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Yogyakarta Day 2: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Borobudur panorama-s

A panoramic image of Borobudur, a 9th Century Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

 

Borobudur model

A model of Borobudur, a 9th Century Buddhist temple north of Yogyakarta, from which I experienced sunrise on Aug. 3, 2017.

My second day in Yogyakarta began very early with a 3:00 wake-up call. I had signed up for an all-day tour to sites around the area of Jogja, as it is called, starting with a sunrise tour of Borobudur, an 9th Century Buddhist temple at the base of the central Java mountains.

Borobudur through trees

A view of Borobudur temple through the trees.

I quickly showered and got ready. Down in the lobby, I got some cash out of the ATM machine to cover my expenses for the day. My tour included only the car and driver; I would have to pay admission to each stop. It had seemed the best way to get the combination of places I wanted to visit. As it turned out, I should have gotten some extra for tips and a lunch that was more than expected.

Buddha-mountains-blue sky

One of many Buddha statues carved from volcanic ash at Borobudur Temple near Yogyakarta. The hills to the east are the rim of an ancient caldera, and rise up beyond to Gunung Sumbing, the peak just to the left of the Buddha’s head.

My driver arrived at 3:30 and I loaded into his car. It was pitch dark still, and the streets were deserted. This was the least traffic I saw all the time I was here. We drove north out of Jogja, passing along a road similar to the one I’d traveled on to get to the Meratus Mountains in Borneo. We passed through several smaller towns, and I dozed off, but the jostling of the road kept waking me up. We turned toward the northwest and after about 40 minutes on the road, arrived at the parking lot.

Yogya area google earth

We traveled northwest of Yogyakarta on Highway 14 to Magelung, where Borobudur is located, about a 40 minute trip. To the east of the gray-green dot of Borobudur lie the foothills leading to Gunung Sumbing. Mendot Temple (next blog post) lies on a direct line between Borobudur and Mt. Merapi.

My driver (I have forgotten his name) took my money and paid for the entrance fee, which included a small cloth printed with a batik pattern of the temple stupas. I picked up a flashlight, and he told me he would meet me back at the bottom when I was done. I followed the pathway and the people ahead of me.

Borobudur predawn

Stupas at Borobudur in the pre-dawn light, looking east-southeast.

It was too dark still to see anything, and the weather was a bit drizzly and foggy. We came to a gate and some stairs that led upwards, and I could see some flashlight beams climbing the temple above me. I began to climb too, afraid that there might be too many stairs for my legs to handle. Although they were uneven, with some stairs taller than others, it wasn’t too bad and the cool pre-dawn temperatures made things better. I took my time, because dawn was still a long time away. There were several levels with pathways leading off in both directions but I stayed on the main staircase, figuring that I could explore better when it was light.

Stupas at Borobudur in early light

Dawn approaches at Borobudur.

I reached the top sooner than I thought I would and circled around the large central stupa to find a spot away from everyone else and their lights. It was still drizzling lightly, but as the first light of dawn began to creep around the eastern mountains, I found a quiet place to sit down. I tried to lie down to rest a bit, but someone came around and told us not to sit or lie on the central stupa (I hadn’t seen the signs). I moved to the overhang at the edge of the top ring of smaller stupas and found a nice spot away from others’ lights where I could watch the dawn come on.

Borobudur cross section

A cross section diagram of Borobudur. Built on a natural hill or volcano, the temple is divided into three main sections representing the foot (Kamadhatu), the body (Rupadhatu), and the head (Arupadhatu). Pilgrims begin at the bottom and circumambulate around the levels, working their way up as they view carvings depicting the life of the Buddha, until they reach the central stupa at the top. This journey represents the journey to enlightenment.

Stupas in the mist

The stupas hold statues of the Buddha. Here, a light drizzly mist set in just before sunrise, hiding the hills to the east.

The drizzling intensified, then tapered off and quit. The clouds began to dissipate, and the sky continued to lighten. It is said that Borobudur is spectacular, and I’ve seen photos, but the reality is always so much better. I tried taking some photos and videos but it was still too dark.

Borobudur stupas 2

The stupas are located in a triple ring around the large, central stupa at the top of the complex. A believer will start at the bottom and walk around each ring, seeing carved reliefs depicting the Buddha’s life, and reaching the top level which represents enlightenment or nirvana.

I walked around the central stupa to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. To the direct south the most people were clumped up, but they were beginning to break apart and start exploring as the light grew. I returned to my spot and continued to wait. It was peaceful, and I could almost imagine I was the only person there, enjoying the solitude of this temple. Then someone would walk by with their flashlight on and shine it in my face. But overall it was a tranquil, meditative experience.

Buddha and toes

The tops of some of the bell-shaped stupas have been removed, revealing the Buddha statues within.

Dawn came on and I began to take more photos. The sun was still hidden behind clouds that came and went, but as the morning progressed the clouds burned off to a brilliant blue sky with a few puffy clouds. I took many photos and video clips of me walking along the pathways. I tried to avoid getting people in my shots, but it was difficult. As I descended to lower levels, there were fewer people and I could take photos easier. Some of the stupas, which look like bells with diamond or square holes in them, have been removed. Inside there are statues of the Buddha sitting in lotus position. Most of the stupas are still intact, and there are 72 of them as you can see.

David with central stupe

David Black at Borobudur, with the large central stupa in the background. The smaller stupas, or bell-shaped structures with the lattice designs, each contain a seated Buddha statue and form three rings around the central stupa.

There are nine levels to the temple, including two circular levels at the top. The lower pathways are enclosed in balustrades. They are laid out in a complex pattern that forms a mandala from above. In addition to the Buddhas in the stupas (72 of these), there are other Buddhas sitting in niches (504 Buddhas in all), with 2672 bas relief wall panels depicted events from the Buddha’s life. There are rain spouts shaped like mythical monsters (very similar to the gargoyles of medieval cathedrals in Europe). There are stone lions guarding the stairwells and pathways. And everywhere there are Buddhas and more Buddhas.

David at Borobudur with mountains

David Black at Borobudur in Indonesia. Notice that the stupa next to me has square holes whereas the stupas on the next two levels down have diamond shaped holes. The hills behind me lead up to the crest of Mt. Sumbing.

Borobudur was built around 800 CE by the Sailendra Kingdom of southern Java. It was designed by the poet-architect Gunadharma and took thousands of workers to carve the blocks of andesitic volcanic ash into these shapes. The entire temple is built over a mound of earth, perhaps a natural hill. It has four main stairways to the main compass points and is the largest single Buddhist temple in the world. Used for about 100 years, the temple was abandoned when the seat of government moved elsewhere.

1-Crowds at Borobudur

The area around the central stupa was very crowded with tourists, especially on the southern and eastern sides. We had a light drizzle of rain just at sunrise, which was unfortunate, but then the skies cleared and it was a beautiful, sunny day.

The temple was reclaimed by the jungle and partially buried by volcanic ash flows, until being rediscovered by the British under Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1814. It has been rebuilt and repaired to its former glory, with several major renovations. The largest problem now is the wear of so many tourist feet on the stairs, so they have been partially covered with wood to protect them. I am one of those tourists, and I tried to show this monument all of the respect it deserves.

BUddha and water spout

In addition to the stupa Buddhas, there are many others inside niches and elsewhere around the walls of the lower levels, for 504 Buddhas in all. The grotesque face in bottom right is a gargoyle rain spout. This candi, or temple, is carefully planned so that rainwater will drain through the various levels.

As part of the religious observances here, devotees start at the bottom of the pyramid and walk the pathways in a clockwise fashion, circling around the temple (candi in Indonesian) completely before ascending to the next level. Tales of Siddhartha’s life, his past lives, and his teachings (Dharma) are part of the relief panels seen on the walls. The pilgrim’s journey through Buddha’s life and teachings represents the journey to Enlightenment as the pilgrim ascends through the nine levels and three main sections representing the Feet (Kamadhatu – the bottom casement and hidden foot reliefs – this represents worldly desires), the Body (Rupadhatu – the square section of seven levels with Buddhas sitting in niches representing the World of Forms), and the Head (Arupadhatu – the upper open round platforms with 72 stupas representing the World of Formlessness, where earthly desires and suffering are stripped away). The large central stupa at the top represents enlightenment, and is dedicated to Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha. It was built with two inner chambers (now empty – the contents have probably been plundered) and had a golden Chattra on top that has been removed.

Buddha mural

Around the walls of the lower levels are carved reliefs depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life. Born Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha lived a life of luxury free from pain or disease until he left his walled palace. He then met a sick man, and old man, and a grieving widow and realized that life if suffering, that suffering comes from desire, and that desire can be eliminated through following the Eight Fold Path to enlightenment. Buddhists visiting this temple start at the lower levels and walk up in a spiral pattern, reviewing the Buddha’s life as they reach the highest level of the temple, representing the head or nirvana (enlightenment).

As the clouds cleared the nearby mountains glowed green and provided a perfect backdrop to the meditating Buddha statues. I took photos of the entire temple – it is truly huge – as I climbed down from the circular platforms to the lower levels. I took photos of the sun’s interplay with stone, air, and clouds. I descended to the lower levels and finally to the casement, taking photos of the whole structure that I can assemble into a panorama.

Ranks of Buddhas

Ranks of Buddhas in the lower levels of Borobudur. The day started cloudy and drizzly, but the clouds cleared out and the sky turned bright blue with brilliant green vegetation around the temple.

I walked back to the ticket area along a pathway lined with red andong flowers and met my driver. This has already been a day worth remembering. The sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some might be, but the blue sky and green mountains, the tranquil temple and the peaceful ambience made this an experience that I will often return to in my memory. Whenever I get stressed out or busy, I can come back here in my mind and meditate as the sun rises over Borobudur.

4-Guardian lion

The stairwells are guarded by stone lions such as this one.

8-Temple and mountains

The south face of Borobudur and mountains to the west. The entire temple sits on a stone casement or bottom level, but inside the core is a natural hill.

Walls of Borobudur in sunlight

The lower levels of Borobudur, bathed in early morning sunlight. Pilgrims start at the bottom and work their way up, but I climbed to the top before dawn with a flashlight, then walked down through the levels. The top area was very crowded (it took some doing to take photos without people in them), but the lower levels were much less crowded and more serene.

Stairway

View through a stairway leading down from the top of Borobudur. This temple was abandoned about 100 years after completion and was largely reclaimed by the jungle, until it was rediscovered by a team under Sir Thomas Raffles in 1814. It was cleared and repaired several times since. Recently, the steps have been covered and reinforced because of cumulative wear from tourists like me.

Hills in the mist

View south from Borobudur in the pre-dawn mist.

Buddha hair detail

Buddha details with the mountains behind. The long ear lobes represent long life and wisdom in Buddhist iconography. This is one of 504 Buddha statues at Borobudur.

Chariot carving

A scene from the life of the Buddha, one of 2672 carved relief panels at Borobudur.

Borobudur corner

A corner of Borobudur as seen from below, standing on the lower casement level. The walls form pathways and rings, laid out in a complex mandala structure.

Red plants

Red andong plants lining the pathway back from Borobudur. These are commonly seen throughout Indonesia. The gardens surrounding Borobudur were beautiful.

 

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