Borobodur Temple – Java, Indonesia

The world’s largest Buddhist stupa, Borobodur Temple is made from 1.6 million blocks of volcanic andesite and is constructed over nine levels. Five square terraces are surmounted by three circular ones and another stupa at the top. The structure’s powerful image is enhanced further by five levels of sublime carvings depicting the lives of the Buddha, expounding the meaning of his doctrine. These images form the most comprehensive ensemble of Buddhist reliefs ever carved. As pilgrims circumambulate, praying before each image, they ascend from the terrestrial to the divine world. Abandoned in the 10th century, and later buried under ash from a volcanic eruption, the temple was not found again until 1815.


There are 1,460 superbly carved bas-reliefs extending for 3 miles (5 km), around the five lower levels of Borobodur As visitors walk clockwise, keeping the monument to the right, the reliefs on the lowest terrace show daily life, earthly pleasures, the punishments of hell, and the laws of cause and effect, or karma. This vivid evocation of daily life in ancient Javanese society was later covered with stone to support the temple’s weight. The second level depicts the Buddha and his life. These reliefs feature graceful figures with serene expressions wearing jewels and headdresses. Images on the other levels follow texts such as the Jataka Tales and Lalitavistara, and the Buddha’s earlier incarnations and search for enlightenment


Between AD 730 and 930, the Sailendra dynasty ruled most of Java in Indonesia. Their name is Sanskrit for “Lords of the Mountain” and they were heavily influenced by the Indian Gupta culture through the maritime trade routes of the region. Java was one of Asia’s leading civilizations during this period, enriched by trade and the sale of rice, and the Sailendras created the greatest temples and monuments in Southeast Asia at the time. Borobodur Temple, arguably their finest accomplishment, took 75 years to complete.


Initially built as a Hindu temple, Borobodur is a re-creation of Mount Meru, the mythical mountain abode of Hindu gods. Symbolically, it is a mandate, an aid to meditation, and a meeting place of heaven and Earth. It represents the transition from the lowest manifestations of reality through to the highest spiritual awareness at the summit. The base represents the lowest sphere of consciousness (Kamadhatu bas-reliefs). The next level (Rupadhatu bas-reliefs) is the intermediate period of consciousness. The upper levels, with 72 small, perforated stupas, each containing a seated Meditating Buddha, represent the sphere of formlessness. At the top, the empty central stupa suggests nirvana, and symbolizes enlightenment, the ultimate spiritual realm.

Temple Roof


The view from the top of Borobodur Temple is of the volcanic plain with its palm trees and groves.

Meditating Buddhas


Most of the Buddhas on the temple roof are enclosed in individual stupas, but several are exposed. They are remarkable for their serenity and poise.

Carved Gateway


This archway leading to the roof is guarded by Kala, a protective deity and a mythical monster who swallowed his own body.

Rupadhatu Bas-Reliefs


These carvings depict the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

View of Borobodur Temple


The name of this colossal structure probably came from the Sanskrit Vihara Buddha Uhr, meaning High Buddhist Monastery. It is the earthly manifestation of the Buddhist vision of the universe.

Seated Buddha

Sitting within an arched niche in the temple, this Buddha is thought to represent a hermit in a mountain cave.

Kamadhatu Bas-Reliefs


These superb carvings on the first level of the temple illustrate ancient Javanese society.


Borobodur is square in plan and 113 ft (34.5 m) high. Originally, five square terraces of diminishing size were built, leading to a sixth from which three circular terraces rose, with a stupa at the summit. The original intention seems to have been to construct a pyramid, but the weight was so great that a stone buttress had to be built around the base to stop it from collapsing.


In 1973, a $21 million restoration project began at Borobodur. The terraces were dismantled, cataloged, cleaned, and reconstructed on a concrete foundation. This Buddhist site is now a national monument in a Muslim country.


770-850: Construct bn of Borobodur Temple under the Sailendra dynasty.
c. 928: The balance of power shifts to east Java and the temple is abandoned.
c. 900: Heavy volcanic activity submerges the temple in layers of ash.
1815: Borobodur is rediscovered by British colonial agent Sir Stamford Raffles.
1907-11: The temple undergoes its first renovation, by the Dutch.
1991: Borobodur is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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