The single largest Buddhist structure on earth lies in the heart of the Kedu Valley in Central Java, Indonesia. Borobudur Temple. Built in the 8th and 9th centuries and set against the backdrop of active volcanoes, those who visit cannot fail to be in awe by Borobudur’s sheer size and the remarkable attention to detail that went into its construction. This temple used to be the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java, before being lost to the world – hidden under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth for hundreds of years. It was only re-discovered in the early 19th century by the British governor, Thomas Stamford Raffles (the founder of Singapore) and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
The entire lava rock structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha. The different levels of the monument symbolises the different levels of wisdom we have to go through during life until attaining enlightenment, symbolised by the spectacular upper terraces.
The base of the temple represents kamadhatu, the ‘realm of desire’ which is the state of mind lacking of morality. The middle level of five square terraces represents rupadhatu where man gets wiser and more virtuous, has some control over his negative impulses but is still chained to earthly and materialistic pursuits. The three circular platforms as well as the monumental stupa at the summit represent arupadhatu, the ‘realm of formlessness’ where man understands that the visible world is just an illusion and the real meaning of life is found inside oneself.
The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs
The temple gardens are green and spacious with the occasional elephant plying the well-kept grounds.
There are two other smaller temples that are located nearby to Borobudur, Mendut and Pawon temples.
During Vesak Day, the auspicious day that marks the birth, Enlightenment and death of Buddha, Buddhist devotees make their first stop at Mendut temple to prepare themselves spiritually, before continuing on foot up the 3 kilometre ascend to Borobudur. There is a gigantic tree outside Mendut temple that you cannot fail to notice. It is actually two trees, one growing on the other and extending its roots downwards from the heights of the branches to reach the ground.
On the way to Borobudur, there is the smallest of the three temples – Pawon temple. It boasts of beautiful architectures and exquisite sculpture around its walls.
It may be interesting to note that Mendut temple and Pawon temple were constructed before Borobudur. Both these temples lie on a straight line with Borobudur, suggesting a symbolic connection that got lost over time.