Everyone has somehow, somewhere seen those tranquil Buddhas gazing the foggy jungle with a mystic sunset in the background, but few would tell where they truly are. This is the Borobudur; the single largest Buddhist temple anywhere on earth, one of the most brilliant architectural constructs ever made. It dates back to the 8th century but there is no written testimony to explain why and by whom it was built. Its construction lasted 75 years while the building lay abandoned, covered with volcanic ashes, hidden in the lush jungle of Java, until it was rediscovered in the 15th century by the British who colonized the island. The locals probably lost interest in the temple as shortly after its construction they started gradually converting into Islam.
There are no interior spaces in Borobudur. Viewed from above, the building takes the shape of a giant mandala, symbolically depicting the path to enlightenment, from Samsara to Nirvana. The pathway around this “mountain building” reflects the Buddhist cosmology, read as a textbook, inscribed on the walls of its two million stone blocks, as one takes the pathway set around the building, ascending to the top of it. In the lowest level one would witness the Kamadhatu- the world of human passion and Karma while ascending to the Rupadhatu, Siddhartha’s painful search for enlightenment is carved. The Jataka is a collection of stories about Siddhartha’s previous incarnations, very often in the form of animals or even flowers. On the last three circular uppermost terraces 72 magnificent stupas circle one huge central stupa that constitutes the crown of the temple. But what are those stupas? They are bell-shaped stone lotuses containing one human-sized kneeling Buddha each. Unfortunately, many of those magnificent statues have gone missing or decapitated by the British and Duch colonizers who took them to Europe, with very few remaining intact.
The Borobudur is accessible by car from Yogyakarta and it takes an hour, while vehicles are easily rented from the airport or by hotels (around $35). There are several flights from Bali and Jakarta every day that last about an hour from both. The Borobudur is not to be missed when someone makes the effort to reach Indonesia. It is a miracle of human intellect and spirituality that the traveler would carry within them for many years to go.