Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Indonesia


Borobudur is a solid jewel in the province of Central Java. This temple complex is considered to be the oldest among the Buddhist shrines. About the colossal size of the structure is not worth mentioning! Borobudur vividly illustrates the proverb: “better to see once than hear a hundred times”. The temple is recognized as an example of Indonesian medieval architecture and therefore since 1991 it is included in the list of World Heritage Sites under No. 522.

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Video: Borobudur

Basic Information

Borobudur rises in one of the picturesque regions of the island of Java, the sacred valley of Kebu, 40 km from Yogyakarta. The discovery of the temple is reminiscent of the plot of an Indiana Jones adventure novel. For a long time Borobudur was hidden under the volcanic ash among the dense jungles of Java and has seen the light again only at the beginning of the XIX century. Now the Buddhist “stone lotus” – one of the most popular attractions in Indonesia.

The origin of the name of the temple is still a mystery and gives rise to new hypotheses. The first version suggests that the word “borobudur” came from a forgotten dialect of the Indonesian language and means “Thousand Buddhas”. The second theory says: “boro” is the name of the territory, “boudur” is translated as “antiquity”. Accordingly, the name of the Buddhist temple means “ancient territory”. The third version is the most logical: the word “boro” is the name of a complex of monasteries, but “boudur” is a modified form of the Balinese adverb “beduhur” – “above”.

History of Borobudur

Documentary sources have not preserved accurate information about the period affected by the construction of the temple complex. The era was established tentatively, based on the results of comparing the carved reliefs of the hidden foot of Borobudur and inscriptions found in the royal charters of the VIII-IX centuries. It is likely that the first stone of the temple was laid in 800, when power over the Mataram kingdom was in the hands of the Sailendra dynasty. The construction supposedly dragged on for 75 years.

The history of Borobudur cannot be called a happy one. The peak of popularity of the temple complex among pilgrims was followed by a long period of desolation, when the priests-Brahmans left the sacred place. The reasons for this remain a mystery. In the X-XI centuries, King Mpu Sindok moved the capital of Mataram to the region of East Java for fear of volcanic eruptions. During the next one Borobudur was also affected: it was partially hidden by a thick layer of ash from the volcano Merapi.

However, the temple continued to live on in people’s memories, but as a source of superstition associated with misfortune and bad luck. It was the place where the rebels against King Pacubuwono I were executed; after a visit to the “hidden” Borobudur, the crown prince of Monkonagoro fell ill and died… Curious travelers came to the temple complex less and less often, and the jungle made the place inaccessible altogether. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Java became part of the British crown.

At the time, Governor T. S. Raffles was interested in the history of the island. Since the Englishman was a collector of antiques, he often traveled around Java and talked with the locals. The trip to Semarang, where Raffles was told about a legendary temple hidden in the jungle near the village of Bumisegoro, was fateful. The governor decided to see if the rumors were true and sent a Dutch engineer, H. Cornelius, to investigate. He, enlisting the help of two hundred men, significantly thinned out the vegetation and began excavating Borobudur.

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Fearing that the walls of the ancient temple would collapse, Cornelius did not venture to free all the galleries from volcanic ash and earth. The result, however, was enough for a report that included detailed drawings of the structure. Although Raffles mentioned the engineer’s involvement in passing, the governor is still credited with the rediscovery of the temple and the glory of the man who brought Borobudur to the world’s attention.

The Dutchman’s work was continued by a resident of the Kedu region, C. L. Hartmann, and by 1835 the excavations of the temple complex were complete. The study and sketches of the monument of Indonesian architecture were undertaken by F. K. Winsel and J. F. G. Brumund. F. G. Brumund. They completed their research of Borobudur in 1859. However, their work on the temple was never published, as Brumund declined cooperation at the last minute. A more cooperative scholar, C. Leemans, was commissioned to write the monograph. It was published in 1873, and a year later translated into French. The first photo of Borobudur was made in the same period.

The ancient temple complex became a kind of magnet for thieves and treasure hunters who wanted to profit from the “souvenirs” of Borobudur. The activities of some vandals were even approved by the colonial government. For example, in 1896 King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited the island and returned home accompanied by eight carts laden with sculptures from the temple. Among them were statues of an usher (dvarapala) and lions, a gargoyle, images of the founder of Buddhism, relief panels and even drainpipes! Now most of the exhibits are in the collection of the National Museum of Bangkok.

The Inspector of Cultural Exhibits was also dismissive of the shrine. Speaking of the unstable state of the monument, he suggested that the temple be “dismantled” down to its foundations and the sculptures and bas-reliefs be made part of the museum displays. Only the intervention of V. P. Groeneveld saved Borobudur from an unenviable fate. The curator of the archaeological collection of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences conducted a thorough examination of the shrine. The report showed that the inspector’s fears were unfounded, so the temple was left untouched.

Borobudur attracted attention at the end of the nineteenth century when the chairman of the Archaeological Society in Yogyakarta, Y. V. Ijerman discovered the hidden foot of the temple. At that time, measures were taken to protect the religious monument. In 1900 he initiated the creation of a commission to assess the condition of Borobudur. It consisted of engineer B. W. van de Kamer, officer T. van Erp and historian J. L. A. Brandes.

The restoration of the shrine took about five years (1907-1911). After the walls of the temple galleries “sagged” and cracks appeared in the reliefs, the reconstruction of Borobudur was resumed, but not for long. World War II and the Indonesian National Revolution put the reconstruction work on hold. This left the Buddhist temple in imminent danger of destruction in the middle of the twentieth century. The initiative of UNESCO representatives and Soekmono’s “Save Borobudur” campaign helped to preserve the monument.

The reconstruction of the temple complex began on a large scale in 1975. Germany, France, Cyprus, Belgium and Australia partly sponsored it. The restoration of Borobudur cost 6.9 million dollars. In 1991, the temple was included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Now Borobudur is recognized as the most visited attraction in Indonesia. Popular “stone lotus” and among Buddhist pilgrims.

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Architecture of Borobudur

The temple complex covers an area of 1.5 hectares. It was built in the form of a huge stupa made of 2 million stone blocks, and from a bird’s eye view resembles a mandala (Buddhist model of the universe). Gunadharma is considered to be the architect of the temple. Unfortunately, not much is known about this man. Even his name was retrieved not from official documents, but from Javanese folk tales. The foundation of Borobudur is made in the form of a square with each side equal to 118 meters. There are 9 tiers on this base: 6 square and 3 round ones. As the height above the ground increases, the area of the levels of the temple decreases.

The upper platform is home to 72 stupas of smaller dimensions, which surround the central stupa. They are distinguished by their bell-shaped shape and numerous diamond-shaped holes (probably playing the role of decorative elements). Statues of Buddha lurk behind these carved “fences”. There is a popular belief among tourists: if you slip your hand stealthily into one of the stupa’s holes and touch the stone fingers of a spiritual teacher, you will be accompanied by happiness and good luck.

Borobudur is notable for the fact that it has no inner space. The temple complex was erected around a hill, previously surrounded by stones. The result was a kind of pyramid, which rises above the ground for more than 30 meters. Each side of Borobudur is oriented in the directions of the world, has a staircase and entrance to the upper levels. However, the central “gate” to the Buddhist temple is located on the east side. It is open only to monks. The staircases pass under the arched gates decorated with 32 sculptures of lions. At the top of each arch is the head of Kali and on the sides are figures of macaques – mythical sea monsters.

Climbing up the tiers of Borobudur from the central gate, you can admire the reliefs that tell the story of the development of Buddhism. Remarkable is the impeccable adherence to the storyline, which stretches for more than 5 km. It is conventionally divided into three levels – Kamadhatu, Rupadhatu and Arapadhatu.

The first level, represented by the base of the temple, symbolizes the world of passions. The 160 panels depicted vicious temptations and the karmic punishment for them. The second, the so-called sphere of forms, signifying the struggle against desires, is located on five square platforms. It tells the story of several incarnations of the Buddha, in which the spiritual teacher reveals the principles of Buddhism in different ways and tells of wanderings in pursuit of wisdom.

The third level, which occupies the circular tiers of Borobudur, signifies a sphere without forms and the anticipation of nirvana. There are no bas-reliefs here, but the symbolic meaning is still there. The statues of Buddha, hidden in small stupas, are the embodiment of absolute serenity and detachment from the earthly world. The central “bell” completely conceals the sculpture.

At first glance, the statues of the spiritual teacher are identical. But if you look closely, you can see the difference between the mudras – the ritual arrangement of the hands. In Buddhism, there are five groups of mudras, each of which has a symbolic meaning:

  • North is fearlessness, courage;
  • south – benevolence, giving alms to the needy;
  • west – meditation, concentration;
  • east – asking the Earth to bestow wisdom;
  • zenith – virtue, prudence, spinning the wheel of dharma (dharmachakra).
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Mudras are oriented to the five main points of the compass, according to one of the directions of the religion, Mahayana. Four balustrades adorn sculptures of the Buddha with the first four mudras. The fifth balustrade and the stupas on the upper platform are statues with the last mudra.

Excavations at the Borobudur site have revealed: the temple complex was formerly painted black, green, red, blue and gold pigments applied to white plaster. Over the centuries, torrential tropical rains washed away the paint, turning the temple into a dark gray pile of volcanic stone. Despite its unassuming appearance, Borobudur is still considered a major religious edifice of Indonesian culture.

The temple complex is equipped with a drainage system with numerous storm drains. Each corner of the temple has a special “neck” decorated with a small carved sculpture of a gargoyle, giant or macara.

Borobudur Museums

A few hundred meters north of the temple is the Karmavibhang Museum. It contains photographs of Borobudur bas-reliefs, stone fragments, and archaeological artifacts found in the vicinity of the temple complex. In addition, the museum exhibition includes documentation that tells not only about the architecture and structure of Borobudur, but also about the official restoration project of the temple.

In the western part of Karmavibhanga is a second museum, the Samudra Raksa. Its exhibits tell tourists about the ancient maritime trade between Indonesia, Madagascar and East Africa (the so-called cinnamon trade route). A visit to both museums is included in the ticket price.

Practical information

The area around the temple complex is fenced, which forms the archaeological temple of Borobudur. You can enter here only after purchasing a ticket (22 EUR), which entitles you to a single visit. Walking around the complex as part of a tour will cost you less: 6-8 EUR. For an opportunity to see Borobudur at sunrise or sunset, you’ll pay more: about 30 EUR.

Temple is open to visitors from 6:00 to 17:00, but Manohara Hotel kindly provides an unofficial tour to visit Borobudur before or after closing time. It can be used even if you are staying at another hotel. All that is required is to arrive at the entrance of Manohara Hotel as early as possible (preferably around 4:00-4:30) and purchase your ticket when the ticket office opens. After you meet the sunrise, you need to redeem the standard ticket and, if you wish, book a sunset tour.

If you dream of saving money on your trip, it is worth considering the possibility of visiting not only Borobudur but also Prambanan (with one ticket, of course). In this case you will pay 9-10 EUR less. The ticket is valid for two days (including the day of purchase), but only entitles you to single access to both temples. For unknown reasons the sale of these tickets is not advertised, so you have to ask the cashier about the Ticket Package Borobudur – Prambanan.

How to get to Borobudur

There are several ways to get to the temple complex:

  • by minibus, using the services of travel agencies in Yogyakarta. The trip will cost 5 EUR. Most often minibuses stop at batik factories to encourage tourists to buy souvenirs, so the journey to the temple may take longer than planned;
  • by bus. Transport leaves from the Jombor stop. You need to take a bus to Magelang. Usually tourists are dropped off at the Muntilan Bus Terminal in the village of Muntilan, but it’s best to check the stop in advance. The fare is 2 EUR. After getting off the bus, immediately take a “hitchhiker” to Borobudur. The stop is located a hundred meters from the main entrance of the archaeological park;
  • by rented vehicles. Rental prices start at 20 EUR per day. A car with a driver will cost more: 30 EUR. This option will require the least time and is the most comfortable.
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You can also visit Borobudur as a part of a tour. Their starting point is the island of Bali, or the famous tourist town of Java.

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world

Borobudur is a huge Buddhist complex in Indonesia. It can safely be called one of the wonders of the world. The beauty and grandeur, the picturesqueness and scope, everything corresponds to such a title. And the size of the temple is very impressive – 123×123 meters.

Borobudur Temple in Indonesia

Temple of Borobudur in Indonesia

Where is it located

Borobudur is located in Indonesia, 15 kilometers from the city of Magelang in the central part of Java (the province, by the way, is called Central Java).

Geographic coordinates (-7.607973, 110.203843)

What amazes Borobudur

Borobudur resembles a huge stupa, whose shape resembles a giant Buddhist mandala (a closed geometric system with elements equidistant from the central point).

Its foundation is square, with a long side of 123 meters. The temple consists of eight tiers. The lower five are square and the other three are circular. This shape reflects the worldview of the Buddhist monks.

Borobudur. View from height

This is what Borobudur looks like from above

On the upper tier there are 72 small stupas that surround the large central stupa. Each of them is in the form of an ornate bell. Inside them are statues of the Buddha.

Stupas at the Borobudur temple

All the walls and terraces of the temple are covered with incredible and intricate bas-reliefs that reflect the teachings of the Buddha. The central stupa is a symbol of dedication to the Buddha, a symbol of eternity and enlightenment.

Bas-reliefs of Borobudur

Bas-reliefs of Borobudur

An interesting fact – the temple is decorated with 2672 bas-reliefs and 504 statues of Buddha (but 300 of the original statues are damaged and 43 are missing)

Borobudur in Religion

Even now Borobudur remains a place of religious pilgrimage and prayer. Pilgrims circle each tier seven times in a clockwise direction. However, only Buddhist monks are allowed to enter through the central stupa.

Researchers are of the opinion that the structure can be seen as a huge book for pilgrims.

Bas-reliefs at Borobudur temple

Bas-reliefs in the Borobudur Temple

Walking through each tier, according to the ritual, believers are introduced to the life and teachings of Buddha. According to the belief, touching every Buddha in the stupa of the upper tier through a notch in it will bring happiness. However, some of the stupas turn out to be empty (as you remember, there are 43 statues missing out of 504). And one, a special stupa, symbolizes the dwelling of the Buddha. If you touch the foot of the Buddha there, according to legend, your wish is sure to come true.

Borobudur Temple

Small stupas on the upper tier of the temple

Borobudur has one of the largest and most complete collections of Buddhist bas-reliefs in the world.

When was the temple built

Borobudur was erected about 1,200 years ago. During this time it has survived not only the eruption of the volcano Merapi, but also a change of religion on the island of Java, and even a change of political course of the country. That said, even after being visited by treasure hunters, the temple managed to maintain its beautiful and monumental appearance.

Borobudur temple belongs to the largest Buddhist monuments on the planet. It was built roughly between 750-850 years AD. According to scientists, its construction took at least 100 years.

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Borobudur Temple

Note the joints between the stones

Interesting fact – During the construction of the temple no bonding materials were used. The stones of the temple are incredibly precisely fitted to each other. Similar things can be seen in the ancient city of Sacsayhuaman in Peru.

The oblivion of Borobudur temple

For a long time Borobudur was in a state of neglect, covered in volcanic ash.

What led to the desolation of this unique monument, for what reasons it was abandoned, remains a mystery.

Around the middle of the 20th century historians made the assumption that the misfortune that befell the inhabitants after the eruption of Merapi, forced them to leave their homes in search of a new place to live. The volcano erupted in 1006. However, many scholars are of the opinion that the center of Javanese civilization had moved to the Brantas Valley earlier, around 928. Still, the true reason why the inhabitants left Borobudur remains unknown.

Rediscovery and restoration

The temple was rediscovered in 1814 when the island was occupied by the British. During an expedition of 200 people organized by them, the monument was cleaned for a month and a half. Later, other researchers continued the work. The upper part of the monument was completely cleared out in 1835. Since then, the entire complex has been clearly visible.


Interesting fact – During the restoration in the early 20th century, it was discovered that there are three Buddhist temples in the area – Borobudur, Pavon and Mendut. And they are located in one straight line. There is clearly a religious connection between them. But their exact ritual purpose is unknown.

In those times the monuments were actively plundered. Sculptures, bas-reliefs, ornaments were stolen by thieves for souvenirs. Only one king of Siam, after visiting the governor of Java in 1886, took out statues, elements and ornaments on eight ox-drawn carts. Among them was the only surviving sculpture of the temple keeper. As a result of such looting and natural destruction, the temple was severely damaged.

But the complex has been restored several times. The most extensive restoration took place from 1975 to 1982. Since then Borobudur has been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Now Borobudur temple is fully restored, the hill is fortified and erected irrigation system.

Borobudur temple in tourism

Borobudur is the most visited attraction in Indonesia.

In 1974, 260,000 tourists visited the temple. Of these, 36,000 were foreigners. And in the mid-1990s that figure has grown to 2.5 million people.

Literally 200 meters from the temple there is a 3-star hotel Manohara Borobudur. The temple has several tourist awards. In June 2012, Borobudur made it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the site of the largest archaeological excavations in the Buddhist world.

The large influx of visitors climbing Borobudur’s narrow staircase has caused severe wear and tear on the stone steps. To avoid further wear and tear on the stairs, since November 2014 the two main sections of Borobudur’s stairs, the east (uphill) and the north (downhill), have been covered with wooden constructions. A similar technique is used at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Egyptian pyramids.

Borobudur Stairs

Now these stairs are covered with wooden planking.

There were also suggestions to cover the stairs with a rubber compound or to give visitors special shoes. But for now the stairs are covered with wooden planking.

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