When scholars and historians speak of the world’s great Buddhist temples, most conversations include Borobudur, which means monastery on the hill. Borobudur is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and is most famous for its many stone-carved panels depicting the life and teachings of Buddha. The narratives, over a thousand in all, are part of the temple itself, helping to form the terraces that support the temple’s chambers. The massive monument consists of at least two million stone blocks. This monumental structure was constructed in the 9th century and it dominates an entire hill near Yogyakarta.
Some scholars believe that this massive structure is a gigantic textbook about Buddhism to help people achieve enlightenment. To read this Buddhist textbook one must walk more than two miles to unveil all of its massive stone pages. The walls of the galleries are adorned with impressive reliefs illustrating the life of Buddha Cakyamuni and his teachings.
Representing the existence of the universe, Borobudur perfectly reflects the Buddhist cosmos, which divides the universe into three separate levels. The three levels are Kamadhatu (world of desire), Ruphadatu (world of forms), and Arupadhatu (world of formlessness).
On the three uppermost terraces, 72 stupas circle the huge main stupa at the top of this monument. The circular form represents an eternity without beginning and without end, a superlative, tranquil, and pure state of the formless world. There are no reliefs on the three circular terraces.
All but the largest central stupas on the upper levels originally contained a life-size statue of Buddha, although many of these statues are missing or damaged from centuries of pillaging. There also are many alcoves along the lower levels, which contain similar statues.
The temple was ultimately abandoned with the rise of Islam, and the halls that once echoed with the pilgrim footsteps of scholars, artists, and priests were overrun by the dynamics of volcanic ash and jungle growth.
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles began reclaiming it in 1814, after he received a report about the discovery of a hill full of many carved stones.
In 1835, the site was cleared and the entire structure was reconditioned block by block. Unfortunately, in 1896 the Dutch colonial government gave away several artifacts to the King of Siam, including eight large containers of Borobudur stones, 30 stones with relief, five Buddha statues, two lion statues, several kala stones, stairs, and gates. In 1985, the temple suffered a bomb attack by Islamic rebels. The damage was repaired and UNESCO now lists Borobudur as a World Heritage Site.
You can take the best photographs of Borobudur during the early evening, when the sun gives the stone a warm glow. When it rains, water pours out of the mouths of several gargoyles on the sides of the lower levels of the temple. Bus service to the monument is available from Yogyakarta. Visitors do not need to wear a sarong to enter the complex. Borobudur is located in the province of Central Java, 40 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta.
Prambanan is the largest Hindu monument in Indonesia. It was built around 850-900 A.D. The temple has been damaged by centuries of earthquakes, vandals, and other forces. Not long after its construction, the complex of temples was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate.
The reconstruction of the compound began in 1918. The main building was completed in 1953. Other shrines and compounds may never be reconstructed, since much of the original stonework has been taken and reused by local villagers.
The compound consists of eight main shrines or candis and more than 250 smaller ones. The three main shrines, called Trisakti (three sacred places), are dedicated to the three gods Shiva the Destroyer, Vishnu the Keeper, and Brahma the Creator.
The reliefs along the twenty sides of the temple depict the Ramayana legend. This story is animated by the Ramayana Ballet, which is regularly performed during the full moon in front of the illuminated Prambanan complex. Located in central Java, approximately 18 kilometers northeast of Yogyakarta.
Mt. Merapi also is nearby. It’s one of the most impressive and destructive volcanoes in Indonesia. Gunung (mountain) Merapi usually is visible from Yogyakarta. Smoke constantly spews from the massive mountain, which reaches an elevation of 2,950 meters, (9,679 feet). Hikers can climb Merapi when it’s not too active. The hike takes plenty of planning and two or more days to accomplish. It’s advisable to join organized assaults that are led by locals. Ask your hotel for more information. It’s visible from Yogyakarta.
Indonesia is the fourth-largest nation in the world with more than 267 million people. The country is comprised of more than 17,500 islands, including Bali, Borneo, Java, Lombok, Sumatra and Sulawesi. Learn more about Indonesia.