Clearly the single most enigmatic, revered and visited structure in Indonesia is Candi Borobudur, the largest Buddhist Temple in all of Southeast Asia. No one is quite sure what this hill-top structure represents. The name “Borobudur” could be referring to the nearby village of Bore, a namesake of Buddha, or probably the ancient temple called Bhumi Sambhara Bhudhara, which means “The Mountain of Combined Virtues of the Ten Stages of Boddhisattvahood”. The title “Candi” is loosely given to any ancient structure. Borobudur is located northwest of Yogyakarta in Central Java. It stands between two volcanoes and two rivers. Legends say that this elevated area was considered sacred Javanese ground. People from all over the world must visit Borobudur for its history, architecture and grandeur.
No one really knows who built Borobudur, when and for what reasons. Based on studies made on the inscriptions and carved reliefs, it was estimated that this majestic temple was built sometime between 760 and 830 AD during the Sailendra Dynasty. It was also estimated that construction took 75 long years. History also proves that a number of Hindu and Buddhist monuments were constructed in the Kedu Plain around this time.
Yet, a much bigger mystery was why this magnificent temple was abandoned. When it was discovered in the beginning of the 19th Century, it was hidden under tons of volcanic ash and jungle growth. Again no one knows exactly when and why Borobudur was left deserted for centuries. The most likely reason points to the historical event between 928 and 1006 when the ancient king Mpu Sindok moved the capital of his kingdom to East Java after a string of major volcanic eruptions. Another possible reason for the abandonment is when Indonesia converted from Hindu-Buddhism to Islam in the 15th Century.
Through those years, however, the mammoth temple was not completely forgotten. Instead, it became an object of legend and superstition. Ancient literature talks about the temple as a cause of bad luck. In one historical record, a so called “Redi Borobudur” hill was blamed for a defeat in war.
Candi Borobudur was rediscovered when the British came to rule Indonesia. Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles loved Javanese antiques and investigated to know more about Java’s ancient landmarks. In 1814, he learned about a gigantic monument hidden in a jungle near the village of Bumisegoro. He commissioned a Dutch engineer to check if the rumors were true, and sure enough, the Dutch engineer rediscovered the temple. It was completely unearthed in 1835.
The ancient temple looks like a giant tantric Buddhist mandala when viewed from above. It is actually just one large stupa on top of nine platforms. Its base is a square that is about 118 meters long on each side. The uppermost platform has 72 bell-shaped stupas surrounding the large central stupa. Besides its intricate designs and bas reliefs, modern architects and engineers are amazed by the fact that the temple is made up of about 55,000 cubic meters of stones from nearby rivers. Running within the monument is a very efficient drainage since its ancient builders were aware that the area was prone to flooding.
The overall design of Candi Borobudur makes it clear that it was originally a temple, a place of worship, and not just a monument. Much can be said of this amazing man-made structure. It is comparable to Egypt’s Great Pyramid, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Peru’s Machu Picchu. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.When in Yogyakarta or anywhere in Indonesia, the ancient Borobudur Temple is definitely a must-see.