Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Second time’s the charm, right? Today, we managed to wake up in time – thanks to the trusty alarm on our digital camera! – and set out on our third sunrise adventure… kind of.

We were headed to Borobudur

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. All of the guide books tell you to go at sunrise, and the travel companies advertise a sunrise trip, but actually trips typically don’t arrive at the site until the park opens, at 6:00am. If we wanted to see sunrise from Borobudur, we’d have to “go in the back door” which requires a large fee (maybe $10-20 USD) so that you can get in before the park actually opens – something the guide books fail to mention! But, no harm done, it is a beautiful site to see no matter what time of the day.

Borobudur was built in the 9th century and is very impressive. The entire structure has three main levels which take you through the spiritual journey of Buddhism.

The first level represents the first tenant of Buddhism – suffering and worldly temptations and sins. As such, much of the base reliefs on the first level depict sinful behavior and reactions to or consequences of those actions. These two base reliefs show two “sins” of Buddhism – gossiping and drinking alcohol.

Most of the base reliefs on this level have been covered with an outer layer of stone – this stone serves the purpose of supporting and reinforcing the structure, but it also conveniently covers up depictions of sinful behavior – including those which have been deemed inappropriate, such as depictions of the Kama Sutra…

Moving on, the second layer has more base-reliefs mostly depicting the story of the life of Buddha and the path to enlightenment. This level has tons of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, many of which are missing hands or heads.

The top level of Borobudur represents Nirvana or enlightenment and is full of very large formations called stupas.

There are many different interpretations of these things, but the one our tour guide told us was that they represent the only three possessions that a Buddhist must have. The bell shape at the bottom represents the robe, the square represents the bowl for food and the pole on the top represents the walking stick. These are the only three possessions that the Buddhist monk should have and they can be used as a focal point for meditation – thus the stupa.

All of the stupas on top contain Buddhas inside, this one was taken open as an example –

One of the stupas is said to have the “fortune” Buddha inside, although this has nothing to do with the actual religion of Buddhism. According to local myth, if you reach inside and touch the Buddha, good fortune will come to you. Women reach in and touch their right hand to the Buddha’s right foot

Men reach in to touch their right hand to the Buddha’s right hand – this is a picture of Nick’s hand inside the Buddha statue.

What is actually amazing is that this monument was originally built without any mortar at all. The base is just bricks laid one on top of the other. On the higher levels, they used a tongue and groove system to keep it all together. The entire complex was quite impressive, but after 2 hours of walking around, it was time to head to the next big site here in central Java: Prambanan... to be continued!

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