the top, a large stupa stood with two empty rooms that serves as areas for meditation and symbolize emptiness.

Buddhist pilgrims in Borobudur, must enter each terraces from the east and walk clockwise before climbing up the next terraces and so on and so forth. As the pilgrim walked, he finds in the wall the stories of Buddha, from their earthly life, to the pursuit of enlightenment, and finally, attaining Nirvana.
During the time of its construction and its completion, Borobudur welcomed many pilgrims. In 832, just years after its construction around 825, the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty returned to power. However, with much the population Buddhist, the Sanjaya Dynasty did not attempt to re impose Hinduism to the populace. Instead, they allowed them to continue and so as Borobudur as a Buddhist temple. However, in 1006, a great earthquake hit the region of Central Java, causing massive damage to the temple. Following the earthquake, the nearby Mt. Merapi erupted, spewing volcanic ash that covered the magnificent temple of Borobudur. After the catastrophe, the people abandoned the area of Borobudur, leaving the jungle to take the great wonder and cover it for centuries. In 1814, a British explorer, named Stamford Raffles, the later founder of Singapore, rediscovered the site and reintroducing the world to Borobudur.

See also:
Bibliography:
"Borobodur" in The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena. Edited by J. Gordon Melton. Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2008.

"Borobodur" in Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. Edited by Norbert Brockman. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011.

"Borobudur Temple" in Encyclopedia of Architectural and Engineering Feats. Edited by Donald Langmead & Christine Garnaut. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2001.

Porceddu, Laura. "Borobudur, Java, Indonesia" in Encyclopedia of Monasticism. edited by William Johnston. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

Heidhues, Mary Somers. Southeast Asia: A Concise History. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Honour, Hugh & John Fleming. A World History of Art. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2005.

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