The Borobudur Temple Compounds
The Borobudur Temple Compounds are among the most impressive sites in Southeast Asia. Yet this ancient temple remained forgotten for centuries and was only rediscovered by chance during excavation works.
And good thing it was! Without this coincidence, you’d have no way to admire this architectural wonder. Although the restorations were expensive, the temple now shines in its entire splendor. It’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But don’t limit your visit to the temple itself. The surrounding area is home to several must-see sites. Read on to discover the splendors that await all around the Borobudur Temple!
The Borobudur Temple
This huge nine-story temple is not just any temple, but the largest Buddhist temple in the world! As a result, it’s one of the most important Buddhist sites in Indonesia.
It consists of around two million stone blocks and lies 25 kilometers northwest of Yogyakarta. Since there are no surviving documents, nobody knows for sure when its construction began. However, after analyzing various inscriptions, archaeologists believe it dates back to the eighth or ninth century.
The Borobudur Temple consists of several rows of square terraces. The four staircases connecting these terraces lead to the top of the pyramid-shaped temple. It looks like a mandala from above, representing the daily life of a Buddhist pilgrim. Unfortunately, you will hardly notice this from the ground.
The temple is embedded in a large complex resembling a stone stupa. Beautiful stone carvings and tropical trees surround the structure. It’s particularly stunning at dusk, making it worth the 25-dollar (18-pound) entrance fee.
The Borobudur Temple was forgotten for a long time because of two fascinating reasons. Firstly, power gradually shifted towards Java, so Borobudur was neglected. Secondly, the Mount Merapi volcano erupted shortly after the beginning of the eleventh century and buried the temple under a thick layer of ash.
It seems strange that Europeans, of all people, rediscovered the temple many centuries later. However, it took a lot of work to restore the temple. The weight of the ashes and vegetation and severe earthquakes damaged large parts of the upper floors. Some parts even collapsed completely. It was only once the restorations finished in 1983 that the conditions improved. Now, the impressive temple shines in all its former glory.
However, not all parts of the temple have remained the same. Since many of the old stones are vital pieces of Java’s history, some rest in the archaeological museum on the temple grounds.
At first glance, the Mendut temple seems insignificant compared to the Borobudur temple three and a half kilometers away. However, it houses some of the most beautiful statues in Java. The three-meter-high Buddha statue surrounded by smaller Bodhisattva is particularly impressive.
The temple is especially remarkable at night, when an almost mystical moonlight glow bathes it. However, you can only enter the grounds at night with a local tour guide.
While there, it’s also worth visiting the Buddhist monastery nearby. Golden bamboo clusters and palm trees line the area, providing the perfect environment for the daily public meditation session.
The locals have three names for this Hindu temple: Gunung Wukir, Shivalinga, and Canggal Temple. It’s a tribute to Shiva, one of the deities of Hinduism. Construction began at the beginning of the eighth century, making it one of the oldest structures in Mataram.
It’s further from the Borobudur Compounds, meaning fewer international tourists visit than the other overcrowded temples. Plus, it represents Hinduism in Indonesia like nothing else, thanks to its centuries of history.
The temple complex is square and measures 50 meters in length and width. It consists of the main temple and three perwara temples in front of the main building, all built of andesite. During excavations, archaeologists found inscriptions and artifacts that confirmed the temple’s age. Among the most famous finds were a statue of the sacred cow, Nandi, and a lingam, the symbol of Shiva.
This beautiful Buddhist temple is about one and a half kilometers east of the Borobudur Temple Complex. Its architecture and decoration bear striking similarities to Mendut. Both possess a typical style for Central Java at the time, characterized by a pyramidal roof, broad foundation, and relief panels with elaborate carvings.
The Pawon temple has several unique features, including depictions of dwarf-like creatures with round bellies. As a result, archaeologists suspect the temple was dedicated to Kubera, the Buddhist god of luck.
Samudra Raksa Ship Museum
Borobudur has several other things to see besides temples. One example is the Samudra Raksa Ship Museum, which focuses on the sea and Indonesia’s maritime trade.
Its most impressive exhibit is the 18-meter-long replica of a traditional Borobudur ship. It was built for an expedition in 2003 to prove the reach of Indonesia’s trading routes. The crew followed the famous spice route from Indonesia across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar and Ghana.
Ngawen is another Buddhist temple complex near Borobudur, six kilometers east of Mendut. It was built during the Magelang reign in the eighth century. The complex consists of five temples, but only one has been fully reconstructed; the other four remain in ruins. Each line up in a row from north to south.
Nwagen’s detailed carvings suggest it’s even older than the main Borobudur Temple. Statues of lions also adorn every corner of the temple.
While Ngawen was discovered in 1874, it’s been looted several times, meaning it contains none of its original priceless artifacts. Unlike other temples in the area, Ngawen’s relics are lost forever.
Archaeologists believe that all the Buddhist temples – Borobudur, Mendut, Pawon, and Ngawen – have a connection. All four temples were constructed under the Shailendra dynasty in the eighth and ninth centuries. Satellite images also show all four temples on a southwest-northeast axis. When the axis extends further, it points right to the summit of Mount Merapi.
Various Buddhist deities are carved at the portal’s top, although the niches are empty because of the looting. They originally contained small bodhisattvas and other images of Buddha. Inside the temple’s chamber stands a Ratnasambhava, a headless stone statue in prayer position. This is a Buddha statue from Tantric Buddhism.
Its blend of Buddhist and Hindu elements sets it apart from other temples. For example, it contains a Ratna instead of a stupa, as is typical in Hindu temples.
If you’re ever in Indonesia and want to see some impressive temples, visit the Borobudur Temple Compounds! The main temple will take your breath away.
The smaller temples nearby will also amaze you. It’s hard to believe that four Buddhist temples were built on a straight axis, considering they’re from the eighth or ninth century. They had no modern technology to help out then!
Check out the maritime museum if you want more than just temples. A replica of a traditional Borobudur ship, along with other exciting exhibits, awaits!
No matter which site convinces you to visit, you’ll definitely remember your trip for a long time. So start planning today!