Rising majestically from the jungle surroundings and rolling hills punctuated by small villages, the temple complex of Borobudur is the most popular tourist attraction in Indonesia. The largest single Buddhist monument in the world, Borobudur also continues to attract pilgrims from across the globe.
Borobudur is located around 40-kilometres northwest of Yogyakarta in Central Java, under the shadow of Mount Merapi, one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes. Built around the 8th century, this stunning temple complex was granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1991. The site comprises six square terraces topped by three circular cones and it’s estimated that over two million stone blocks were used to build the temple. The 2,500 relief panels and more than 500 statues, intensify its inherent beauty.
Viewed from above, Borobudur looks like a giant mandala and the concentric layers have been built to represent the tiers leading to Buddhist enlightenment, inviting pilgrims to walk around each level in search of spiritual salvation. In this sense, the temple is like a giant allegory for enlightenment, passing through the three levels. The teachings get progressively more difficult, but by the time the pilgrim has deciphered the last one, he or she has reached a state of enlightenment.
For around 1,000 years, Borobudur lay forgotten under layers of volcanic ash and creeping jungle vegetation, until the site was rediscovered in the early 19th century by Sir Thomas Raffles (who went on to be the founder of Singapore). Since then, the site has been renovated and is now one of Indonesia’s top tourist attractions and a continued site of pilgrimage. Nearby are the two smaller temples of Mendut and Pawon, which are in direct alignment with Borobudur, stretching over a three-kilometre easterly axis. Given this, there is thought to be a significant relationship between all three temples, but this still remains a mystery.