The Symbol of the Universe
by Joey Kurian
If you are planning a holiday to the magical place called Indonesia. You must not miss a visit to a place in Central Java called Borobudur. It is a monolith rising out of the jungles of central Java. It is located at Magelang In Central Java about 40 KM North West of Yogyakarta.
Borobudur’s History: In 1814 the British Lieutenant Governor of Java sent a reluctant engineer by the name of H.C.C. Cornelius to inspect a hillock in Central Java as folklore and rumor had stated that it was a site of “A mountain of Buddhist sculptures in stone”. Following orders Cornelius directed his team to start digging. Tons of vegetation had to be uprooted and moved, cartloads of earth needed to be shifted. The work was difficult and tiring in the relentless jungle heat. After two months there was little to show for their hard work. Then one of the workers uncovered an intricately carved stone Buddha. With renewed enthusiasm they continued to clear the site, revealing a temple far more magnificent, vast and extraordinary than any rumor or folklore had ever suggested. The temple dated from the Javanese dynasty of the Sailendra Kings who ruled from about A.D.740.The Kings inspired strong religious fervor in their subjects that from A.D.800 many thousands of men worked to construct A Buddhist monument of exceptional scale, beauty and detail. The temple of Borobudur (The word means “The monastery on the Hill”)was built around a natural hill. More than two million cubic feet of stone was carved by craftsmen to create a giant symbol of the universe. The symbolism can be fully appreciated in the air like I did in a helicopter-A view none of the builders could ever have had. Once consecrated the temple became the focal point of worship in the Sailendra kingdom. But in A.D.930 disaster struck. The nearby Mount Merapi erupted with great force spewing out tons of molten lava and volcanic ash.Ovenight Borobudur vanished without a trace buried under layers of ash and debris.
For centuries the temple lay hidden in it’s subterranean tomb till Cornelius and his team discovered it. But sad to say later the excavation was continued in a haphazard way. The temple was neglected and collectors of antiquities stole the priceless stone treasures. Local people used the stones from the temple to build their homes. Natural elements further battered the temple undermining the foundations and eroding many exposed surfaces.
If you are taking a helicopter over Borobudur-You will see it is more than a place of worship, the temples symbolic structure represents the pilgrims spiritual journey from ignorance to the ultimate Buddhist ideal of Nirvana. To achieve this the pilgrim travels through four distinct stages before reaching the central Stupa at the top that marks the end of his journey. The ordinary world is represented by a wide platform followed by five square terraces symbolizing the preparatory stage of the pilgrims spiritual transition. At the seventh level enlightenment is reach and after which the pilgrim attains his spiritual goal: The state of Nirvana. I stood in front of the temple covering almost four acres as we were about to begin our walk up.-Each level corresponds to the spiritual stages in the life of a Buddhist pilgrim. The first six levels are square and represents the preparatory stage of the pilgrims journey. Subsequent levels are circular symbolizing the spiritual transition into a stage of Enlightenment. As we reached the highest point my team and I felt a very special Aura in the air. We were at the highest point rising to a height of more than one hundred and twenty feet- marking the apogee of the pilgrims journey. Carved friezes showing scenes of Buddhist teachings decorate the maze of short right angled corridors. In niches all over the temple sit hundreds of Buddha’s.
It was not till the 1900 when Java was under Dutch control that the administration took action to restore Borobudur. But two world wars and financial problems meant that they would never complete their work. In 1973 UNESCO launched the Borobudur Restoration Project-Seven hundred men worked for the next ten years to restore the temple to its former glory and they used the latest technology to ensure that. Writing about Borobudur was easy but the magic of being there is something I will never forget. Borobudur is one of the wonders of the world and it will go on for the next million years.