Considered as the largest Mahayana Buddhist temple, as well as one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world, Borobudur is located in Kedu Valley, on the Island of Java in Indonesia. Built 400 years before the construction of the great Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, this huge archaeological marvel was built in the 9th century, during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty. Standing majestically on a remote hilltop and surrounded by lush and wild greenery, the temple proudly exhibits the clear influences of the Gupta architecture spreading over an enormous area beyond India. The name Borobudur is supposed to be originated from the Sanskrit language, which stands for ‘Vihara Buddha Uhr’ or Buddhist Monastery.
The unique feature of Borobudur lies in the fact that, the entire complex was built without the use of mortar. It was built with the help of Lego Blocks and instead of mortar, Knobs and woodworking joinery were used by the builders for joining the massive stones. The basic structure of the temple resembles a pyramid and consists of six squares and three circular stacked platforms, crowned by a central dome, which is a huge monumental Stupa, a hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation of the Buddhists. The temple is meticulously decorated with 2,672 relief panels along with 504 Buddha statues and the central dome is encompassed by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated Stupa.
Borobudur has one of the largest and most complete ensembles of Buddhist reliefs in the world. The relief sculptures evenly depict the teachings of Lord Buddha, various events related to his past lives, known as the Jataka and illustrate instructive stories taken from important Buddhist scriptures (sutras). Apart from that, the base of the monument is also decorated with 160 relief sculptures, which were added shortly after the building’s construction, probably to further support the structure’s weight and were concealed behind stone buttresses.
Borobudur is an important holy place of pilgrimage for the Buddhists of the world and the journey of pilgrimage begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument, ascending to the top. The three levels of the temple are symbolic representation of Buddhist cosmology, namely Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupdhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The monument itself guides the pilgrims, from the base to the top, through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades.
Apart from the Borobudur Temple, the complex comprises of two other smaller temples situated to the east on a straight axis to Borobudur. In one of the temples, known as the Mendut Temple, depiction of Buddha is represented by a monolith accompanied by two Bodhisattvas. The other one, a smaller temple, called the Pawon Temple, does not reveal any clue about the deity that might have been the object of worship.
During the restoration in the early 20th century, it was discovered that three temples are positioned along a straight line and it is considered that, all the three temples were constructed in the same time period as they have a similar style of architecture and ornamentations.
Borobudur was abandoned following the decline of Hindu kingdoms in Java and the Javanese conversion to Islam. Subsequently, it remained hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth till 1814, when the British Lieutenant Governor of Java, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles rediscovered the site, on being reported by the islanders of an incredible sanctuary deep in the remote part of the Island.
He was reported that, the local inhabitants believe the hill to be the site of an ancient monument called Budur. Though the site was cleared in 1835, the restoration program undertaken between 1973 and 1984 returned much of the complex to its former glory. Since then, Borobudur has become a favourite destination of Buddhist pilgrimage and in 1991, it has been enlisted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site.