Candi Borobudur: Becoming Buddha
Trip Start Feb 04, 2010
94Trip End Feb 12, 2011
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Built circa 780 - 833 AD, Candi Borobudur is in the form of a stepped, truncated pyramid consisting of nine superimposed terraces that diminish in size as one moves to the higher terraces, mimicking the climb to the state of enlightenment. Set into its walls are 504 life-sized seated Buddhas, each sculpted out of a single stone block, while some 16 million blocks of andesite were used in the overall temple's creation. Carvings cover approximately 2,500 metres of stone, including 1,460 panels of narrative reliefs and 1,212 decorative panels, and the temple is crowned by a huge bell-shaped stupa.
The "hidden foot" at the base of the monument is primarily covered such that only a small section has been made available for public viewing. This hidden foot is decorated with reliefs depicting the law of karma - blameworthy deeds are shown with their corresponding punishments and praiseworthy acts are shown with their subsequent rewards, thus teaching followers the cause and effects of their actions.
The base of the structure is thought to have symbolized the lowest part of the universe, a realm where man is controlled by desires such as greed. The five square terraces above the base represent the middle universe, a level of existence where man has abandoned his desires but retains an attachment to objects. The galleries of the lower terraces, which can also be visualized as the 'Sphere of Forms', convey a feeling of enclosure as the lower galleries have high balustrades that hide the view to the outside. On the first gallery, we wandered through the corridors while hearing the call to prayer far off in the distance, walking in isolation past more than 1,300 panels depicting various sacred stories such as a biography of Buddha that includes his descent from heaven until his enlightenment and the beginning of his teachings. The reliefs also depict the Buddha's former lives before being born as Prince Siddhartha, sculpted along the main wall and balustrade within the first gallery. The iconic Buddha statues stared placidly outward towards the horizon, seemingly in utter bliss and confident in the teachings of its stories as depicted in stone.
Moving to the upper terraces, one learns of the story of Sudhana, a man in search of the highest wisdom as told via the reliefs that cover the walls and balustrades in the second, third and fourth galleries. These reliefs represent the model Bodhisattva, whom a pilgrim to Borobudur should imitate while perambulating and ascending the monument. In doing so, the pilgrim ultimately enters the circular terraces at the top of the monument, an echelon representing the realm of the Buddhas of Timeless Meditation.
Perched above the story panels, the first balustrade has 104 niches that each contain a Buddha. Thereafter, each additional floor reduces its number of Buddhas such that the fifth level has 64 statues in meditation, resulting in a total of 432 watching over Borobudur's pilgrims. Upon reaching the top three circular terraces, the high walls of the balustrades fall away granting a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside amongst three concentric circles of perforated bell-shaped stupas. Each stupa is ten feet tall and encloses a stone Buddha - the first terrace has 32, the second terrace has 24 and the third has 16. The Buddha statues are practically all alike, either Dhyani Buddhas or Meditating Buddhas, but each has its own personality along with an identical serenity. In addition, there are subtle differences between the Buddhas as those on the first four balustrades each have a different mudra, or hand gesture, depending upon which direction they face. Buddhas on the fifth balustrade all have the same mudra regardless of the direction faced while the 72 Buddhas in the circular terraces show the same hand position, one that again differs from the lower levels.