June 23, 2021

The Geography and History of Borobudur

Borobudur is located about 25 miles to the shore of Yogyakarta and 53 miles west of the town of Surakarta in Central Java. The temple is situated in an area between two volcanoes – Mt. Sindoro-Sumbing along with Mt. Merbabu-Merapi – along with two rivers – Progo and Elo. Borobudur is located very near two Buddhist temples in the Kedu Plain: Pawon and Mendut. Archaeologists and scholars surmise as all three are positioned along a straight line. Some relationship must have existed between the temples.

Borobudur remains the world’s biggest Buddhist temple. It was built during the rule of the Sailendra Dynasty (c. 650-1025 CE). Borobudur has been the subject of extensive research and investigations by the Javanese. Borobudur is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991 CE following restoration in the 1970s. UNESCO, along with the iconic temple, continues to play an influential role in shaping Indonesian aesthetics, construction, and cultural identity. Borobudur is the most visited tourist website from Indonesia.

No records about its structure exist, also dating that the temple is based on inscriptions located in Indonesia and elsewhere across Southeast Asia and artistic contrasts of reliefs. Cultural and affected arrived in what’s currently Indonesia in the Indian subcontinent. This influence grew quickly from 400 CE onwards. Buddhism and Hindu facilitated long-distance trading connections between indigenous Javanese and ancient India, and traders in the region intermarried with the local population. Over the centuries, the Javanese mixed their own and the culture and religions of India.

The name “Borobudur” itself is the topic of intense scholarly discussion and is a lingering mystery. Some scholars assert that the name stems from the Sanskrit Vihara Buddha Uhr or even the “Buddhist Monastery in a Hill.”. While others, in turn, thought that Budur is not anything more than a Javanese place name. A stone tablet dating from 842 CE refers to Bhumi Sambhara Budhara or even the “Mountain of Virtues of Stages of the Bodhisattva.” The name “Borobudur” could probably be associated with “Bharabhudara.”

It’s likely that the Hindu Sanjaya dynasty initially began construction of a Shivaite temple, where Borobudur now sits around c. 775 CE, which they were unable to finish their temple since they were pushed from the region by the Sailendra dynasty.

In 1814, the Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles (1781-1826 CE), who oversaw the Dutch East Indies’ small British occupation, permitted the Dutch explorer Hermann Cornelius (1774-1833 CE) to organize an expedition to discover and locate Borobudur, that he did successfully the same year. In recent years following Borobudur’s rediscovery, the government permitted archaeological studies of the temple and the Dutch East Indies commissioned. However, looting was a major difficulty in the 19th and early 20th century CE. Experts urged that Borobudur be left intact along with the very first restoration attempts lasting from 1907 to 1911 CE. Now, Borobudur is once again also a major tourist destination in Southeast Asia and a site of Buddhist pilgrimage. Still, the Indonesian government remains worried about damage brought on by the foot traffic in the temple, in addition to lingering environmental and security issues.

What’s understood is that Buddhists made pilgrimages. Then they, too, took part in Buddhist rituals at Borobudur during the early medieval period until the temple was abandoned at some stage during the 1400s CE. Even though Arab, Persian, and Gujarati traders brought Islam to what is Indonesia as early as the 8th and 9th centuries CE, the rate of conversion to Islam started to increase only in the 15th century CE. It makes sense the Borobudur would lessen in value, as the Javanese population accepted Islam en masse. Over these centuries, volcanic eruption earthquakes, and growth hid Borobudur from the Javanese people. There’s evidence, nonetheless, that Borobudur never abandoned the Javanese people’s collective cultural awareness. Even myths and afterward, Javanese stories expressed the association of the temple with puzzle energies.

Are you planning to visit Borobudur soon? Find out more about Borobudur and Indonesia by visiting Wonderful Indonesia.

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