Witnessing the Diversity of Indonesia at Borobudur Temple
Posted on : 26 November 2012
Categories : Culture and Heritage
A visit to the Temple of Borobudur is much more than the admiring the elegance of a 9th century Buddhist monument. It’s more than imagining that this great stone tribute was buried for ages beneath volcanic ash. It’s more than climbing over the world's largest Buddhist monument.
It’s about witnessing the great diversity and the long history of these incredible islands known collectively today as Indonesia.
Indonesia is an assemblage of over 17,000 islands, with hundreds of cultures and languages spoken. Today it is a Muslim-majority nation, but it wasn’t always this way. Over the ages, immigration from India, China, Portugal, Arabia, and the Netherlands has been a major contributor to the diversity of religion.
Hinduism and Buddhism were brought to Indonesia around the 2nd and 4th centuries, respectively, when Indian traders arrived on Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi. Islam was introduced to Indonesia in the 14th century. In the 16th century, Protestantism was brought by the Dutch. Today, 87% of the population is Muslim, 10% Christian, and 1.7% Hindi.
Borobudur is located on the island of Java. ï¿½Java is the world’s most populated island and is home to nearly 60% of Indonesia’s 238 million people. Consequently, it is one of the most densely populated places on earth. It’s like squeezing 138 million people into an area the size of Greece.
Our flight landed in the central Javan city of Semarang. Despite the rainy season having not fully arrived, the paddy fields were a fierce shade of green.
Our destination was the temple at Borobudur. Simply put it is world's largest Buddhist monument.
Borobudur is set in a valley near the base of volcanoes. This 9th-century Buddhist monument consists of six square platforms topped by three circular platforms. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. At the top is the main dome, surrounded by another 72 Buddha statues, but these are seated inside stupas.
Like it or not, travelers and writers tend to make comparisons. One could make vague contrasts of Borobudur to the temples at Angkor Wat. However, each is unique. While Angkor is an intimidatingly huge complex spread out over several square kilometers, Borobudur can be taken in during a couple of hours.
Borobudur opens at dawn (you should be there for 5:30am) but costs ten times the price ($50 US). Visiting in the afternoon, although more crowded, is a better value ($5 US). You still see the temple, but your pictures may be filled with other tourists.
We woke at 4:45 am hoping to catch a cloud-less sunrise. By 5am, as we grabbed a flashlight and tightened a sarong around our waist, the prospects weren’t looking good. The sky was dark. We waited.
I wandered around the top couple layers of the tall monument taking photos out in different directions. Trees lined the silhouette of the nearby mountain ridges. Palm trees covered the hazy, valley below.
The whole experience was serene, but we never quite caught the sun.