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In many ways, Borobudur is a kind of wonder. It is a wonder of architectural design, of spiritual experience, and of the past culture long gone. In short, it really deserves to be a monument of mankind. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles once wrote in about 1815,"In the whole course of my life I have never met with such a stupendous and finished specimen of human labour, and of the science and taste of ages long since forgot."
The Monument of Mankind


Built between 778 AD and 842 AD by the Çailendra dynasty, this great Buddhist monument is the precursor of those at Angkor Wat in Cambodia by at least two centuries. Located in Borobudur village, Magelang, Borobudur represents a high expression of the artistic genius of the time and is a major cultural and tourist attraction. To read this Buddhist textbook in stone requires a walk of more than two miles. The walls of the galleries are adorned with impressive reliefs illustrating the life of Buddha Çakyamuni and principles of his teaching.

The facts behind the deserting of this magnificent monument still remains an unsolved mystery. Some scholars believe that famine caused by Mount Merapi eruption once swept out the fertile land of Central Java, forcing the inhabitants to leave their lands and monuments behind in their search for a new place to live. When people once again inhabited this area, the glory of Borobudur had already been buried by soil erupted from Mount Merapi. It was rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who, during his visit in Semarang, received a report indicating the discovery of a hill full of many carved stones. The hill was believed by the local site of an ancient monument called budur. Raffles then commissioned a team led by Cornelius to investigate the hill. Some efforts were made to restore and preserve the colossal monument since then. Unfortunately, in 1896 the Dutch Colonial Government gave away eight containers of Borobudur stones, 30 stones with relief, 5 Buddha statues, 2 lion statues, several kala stones, stair and gate of Borobudur, as presents for the King of Siam who visit Indonesia back then. 

Representing the existence of the universe, Borobudur perfectly reflects the Buddhist cosmology, which divides the universe into three intermingled separate levels. The three levels are Kamadhatu (world of desire), Rupadhatu (world of forms), and Arupadhatu (world of formlessness). The hidden base of Borobudur is originally the first level, which contains the gallery of Kamadhatu level.

Perhaps during the construction Borobudur experienced a landfall that threatened the entire building. To prevent the whole monument from collapsing, the Kamadhatu level was closed and made into a new base that hold Borobudur steady. This level of Kamadhatu pictures the world of passion and the inevitable laws of karma. The first 117 frames show various actions leading to one and the same result, while the other remaining 43 panels demonstrate the many results that follow one single effect. At least 160 frames of reliefs were carved around this level, based on the manuscript Karmawibhangga. What was left of these frames can be seen in the Southeast corner of this level.

The reliefs of Rupadhatu levels show the stories based on the manuscript of Lalitavistara, Jataka-Awadana and Gandavyuha. Lalitavistara reliefs, consisting of 120 frames, tell us about the life of Sidharta Gautama Buddha. It starts with a glorious descending of Buddha from the Tushita heaven. Born as Prince Siddharta, Buddha's childhood was isolated from the outside world's misery. Accidentally witnessing the misery of sickness, decrepitude and death, young Prince Siddharta decided to escape from the worldly life and commencing his search of freedom from suffering. Siddharta's long and painful search finally led him to the highest level of enlightenment and made him Buddha, the Enlightened One. This story ends with Buddha's sermon in the Deer Park near Benares.

The Jataka is a collection of stories about Buddha's previous reincarnation chains and virtues. According to the Jataka, Buddha has been born five hundred and four times before being born as Prince Sidharta either in the forms of god, kings, princes, learned men, thieves, slaves, or a gambler. Many times he was born in the forms of animals such as a lion, deer, monkeys, swan, big turtle, quail, horse, bird and many others. But the Boddhisatvas (title of living-beings prepared to be Buddha) were distinguished from all other kings, slaves, or animals among whom he lived. The Boddhisatva is always superior to and wiser than any other of his kinds.


As to the reliefs of Awadana, the main figure is not the Buddha himself. All the saintly deeds pictured in this part are attributed to other legendary characters. The stories are compiled in the Dvijavadana (Glorious Heavenly Acts) and the Awadana Sataka (The Hundred Awadana). The first 20 frames in the lower series of stories on the first gallery depict the Sudhanakumaravana.

The series of reliefs covering the wall of second gallery is dedicated to Sudhana's tireless wandering during his search of the highest wisdom. The story is continued on the walls and balustrades of the third and fourth galleries. Most of the 460 frames depicting the scenes based on the Mahayana holy text Gandavyuha. While the concluding scenes are derived from the text of Badraçari.

On the last three circular uppermost terraces, 72 stupas are circling the huge main stupa on the top of this monument. The circular formation represents eternity, without beginning and without end; a superlative, tranquil, and a pure state of the formlessness. No relief can be found in these three circular terraces.

The following diagram might also help you seeing another dimension of Borobudur. Seen from above, the whole monument makes the world's biggest mandala. 

The whole volume of this massive andhesite monument reaches the number of 56.000m3 and consists of at least 2.000.000 stone blocks. One cannot help but admiring the determination and effort of those dedicated people who built such a great monument. This is Borobudur, the world's greatest Buddhist monument, the masterpiece of art and faith, the biggest Buddhist text-book, the vehicle to enlightenment, the legacy of humanity, the monument of mankind.


Base with the hidden foot Karmawibhangga 160 frames
First Gallery, main wall Lalitavistara 120 frames
Jataka/Awadana 120 frames
Balustrade Jataka/Awadana 372 frames
Jataka/Awadana 128 frames
Second Gallery, main wall Gandavyuha 128 frames
Balustrade Jataka/Awadana 100 frames
Third Gallery, main wall Gandavyuha 88 frames
Balustrade Gandavyuha 88 frames
Fourth Gallery, main wall Gandavyuha 84 frames
Balustrade Gandavyuha 72 frames


1,460 frames
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