Borobudur (42 kilometers from Yogyakarta) is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. Built in the A.D. 8th century, it ranks with Pagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia as one of the great archeological sites of Asia, if not the in world. The eminent Dutch archaeologist A.J. Bernet Kempers called it "a Buddhist mystery in stone. An actual meeting of Mankind and the Holy. A shining tower of the law." It’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word "Vihara Buddha Uhr" which means "Buddhist monastery on the hill." Borobudur is located in Muntilan, Magelang, in the Kedu Valley, in the southern part of Central Java. It is about 100 kilometers from Semarang.


Borobudur is a square 123 meters (403 feet) on each side and 32 meters (105 feet) high.Constructed of unmortared grey andosite and volcanic basalt stone and surrounded by lush green fields of the Kedu Plain and tourist infrastructure, it is about the size of a stadium, and took about 80 years to build. Four large volcanos, including the often-smoking Mount Merapi, and numerous hills are visible in the distance. The temple’s design in Gupta architecture reflects India's influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian. The monument is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

Borobudur is a step pyramid, built around a natural hill, comprised of a broad platforms topped by five walled rectangular terraces, and they in turn are topped by three round terraces. Each terraces is outlined with ornaments and statues and the walls are decorated with bas reliefs. More than two million blocks of volcanic stone were carved during its construction. Pilgrims have traditionally walked around the monument in a clockwise manner moving up each of the five levels, and in process covering five kilometers.

For a better understanding of the temple and its detailed stone displays, you can join a tour or hire a licensed tour guide. Many tourists visit Borobodur and Prambanan Temple as part of a full day or half day tour Local superstition says that if you climb this temple with one wish deep in your thoughts, reach your hand inside the bell-like stupa at the top of the temple, and successfully touch the Buddha's figure inside, your wish will come true.

When you reach the top of the temple, spend some time to rest and marvel at the magnificent view. At the top of Borobudur you will find vacant space which is symbolic of the fact that emptiness signifies completion. Take note of the stone carvings surrounding the temple. There are many stories in these stone displays. Make sure your guide recounts some of the stories reflected in these stones. If you're a writer or a poet, these stories might inspire you.

Menorah hill to the north, local say, is shaped like a sleeping person, making Borobudur appear to stand tall beside a “sleeping person”. The Karmawibhangga Museum on the grounds of the temple is a great source of information on Borobudur. The museum of Samudera Raksa will teach you about the merchants who traveled Indonesia and Africa in ancient times and modern attempts to recreate these voyages.

Book: Borobudur: Tales of the Buddhas by John Miksic

Religious Aspects of Borobudur

Unlike most temples, Borobudur did not have actual spaces for worship. Instead it has an extensive system of corridors and stairways, which are thought to have been a place for Buddhist ceremonies. Borobodur also has six square courtyards, three circular ones, and a main courtyard within a stupa at the temple’s peak. The entire structure is formed in the shape of a giant twirling staircase, a style of architecture from prehistoric Indonesia.

Borobudur is a three-dimensional model of the Mahayana Buddhist universe. The climb to the top of the temple is intended to illustrate the path an individual must take to reach enlightenment. At the main entrance on the east side, visitors can not even see the top. Scholars believed this was intensional. At the top was the ideal of Buddhist perfection, the World of Formlessness. The architecture and stonework of this temple has no equal. And it was built without using any kind of cement or mortar!

Borobudur resembles a giant stupa, but seen from above it forms a mandala. The great stupa at the top of the temple sits 40 meters above the ground. This main dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa. Five closed square galleries, three open circular inner terraces, and a concentric scheme express the universe geometrically. At the center of the top of the temple is a beautifully shaped stupa which is surrounded by three circles of smaller stupas that have the same shape. There are 72 of these, each with a Buddha statue inside. Touching them is supposed to bring good luck. Unfortunately many had their heads lopped off by 19th century explorers looking for souvenirs. The 72 small latticed stupas look like perforated stone bells. The temple is decorated with stone carvings in bas-relief representing images from the life of Buddha— the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

Borobudur is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The ten levels of the temple symbolize the three divisions of the religion’s cosmic system. As visitors begin their journey at the base of the temple, they make their way to the top of the monument through the three levels of Budhist cosmology, Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). As visitors walk to the top the monument guides the pilgrims past 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.

Borobudur, northwest view

History of Borobudur

Borobudur was built by the Sailendra Dynasty kings in the 8th and 9th centuries, around that time that Charlemagne ruled Europe. When it was completed an epic poet from Ceylon wrote: "Thus are the Buddha incomprehensible, and incomprehensible is the nature of the Buddhas, and incomprehensible is the reward of those who have faith in the incomprehensible."

According to UNESCO: Founded by a king of the Saliendra dynasty, Borobudur was built to honour the glory of both the Buddha and its founder, a true king Bodhisattva. This colossal temple was built between AD 750 and 842: 300 years before Cambodia's Angkor Wat, 400 years before work had begun on the great European cathedrals. Little is known about its early history except that a huge army of workers worked in the tropical heat to shift and carve the 60,000 square meters of stone. Why it was built remains a mystery. There are no written records on the subject. No ancient cities have been found nearby. There is no clear sanctuary as a place of worship and no room to store icons. Many historians and archeologists believe that Borobudur is not a temple but rather a kind of advertisement for Buddhism. According to an expert on the subject, John Mikic, Borobudur was built to “to engage the mind” and to “give a visual aid for teaching a gentle philosophy of life.”

Borobodur was an active religious center until the 10th century when it was abandoned for reasons that are not clear. At the beginning of the 11th century AD, because of the political situation in Central Java, divine monuments in that area, including the Borobudur Temple became completely neglected and given over to decay. In 1006 volcano Merapi erupted violently in conjunction with a violent earthquake that left the landscape covered in ash, landslides and volcanic mud and force much of the population in the Borobodur area to flee to eastern Java. But this is not believed to be the reason it was abandoned.

For the next 800 years it lie, for the most part undisturbed, gathering a cover of moss, dirt and vegetation until it was found in 1814 by Thomas Stamford Raffles, then the British lieutenant governor of Java. He recognized that the monument was a "remarkable for grandeur of design, peculiarity of style and exquisite workmanship." The ruins were cleared and restored on a small scale by the Dutch who turned it into a picnic spot and built a teahouse on the pinnacle. Major restoration work was conducted under the Dutch between 1907 and 1911. The first restoration campaign was supervised by Theodor van Erp. A second one was led more recently (1973-82).

Architecture of Borobudur

According to UNESCO: “With its stepped, unroofed pyramid consisting of ten superimposing terraces, crowned by a large bell-shaped dome, Borobudur is a harmonious marriage of stupas, temple and mountain that is a masterpiece of Buddhist architecture and monumental arts. Laid out in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha, Borobudur Temple Compounds is an exceptional reflection of a blending of the very central idea of indigenous ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana. The ten mounting terraces of the entire structure correspond to the successive stages that the Bodhisattva has to achieve before attaining to Buddhahood. [Source: UNESCO]

Borobudur was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,500 square meters. Around the circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha. The monument was restored with UNESCO's help in the 1970s.

The boundaries contain the three temples that include the imaginary axis between them. Although the visual links are no longer open, the dynamic function between the three monuments, Borobudur Temple, Mendut Temple, and Pawon Temple is maintained. A harmonious marriage of stupas, temple-mountain and the ritual diagram, this temple complex was built on several levels around a hill which forms a natural centre. The first level above the base comprises five square terraces, graduated in size and forming the base of a pyramid. Above this level are three concentric circular platforms crowned by the main stupa. Stairways provide access to this monumental stupa. The base and the balustrades enclosing the square terraces are decorated in reliefs sculpted in the stone. They illustrate the different phases of the soul's progression towards redemption and episodes from the life of Buddha. The circular terraces are decorated with no fewer than 72 openwork stupas each containing a statue of Buddha.

The main temple is a stupa built in three tiers around a hill which was a natural centre: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,520 m2. Around the circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha.

The vertical division of Borobudur Temple into base, body, and superstructure perfectly accords with the conception of the Universe in Buddhist cosmology. It is believed that the universe is divided into three superimposing spheres, kamadhatu, rupadhatu, and arupadhatu, representing respectively the sphere of desires where we are bound to our desires, the sphere of forms where we abandon our desires but are still bound to name and form, and the sphere of formlessness where there is no longer either name or form. At Borobudur Temple, the kamadhatu is represented by the base, the rupadhatu by the five square terraces, and the arupadhatu by the three circular platforms as well as the big stupa. The whole structure shows a unique blending of the very central ideas of ancestor worship, related to the idea of a terraced mountain, combined with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana.

The Borobudur Temple Compounds consists of three monuments: namely the Borobudur Temple and two smaller temples situatued to the east on a straight axis to Borobudur. The two temples are Mendut Temple, whose depiction of Buddha is represented by a formidable monolith accompanied by two Bodhisattvas, and Pawon Temple, a smaller temple whose inner space does not reveal which deity might have been the object of worship. Those three monuments represent phases in the attainment of Nirvana.

Borobudur relief

Bas Reliefs at Borobudur

Decorating the walls along the pilgrimage route at Borodudur is the world's largest ensemble of Buddhist bas-reliefs (if laid end to end, they would extend for six kilometers). The reliefs depict the Buddha’s journey from life on earth, on the lower levels, to enlightenment on the upper levels. The 160 bas-relief panels at the ground level terrace depict the World of Desire, a state of spiritual development in which an individual is a slave of desire. Many of the bas-reliefs show the consequences of evil deeds such as gossip and murder.

The panels that begin on the second level represent the World of Form and depict episodes from the Buddha's life or other sacred Buddhist stories and the life's of the Bodhisattvas. Like the stained glass windrows in European churches, there purpose was partly to educated the illiterate masses about religion. Some of the reliefs are exquisitely crafted and deeply incised. Others have a more dashed off look. Look for the ones that shows a white elephant entering the womb of Buddha's mother, Queen Maya, and a revered monk sailing in boat filled with treasure.

The ten levels of Borobudur are believed to be representations of the Mahayana school of philosophy which describe the ten levels of Bodhisattva that must be passed to attain the Buddhist perfection. Of the monument’s 2,672 relief panels, 1,460 are narrative, while the other 1,212 are decorative. UNESCO has recognized these panels as the largest and most comprehensive ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world. There are bas-reliefs of sea battles. processions of elephants, warriors and dancing girls, monsters, musical instruments, houses, clothes and customs that give some insight into the everyday life of the of people in 9th-century Indonesia. Unfortunately many of the bas-reliefs have been worn away by weather, pollution and time and damaged by vandals and antiquities thieves.

According to UNESCO: Stylistically the art of Borobudur is a tributary of Indian influences (Gupta and post-Gupta styles). The walls of Borobudur are sculptured in bas-reliefs, hailed as the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world, unsurpassed in artistic merit, each scene an individual masterpiece. The narratives reliefs on the main walls read from the right to left, those on the balustrade from left to right. This was done for the purpose of the Pradaksina, the ritual circumambulation which the pilgrims make moving on the clockwise and keeping the sanctuary to the right. [Source: UNESCO]

The Karmawibangga reliefs on the hidden foot are devoted to the law of karma. The Lalitavistara series do not provide a complete biography of the Buddha, from the Hushita heaven and end his sermon in the Deer Park near the Benares. Jataka are stories about the Buddha before he was born as Prince Sidharta. Awadana are similar to Jataka, but the main figure is not the Boddhisatva, and the saintly deeds are attributed to other legendary persons.

The stories are compiled in the Dvijavadana (Glorious Heavenly Acts) and the Awadana Sataka (Hundred Awadanas). The first twenty panels in the lower series of the first gallery depict, the Sudhanakumaravadana. The series of reliefs covering the wall of the second gallery is devoted to Sudhana's tireless wanderings in search of the Highest Perfect Wisdom. The story is continued on the wall and balustrade of the third and fourth galleries. Its depiction in most of the 460 panels is based on the holy Nahayana text Gandavyuha, the concluding scenes being derived from another text, the Badracari.

Reading the Bas Reliefs at Borobudur

Reading the bas reliefs at Borobudur requires a specific technique. The panels on the wall read from left to right, while those on the balustrade read from right to left, conforming with the pradaksina, a ritual performed by pilgrims who move in a clockwise direction, whilst always keeping the sanctuary to their right. The story begins and ends at the eastern side of the gate at every level. Stairs connect each level to the next from each direction of the compass, but the idea is to always ascend from the stairs at the eastern corner. The panels depict stories of Karma, of passion, robbery, murder, torture and humiliation. But not all are negative. Some panels also tell of the cause and effect of good deeds, and describe the behavior of the Javanese Society of that day, from religion to livelihood to social structure, fashion, and even the various types of plants and animals. Ultimately, it describes the human life cycle: Birth — Life — Death.

Kamadhatu is a picture of highly populated world still dominated by Kama, or lust. This zone is at the bottom level of Borobodur, and is therefore not visible due to some added construction. Some say these structures were added to strengthen the building’s foundations, while others speculate that they have been added to conceal the obscene content of the reliefs. For visitors that wish to see these reliefs, the Karmawibhangga Museum displays pictures of the Kamadhatu.

Lalitawistara are a series of beautifully sculpted reliefs that depict the history of Buddha, starting from his descent from Heaven, to his enlightenment under the bodhi tree, and finally to his first teachings in the city of Banaras. Lalitawistara consists of 120 panels, but yet does not tell the complete story of Buddha. These reliefs are found on the temple walls in hallway 1 on level 2.

Jataka and Awadana are reliefs telling of Buddha, before he was reborn as Prince Siddharta. These are also engraved in hallway 1 on the second level, and tell of Buddha’s kindness and self-sacrifice as he was reincarnated in various forms of human or animal. It explains of how good works are what set humans apart from animals, and tells of the stages of preparation to the next and higher level of Buddha. Awadana also tells the story not of the Buddha figure, but of the Prince Sudhanakumara. The stories on the awadana reliefs are compiled in the books Kitab Diwyawadana (A Diety’s noble deeds) and Kitab Awadanasataka (A hundred awadana stories.)

locations of the Borobudar reliefs

Bhadracari is a row of 460 neatly carved reliefs along the walls and balustrades. These reliefs are scattered throughout various levels of the temple and tell of Sudhana, the son of a wealthy merchant, who wanders in quest of the ultimate knowledge or truth. These panels are based on the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures, entitled Gandawyuha. The story tells of 10 great vows made by Bodhisattva Samantabadhra concerning his Buddhist practice, which later became the leading guidelines of all Bodhisattvas, and particularly of Sudhana.

Understanding the Thousands of Relief Panels of Borobudur From the 5th to 7th levels of the temple, there are no reliefs on the walls. This is because these levels represent the nature of the “Arupadhatu,” which means “without tangible form.” At this level, people are free from all desires of any shape or form, but yet have not attained Nirvana. On this level, there are several Buddha statues placed inside stupas. At the 10th and highest level of the temple, is the largest and tallest stupa in Borobudur. Within this stupa was found the Imperfect Buddha or Unfinished Buddha, which can now be found in the Karmawibhangga Museum.

Restoration and Preservation of Borobudur

In the 1960s, Borobudur was in danger of collapsing and many of the bas-reliefs were being eaten away by lichen and mold. In the 1970s the Indonesian Government and UNESCO worked together to restore Borobudur to its former majesty The restoration took eight years to complete.

The $20-million restoration — project funded mostly by UNESCO and the Indonesian government — dismantled, stabilized and rebuilt the temple. It was one of the most complex and difficult restoration projects ever. Some 800,000 stones were marked, recorded on a computer and then removed so a drainage system incorporating layers of tar and epoxy could be installed and the hill under temple could be stabilized. When the work was done the stones were replaced. Before Borobudur reopened in 1983 it was covered by cranes and construction workers. . [Source: W. Brown Morton III, National Geographic, January 1983]

In 1985, a terrorist bomb tore away big chunks of the upper story of the shrine. The attack was partly in revenge for the killing of Muslim rioters by government security force but also indicated that Muslim extremist were willing to destroy sites sacred to other religions and seemed to serve as preview of the attacks by the Taleban on the Bayaman Buddhist statues in Afghanistan. In 1991, Borobudur was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

According to UNESCO: “The main threat to the ensemble is from development that could compromise the extraordinary relationship between the main monument and its wider setting and could also affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. The approach to the property has to a degree already been compromised by weak developmental regulations. Tourism also exerts considerable pressure on the property and its hinterland. There is a growing rate of deterioration of the building stone, the cause of which needs further research. There is also a small degree of damage caused by unsupervised visitors. The eruption of Mount Merapi is also considered as one of the potential threats because of its deposit acidic ash as happened in 2010. [Source: UNESCO]

“The original materials were used to reconstruct the temple in two phases in the 20th century: after the turn of the century and more recently (1973-1983). Mostly original materials were used with some additions to consolidate the monument and ensure proper drainage which has not had any significant adverse impact on the value of the property. Though the present state of Borobudur Temple is the result of restorations, it retained more than enough original material when re-discovered to make a reconstruction possible.

“Nowadays the property could be used as a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Its overall atmosphere is, however, to a certain degree compromised by the lack of control of commercial activities and the pressure resulting from the lack of an adequate tourism management strategy. Monitoring programs has been effectively executed to monitor the growing rate of deterioration of building stone and also damage by unsupervised visitors. A research is being conducted to determine the long- term impact of deposit acidic ash of eruption of Mount Merapi to set further protection and conservation management of the property. Furthermore, a risk preparedness plan will be formulated in 2012.

“The Borobudur Heritage Conservation Office has conducted community development programs targeting especially at the youth to raise their awareness. In improving and empowering local community as specialist guide for Borobudur Temple Compounds, several training programs have been conducted. The community development related to economical sector (small enterprises that produce traditional handicrafts, culinaries, etc) have already being conducted by the municipalities of Magelang Regency and Central Java Province.”

Tourism at Borobudur

Borobudur is Indonesia’s most visited tourist attraction and a famous icon of Indonesia’s cultural heritage. More than a million visitors visit Borobudur every year, including thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world. If you visit it go early in the morning, when the weather is cool and before the crowds come and ruin the tranquility of the place. Even if you go around sunrise at 6:00am you’ll find many people already there. Sometimes massive school groups begin showing up between 7:00am and 8:00am. Many of them go up to European-looking tourists and ask to have their picture taken with them.

Borobudur cross section

The once nearly empty agricultural plain around the monument is now the home of crowded tourist village. In the 1980s, the tourist village was moved away from Borobudur to make room for a new museum and the Borobudur Archeological park. Hawkers sell everything from postcards to tops. The number of hawkers increased dramatically after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Some can be disturbingly aggressive In there the early 2000s there was some discussion of kicking out all the hawkers and building a shopping mall complex and tramway from the mall to the base of the temple. Many people involved in cultural heritage found the idea appalling and organized protests against the idea. Hawkers and local people are also upset.

During the Buddhist festival of Vesak (Waisak) there is a procession from Mendut Temple to Borobudar. Held once a year during a full moon in May, the festival celebrates the birth, death and enlightenment of Buddha It attracts many pilgrims and visitors.

Public transportation is available to Borobudar from Yogyakarta and Semarang. Horse carts can take you from the bus terminal to the monument. Dress respectfully in light and comfortable clothes. Hire a licensed tour guide, so you'll get better information. During a dry season, you should wear a hat or carry umbrella to protect yourself from the sun or the occasional shower. You can rent one for around Rp2,000 (about US $0.18)

Visiting Borobudur

Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Four am is a terrible time of day, too late for night owls, too early for early risers. The exception is 4am at Borobudur, waiting for the sun to rise over the Kedu Plain in central Java with 504 figures of Buddha. The temple is one of three great religious sites in Southeast Asia, but it's older and more esoteric than Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It was begun in the 8th century by the Sailendras, a dynasty of Buddhist kings who ruled central Java for almost 200 years until their power waned and the temple was abandoned. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2012]

“The stepped pyramid rises in nine levels to a single bell-shaped stupa surrounded by galleries. The pilgrims walk around them, meditating on stone reliefs that tell the life story of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince who transcended life's pain and became the Lord Buddha. You can circle the monument with them or climb to the top, but only by looking at a diagram can you tell that the temple is shaped like a mandala, a mystical scheme of the Buddhist cosmos. The three levels denote states of consciousness, from human suffering to enlightenment. Little is known beyond that, leaving the cosmos locked shut while Borobudur reigns, silent and solitary, over the volcano-ringed garden of Java.

“The trip was organized by Borobudur Tour & Travel, which offered a three-day itinerary in central Java, including a van, a driver and hotels, for $375, no deposit required. The rainy season had just begun when I flew from Singapore to Yogyakarta, about 35 miles southeast of Borobudur. The name of the town's airport, Adisucipto, seemed to me almost as imponderable as that of the province's sultan and elected governor, Hamengkubuwono. Fortunately, I had an easier time with my driver Noor, whom I spotted in arrivals holding a sign that said "Spano," presumably a name as baffling to Indonesians as theirs were to me. He had been told to meet a couple from Spain instead of a single female traveler from the U.S.

“Noor, a soft-spoken, amiable man, was unfazed. He was a reliable driver, and as a guide, he was good at pointing out aspects of everyday life...From the airport we took the traffic-clogged, two-lane ring road around Yogyakarta, passing cottage industries making wood furniture and replicas of temple statues. We saw a boy riding a small merry-go-round mounted on the back of a bike and greengrocery huts with exotic produce such as snake-skinned salak fruit piled high. Children bathed in an engorged river, and women in colorful head scarves did the wash. Rice paddies were filled to the brim with water and set like cloudy cut opals in the blazing green landscape.

“For a warmup, we stopped at Prambanan, a temple complex close to Yogyakarta built shortly after Borobudur, but architecturally more like Angkor Wat...Finally, we got to the main event: Borobudur, a few hours by van from Yogyakarta. Near a ramshackle village strung along a bumpy road, it is one of the least touristy UNESCO World Heritage Sites I've visited. I didn't see a hotel until we entered the temple gate and parked at a cluster of low buildings set around beds of orange cannas. This was the Manohara guest house, originally built for researchers and architectural historians that completed a major renovation of the temple in 1983. Now open to travelers, it provides a welcome drink ofCoca-Cola with tamarind, modest rooms, good food in an open-air dining room, a video introduction to Borobudur and easy access to the temple, especially for people who want to see it at sunrise.

“We arrived in the late afternoon, just as the skies were threatening. Nevertheless, I headed straight for the temple, hidden by trees until the very threshold. Then Borobudur made its appearance, a great layer cake of mottled gray stone supporting a mountain of needle-pinnacled stupas. The arched staircases from level to level are treacherously steep, overlooked by gaping-mouthed gargoyle water spouts, nymphs (or apsaras), dancing arms akimbo, and niches enshrining Buddha figures, each with hands in different symbolic poses (or mudras). His life story unfolds on the middle level, starting at the left side of the eastern entrance with stone panels of great vividness, recalling the medieval Bayeux tapestry in France. I ran my hand over a carving of Queen Maya in a carriage headed for Lumbini Park, where she gave birth to the Buddha.

what it might have been like when Borobudur was a full-on working temple

“Just then a clap of thunder thwacked à la Macbeth, and guards began herding visitors to a gate far from the one I'd entered. When I told one of them that I needed to get back to the Manohara, he offered to take me there on his motor scooter. I figured I'd crack Borobudur's meaning the next morning. Meanwhile, I let fly on the ride of a lifetime around the temple. “That night, I watched the Borobudur video, had a satay dinner at the restaurant, accompanied by gamelan music, and claimed a flashlight at the front desk for my sunrise visit to Borobudur. I slept soundly, without the interruptions I normally experience on the eve of a great event.

“Dawn was an hour away when I joined a small group of guests in the lobby and followed a guide across the lawn to the temple. He made no comment; there was nothing to say — except perhaps hati hati. “This time, I climbed to the top levels, which are round, not rectangular, and bare except for their forest of stupas, perforated to allow peeks at Buddha statues inside. Experts say that Borobudur's more abstract upper precincts, especially its empty central stupa, reflect nirvana, a state of being beyond human consciousness. But how could they know? How could anyone know, even sitting atop the temple watching the pinkness of sunrise pool in a halo around soon-to-erupt Mt. Merapi, where the mystery of the cosmos remains secure? But if there is a keyhole to it anywhere, I'd wager it's at Borobudur.

Accommodation and Getting to Borobudur

As Borobudur is only a one hour drive from Yogyakarta, many visitors choose to stay in there where there are a wide variety of hotels, from a simple bed & breakfast to starred hotels. For visitors who want to stay as close as possible to the magnificent Borobudur temple there are other accommodation options. Standing high amidst the Menoreh Hills with some truly stunning views of Borobudur, the Amanjiwo hotel is a majestic building and almost a tourist attraction in its own right. Located only three kilometers to the South of Borobudur the Amanjiwo is a luxury hotel where guests enjoy exclusive suites with private swimming pools.

Alternatively, there are hotels perched in the nearby beautiful highlands of Magelang. Magelang hotels are approximately 20 kilometers north of the Borobudur Temple. One of the most impressive hotels in this area is the Losari Coffee Plantation, which offers villa-style accommodation where the verandahs overlook some impressive views of the nearby volcanoes. There are some restaurants near Borobudur. Many people eat at the restaurant they are taken to their tour. There is better selection of places to eat in Yogyakarta.

The best way to explore Borobodur is on foot. Guides are available for around Rp 50,000. The easiest way to get there is by joining a tour or renting a car. During your journey to Borobudur, enjoy the fresh air big shady trees that line th roads around Magelang. Borobudur itself sits in front of the Menoreh mountain range.

Mendut Temple

Mendut Temple (three kilometers east of Borobudar) is a small Buddhist temple said to face toward the place in India where Buddha engaged in the “First Sermon” taught five of his disciples for the first time. The smaller temples of Mendut which house a large Buddha statue and Pawon temple are important parts of the Borobudar complex. Mendut Temple is part of a pilgrimage’s path to Borobudur and for tourist’s serves as an introduction to Borobudur temple but a let down afterwards. It is of most interest to historians and archaeologists, Mendut has an array of narrative reliefs most important Buddha statues The temple itself is located in the village of Mendut in the Magelang Regency in Central Java.

Mendut Temple is situated is on a north to south straight line with the Borobudur and Pawon Temples. Local legend relates that long ago a brick-paved road led from Mendut to Borobudur, closed in by walls with niches built into them. According to Dutch archaeologist JG de Casparis, the temple forms part of a once huge temple complex together with the Pawon and Borobudur temples and, chronologically speaking, is the oldest among the three.

According to a Karangtengah inscription, the temple was built and completed during the reign of King Indra of Sailendra dynasty. The inscription dated 824 AD mentions that King Indra of Sailendra built a sacred monument named Venuvana which means "bamboo forest". Casparis connected the temple mentioned in the Karangtengah inscription with the Mendut temple and Bhiku Sri Pannyavaro Mahethera, in the documentary movie entitled “The forgotten gems, Buddhists Temples in Java” mentioned that the original name of the Temple was Venuvana Mandira meaning “The Palace in the Bamboo Forest”.

The 26.4 meters tall temple faces northwest. The stairs projecting from its northwest’ side square elevated base is adorned with a Makara statue on either side. The side of the stair wall is carved with bas-relief of the Jataka fable narrating the animal story of Buddhist teaching. While the square terrace surrounding the body of the temple is meant for pradakshina or the ritual of circumambulation, walking clockwise around the temple. The outer walls are adorned with bas-reliefs of Bodhisatvas (Buddhist divinities), such as Avalokitesvara, Maitreya, Cunda, Ksitigarbha, Samantabhadra, Mahakarunika Avalokitesvara, Vajrapani, Manjusri, Akasagarbha, and Boddhisattvadevi Prajnaparamita among other Buddhist figures. Originally the temple had two chambers, a small chamber in the front, and the large main chamber in the center. The roof and some parts of the front chamber walls are now missing. The inner wall of the front chamber is adorned with bas-relief of Hariti surrounds by children, Atavaka on the other side, Kalpataru, also groups of devatas divinities flying in heaven.

The main chamber houses three beautifully carved large stone statues. The three statues are the Buddhist main divinities revered at Mendut which can explain the spiritual purpose of the establishment of this temple. At the center of the chamber is a grand three meter tall stone statue of Dhyani Buddha Cakyamuni or Dhyani Buddha Vairocana facing west, sitting in the dharma Cakra Mudra hand position (turning the wheel of Dharma). This central statue is believed to symbolize the turning of the wheels of all life on earth.

On the right of the central statue is the Boddhisatva Avalokitesvara in a seated position with the left leg crossed, while the right leg touches the ground. The hand position is varamudra which illustrates the Buddha delivering his teachings. The statue portrays Buddha in his grand costume complete with the jewelries and wearing a crown.

The third statue is the Bodhisatva Vajrapani which sits on the left side of the Budha Cakyamuni. Just as the Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara, this statue also portrays the Buddha in his grand costume with reverse crossed legs to those of the Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara. Also called the Bodhisatva Maitreya, the hand position is simhakarnamudra which is similar to varamudra but with closed fingers, and represents the Buddha as the salvation of mankind.

For Buddhists in Indonesia and abroad, the Mendut temple holds special significance. The existence of the three gigantic Buddha statues holds its own fascinating beauty both as sacred monuments and as works of art. The three statues sitting in the temple are still considered to radiate an aura of blessedness. Today, the temple is visited by many visitors and Buddhists pilgrims from around the world before proceeding to Borobudur. Mendut Temple also becomes the staging point for the annual ritual ceremony of Vesak, where the holly waters from the pristine springs of Jumprit and the torch with the natural eternal flames at Mrapen are kept, before the monks and congregations conduct their ritual procession from Mendut to Borobudur.

Mendut’s proximity to Borobudur Temple makes it easy for you to visit both temples at the same time. You can do so as part of tour (but many tours don’t include it on their itinerary) or rent car o hire a car with a driver from Yogyakarta, an hour’s drive away, and visit it on your own. The public buses to Borobudur from Yogyakarta are aimed mostly for Indonesian visitors, with only a few tourists venturing aboard. If you are adventurous, the Trans-Jogya service runs from central Yogyakarta to Jombor bus terminal in northern Yogyakarta (IDR 3,000), where you can change to another bus to make a stop at Mendut Temple. It takes about 60-90 minutes, and should cost around IDR 10,000-15,000 one way, but bargain with the bus staff to get a good price.

Buses run regularly from Magelang to Borobudur via Muntilan and are widely advertised there. The journey takes about 1 hour. To get to Mendut from or to the Hindu temples of Prambanan, take a Yogyakarta bus and get off at Jombor Terminal (90 min, Rp 15,000 for visitors, Rp 7,000 for Indonesians). From Jombor take TransJogya route 2B to Prambanan (45-60 min, Rp 3,000). It will require 3 bus changes: 2B from Jombor to Terminal Condong, 3B from Terminal Condong to Maguwo (Jl. Solo) and 1A/B from Maguwo to Prambanan.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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