A very popular tourist attraction in Indonesia, the royal Borobudur temple in Central Java is also the largest Buddhist monument in the world. The colossal pyramid-shaped construction was built from the 8th and 9th centuries from tens of thousands of enormous blocks of rock and is organized in ascending platforms. The initial five terraces are square, along with the top three circulars. The entire temple is crowned by a large central stupa (bell-shaped shrine) which helps give Borobudur its distinctive shape.

The walls and balustrades of the decreased levels are adorned with richly carved stone reliefs that tell the story of Buddha’s enlightenment and give a feast for the eyes and a devotional route for pilgrims who wander around the terraces at a clockwise manner. Once you get to the upper few levels you leave behind the ‘earthly’ atmosphere of this panelled terraces and enter a serene space dominated by countless openwork stone stupas and Buddha statues.

Over time, Borobudur has deservedly been included in the Seven Wonders of the World several times. A wholesale renovation of the temple under the advice of UNESCO was finished in 1983, and together with the neighboring Mendut and Pawon temples, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hiring one of those knowledgeable, multilingual guides in the Visitor Assistance Centre is critical to understanding the stories associated with the rock carvings. As you climb to the summit and look out over the neighboring mountains and rice fields, you will be able to sense the background and spiritual symbolism of this magical temple that local people of all religions still revere.

The History

Borobudur was built somewhere between 750 and 842 AD during the Sailendra dynasty. This was roughly three centuries before the building of Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple complex. After energy shifted to east Java from the 10th century, Borobudur dropped into neglect and became covered in volcanic ash and lost into the jungle. The temple mainly remained forgotten until the British Governor of Java, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, heard of its presence in 1814 and ordered it sporadically.

Regrettably, once uncovered, the local and international plunderers destroyed many statues and reliefs, and the porous rock was eroded from the hot sun and constant rain. In the early 20th century, Dutch experts performed a partial restoration. But, it wasn’t till 1983, once the in depth eight-year renovation project undertaken by UNESCO and the Indonesian government was finished, Borobudur returned to its past glory.

The Highlights

Unusually, there’s no inner chamber, with decorative and devotional adornments appearing on the temple’s exterior. The monument stands on a mountain and is made up of five square terraces, each adorned with carved stone wall panels, mainly depicting Buddha’s past lives and his innocence. You will find 1,460 story panels and 1,212 decorative panels.

Above these are three circular platforms using a total of 504 bell-shaped stupas, some of which contain Buddha statues. Compared with all the lower terraces, these upper levels exude a calm, peaceful atmosphere that reflects the more excellent state of consciousness achieved by diligent Buddhists. From above, the complex will be shaped just like a Mandala.

The central stupa sits at the peak of the temple. Both chambers are vacant but may have housed figurines initially. The first square patio was concealed underground and stayed partially buried. Its 160 panels reveal scenes of punishment and crime, great deeds and benefits, hell and paradise, and everyday life.

Other Information

  • The ideal time to visit is early in the morning when it is still cold.
  • The darkened stone magnifies the heat of the day, so bring a lot of bottled water if you intend to increase the pyramid in the day. Sunscreen and a hat are also essential.
  • Borobudur gets crowded in the evenings and on public holidays when most domestic tourists see it.
  • It is worth hiring a guide to explain the reliefs, in addition to how local individuals still connect using the temple (IDR 75,000 an hour).
  • Gunung Merapi is an active volcano 28 kilometres from Borobudur. Like in late 2010, during eruptions, the temple could be covered in ashes and may be closed.
  • Opening Hours: 06:00 – 17:00. You may even combine the Sunrise Tour (IDR 320,000 for thieves and IDR 220,000 for Indonesians), which begins around 04:30 also enables you to view Borobudur by flashlight ahead of the crowds arrive. Tickets are available from the Manohara Centre near the bottom of the temple.

Planning to visit Borobudur soon? Find out more about Borobudur and Indonesia by visiting Wonderful Indonesia.