[Travel] Yogyakarta | Borobudur, the Largest 3D Narrative of Buddha’s Journey to Enlightenment

After seeing the sunrise at Punthuk Setumbu and looking the mist and sunlight change Borobudur’s colour, we finally get down to see the majestic Candi Borobudur or Borobudur Temple. In 1991, UNESCO listed Borobudur as a World Heritage Site. In 2012, Guinness Book of World records listed Borobudur as the world’s largest Buddhist Archaeological Site.


The entrance to the temple is Rp. 40.000 (USD$2.76) for local and Rp. 350.000 (USD$24.11) for foreign tourists.


Note to self, don’t go to Borobudur during the holiday. Everyone and I mean everyone, is going there! The crowd is so bad, we have to queue to go up. Never less, it doesn’t curb my fascination with Borobudur. I said to my brother that Borobudur must be the largest 3D comic about Buddha.

Borobudur was built around 8th and 9th centuries, 800 CE, by Sailendra Dynasty of the Mataram Kingdom and completed around 825 on the reign of Sultan Samaratungga. It was designed by a man called Gunadharma.

Borobudur location is smack in a prosperous land called Kedu Plain (Sacred place) and known as the Garden of Java, between two twins volcanoes, Sundoro-Sumbing and Merbabu-Merapi and two rivers, Progo and Elo. Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut temples are positioned in a straight line, although it’s not known (yet) why or if it has a sacred significance. Nowadays worshipers will pay pilgrimage starting from Candi Mendut to Candi Pawon and end at Borobudur once a year in Vesak day.

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Many have coined the origin of its name. Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles who found Borobudur in 1814 mentioned it in his book that it can be from the word Boro (Great) + Budur (Buddha). An archaeologist A.J. Bernet Kempers write that the word might come from Javanese “Biara Beduhur” (in Sanskrit “Vihara Buddha Uhr/The City of Buddha”), or simply from Javanese term, dhuru/luhur means (on) high (place), suggesting that Borobudur is a Vihara (Temple) on a high place.

A Buddhist scholar, Mpu Prapanca from Majapahit court in 1365, mentioned it in a book titled Nagarakretagama. Krangtengah inscription mentioned Jinalaya (the realm of those who have conquered worldly desire and reached enlightenment). Tri Tepusan inscription mentioned Borobudur as a Kamūlān (the place of origin/a place to honour the ancestors), Bhūmisambhāra.

Johannes Gijsbertus de Casparis suggested Bhūmi Sambhāra Bhudhāra (the mountain of combined virtues of the ten stages of Boddhisattvahood) in Sanskrit. Honestly, I like the last one since Borobudur IS shaped like a mountain and tells the trial and tribulation of Buddha.

Source: Wikipedia

Borobudur was built with tantric Buddhist cosmology and Mahayana Buddhist ideas and symbolism in mind. It takes the shape of a mandala with square based-pyramid-like stone steps around 118 meters on each side called punden berundak. The 6 levels are in square shapes and the top 3 are circular with 72 small bell-shaped stupas surrounding the main large stupa at the centre.

Borobudur has 3 divisions or realms such as Kamadhatu (The World of Desires) at the base/first level, Rupadhatu (The World of Forms) for 5 levels and Arupadhatu (The Formless World) for the three circular levels.

Worshiper may treck up by going circular clock-wise on each level as each of the platform complete one stage of enlightenment (Parikrama).

Kamadhatu (The World of Desires)  – the Base


The southeast of Borobudur base section where we can see Kamadhatu or the world we are currently living full of worldly desire has 160 relief about Karmawibhangga Sutra, the laws of cause and effect of the human’s desire on destruction and samsara (the endless cycle of birth and death).

Rupadhatu (The World of Forms) – the body

The next five levels, Rupadhatu, has 328 Buddha statues, 1300 reliefs spanning 2,5 km with 1212 panels depicting stories from Lalitavistara Sūtra (story of Gautama Buddha from the time of his descent from Tushita until his first sermon), Jātaka tales (The stories of Buddha’s previous life) and Avadāna (other legendary people) and lastly, Gaṇḍavyūha Sutra (the Flower Ornament Scripture from Mahayana Sutra – Sudhana’s search for the ultimate truth).







I really like the details on each person/gods/divine beings/other world beings/Buddha here.






Jaladwara (Gargoyle) with kala head is an ancient water drainage, much like in Prambanan.


Arupadhatu (The Formless World)

Arupadhatu, the last 3 circular levels represent the ‘above realms’ and the transition where men/human who has forms and names cross to the world of formless where men/human are free from desire and attachment to the world but has yet reached Nirvana/heaven.


Kala head, guardian the entrance.


There are 72 small stupas in 3 rows (32 – 24 – 16) to circle the large main stupa at the centre.



The lower levels stupas have bell shape with larger diamond shaped holes. There are Buddha statues inside the stupa although some are broken or missing its head.





Vairocana Buddha


Main stupa detail.

There’s still a debate if there’s one unfinished/broken Buddha inside the large main stupa before or believed to be empty. The empty stupa might have the meaning of the highest wisdom; emptiness, without form and not bound by desire anymore, free from Samsara.


From here we return to Yogyakarta and have lunch in a nearby restaurant, Baleayu.

I did visit a local keris maker in the afternoon, but since it’s on holiday, they are not working. I probably go back in the future.

After resting for the afternoon, we have a delicious dinner at Mediterranea Restaurant by Kamil.




Tomorrow awaits for Taman Sari.

Yogyakarta Travel:

Source: Borobudur Official Site, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet


13 Comments Add yours

  1. PNCO says:

    Very impressive sighting! Can’t imagine what it would be like to walk there :)

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