After visiting Jakarta, and then spending some time in the coastal town of Pangandaran, we headed further east to the city of Yogyakarta. A popular stop for tourists in Java, Yogya is the perfect location for visiting some of Indonesia’s most known temples. Our first visit was to Candi Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. We set out in the pre-dawn, in order to reach the temple right at opening before the crowds and the heat would arrive. Even so, as the sun rose, it got pretty hot climbing the nine levels of the temple!
Borobudur is a common Buddhist pilgrimage site, and the most visited tourist site in Indonesia, where pilgrims climb the temple in a circular direction. They pass through three sections each representing a realm in the Buddhist cosmology from the world of desires, to the world of forms, and finally the peak of the temple, the formless world. As you wind your way up the structure, more than 1400 reliefs depict life at the time of the temple’s creation during the 8th century.
Buddha statues also dot the temple positioned in one of the five cardinal compass points, or mudras (east, south, west, north, and zenith/centre) which each have their own symbolic meaning. The statues look almost identical, the difference lying in the position of the hands. The lower levels contains buddha statues for the first four mudras; east symbolizing humility, south for giving, west for meditation, and north for fearlessness. The top levels of the temple have buddha statues encased in stupas, which look like perforated bells, and are all the fifth mudra, zenith or centre, which represents teaching the Dharma (the teaching of Buddha and the cosmic law and order).
You can see some damage to the site sustained over time. Some buddha statues are missing limbs, heads, or missing altogether. Some of the stupas on the top levels are broken (although this allows you to view the buddha inside!). However, overall the temple has been very well preserved and restored especially following a volcanic eruption in 2010 which cover the temple in ash.
Visiting the temple first thing in the morning is definitely my recommended way to go. There were very few visitors already there, although it did fill up quite quickly as the morning went on especially with school groups. We had a guided tour which led to a level of appreciation for the temple I don’t think I would have gained otherwise. By the time we reached the top (although we didn’t do the full pilgrimage of walking around all nine levels!) quite a few school groups had arrived, and we were completely bombarded with requests of school girls for selfies! Such a funny experience.