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Candi Borobudur


Various remains of Hindu as well as Buddhist religious ritual means are found in Indonesia, especially on Java. These ritual means have the form of holy constructions called candi or temples, various sacred pools called patirthan and caves for retreat. One of the most important remains, not only for the Buddhist community, but also for the whole Indonesian nation, is a holy construction known as candi Borobudur, which in 1991 was determined by UNESCO as World Heritage.

This temple is sited in  Bumisegoro village, near Magelang, on a hill between Dagi hill and another small hill, and south of Menoreh hill.  About 2 kilometers at the east is found the meeting place of two rivers, namely the Progo  and the Elo.

It draws  the attention that candi Borobudur is situated on a straight line with two other Buddhist temples, namely candi Pawon and candi Mendut.  According to some opinions, this is related to a certain belief in  Buddhist religion. The temple site on a hill or an elevated plane, and near the meeting of two rivers,  was the right choice according to the regulations mentioned in the  Vastusastra book. One of the Vastusastras, probably known by the Indonesian artists,  was the South Indian version of Vastusastra called Manasara.

There are finds  at the candi premises in the form of clay stupica, clay seals pictured with Tara and Buddha Tathagata, as remains of religious ceremonies.  In the year 1952 other remains were found in the form of construction foundation, a number of nails, iron, pieces of earthenware vessels and fine ceramics, a bell, etcetera, showing the possibility of the existence of a vihara for the bhiksus who were taking care of the candi , situated outside the temple premises.



Candi Borobudur was only rediscovered in the year 1814, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, English Governor General on Java received a report on a temple named Borobudur, in the village of Bumisegoro near Magelang. He then sent Cornelius, a Dutch engineer to research the temple. Cornelius ordered people to fell the trees and to clean the temple and its environment from underbrush,and finished the job in the period of two months. The work performed by Cornelius was reported in Stamford Raffles wellknown book entitled "The History of Java" published in 1817.

Hartmann, resident of Kedu was very much interested in the Borobudur and in 1835 ordered to clean the temple. Wilsen in 1853 mentioned that Hartman had ordered to uncover the top stupa and found there an unfinished statue of Buddha and other objects,  inclusive a keris. Besides, Wilsen had the task to take pictures of candi Borobudur. Afterwards many Dutch scientists researched and wrote about the Borobudur.

J. W. Ijzerman in 1885 opened the temple base and found a number of reliefs. In the years 1890-1891, the whole relief, afterwards  known as the Karmawibhanga relief with a number of 160 panels,  was photographed  by K. Cephas, after which this part was closed again. TH. van Erp and N.J.Krom wrote complete articles on candi Borobudur , which were only published in 1927 and 1931. Those two articles are most important for the research on candi Borobudur.

In 1975 Siswadhi and Hariani Santiko compiled an ”Annotated Bibliography of Borobudur”, from the first discovery report on the Borobudur, up to the articles published in 1975, which totalled a great number, but the “Annotated  Bibliography of Borobudur” had never been published, so there had  been no opportunity yet to compile also the  articles after 1975.



At the time of discovery, the condition  of candi Borobudur was most devastating.  Therefore in 1907 Van Erp, a Dutch military engineer, restorated the round part of the temple, namely level 7, 8, and 9.  The stupas [domes] were reconstructed, which work was finished in 1911. Borobudur stood again gloriously for about fifty years, but then was destroyed again by natural and chemical processes. Parts of the temple that had not yet been handled by Van Erp , namely levels 2,3,4,5, and 6 were ruined  and the walls became aslant.

UNESCO and other institutions supported the restoration of the Borobudur under the leadership of Prof. DR. R. Soekmono, assisted by Ir. Roosseno for the constructional aspect . The second restoration was started in 1973 and finished in 1983



No definite data are available when candi Borobudur was erected. The study of the form of the Old Javanese characters used in writing the short inscriptions on the panels of the Karmawibangga relief, showed that the temple was constructed in the ninth century, by a Sailendra king, namely king Samaratungga and his daughter Pramodhawarddhani, based on the other Karang Tengah and the Sri Kahulunan ancient inscriptions.

The religious background of candi Borobudur constitutes a synthesis of the Buddhist Mahayana teaching with Tantrayana, and Yogacara philosophical meditation.  This kind of Buddhist religious form resembles the Buddhist religion developing in Bengal India at the time of the reign of the Pala kings around the eighth century.



Candi Borobudur as a whole is an extraordinary creation, in its measurements , its stone compilation  technique, as well as from the aspect of relief sculpture, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, the choice of the kind of narratives, the statues etc. The temple has a rectangular groundplan and as a whole has an extension of 123 x 123 square meters, its original height [inclusive the chattra on the upper part of the chaitya top] is 42 meters, while without the chattra its height is 31 meters.

The temple consists of 10 levels, 6 lower levels on a rectangular groundplan, with diminishing upward measurements, and at level 7, 8, 9 with an almost round groundplan, ending in a large summit stupa. As a whole,  candi Borobudur has the form of a stupa, but it has a  terrace storied structure.

The foundation of candi Borobudur was made in  different ways, the temple was erected directly on a hill, according to the desired temple form by cutting  the high parts of the temple and tilling the lower part of the hill. The foundation of the outer temple part was constructed within the ground as deep as around one meter piled on a layer of coral, while the construction above it was placed on several layers of stone.



As mentioned before, candi Borobudur is decorated with narrative reliefs, and rich ornamental reliefs. The narrative reliefs picture scenes taken from various sutras, namely  the  Karmawibhanga, Jatakamala, Awadana, Gandawyuha and Bhadracari stories  carved on parts of the temple , as mentioned below:

1. Closed foot of the temple                - temple wall                  - Karmawibhanga (160 panels)
2. Alley 1, level 2                                 - temple wall                  - Lalitawistara (120 panels)
                                                                                                   - Jataka/Awadana (120 panels)
                                                                                                   - Jataka/Awadana (372 panels)
                                                                                                   - Jataka/Awadana  (128 panels)
3. Alley 2, level 3                                 - temple wall                  - Gandawyuha (128 panels)
                                                            - balustrade                   - Jataka/Awadana (100 panels)
4. Alley 3, level 4                                 - temple wall                  - Gandawyuha (88 panels)
                                                            - balustrade                    - Gandawyuha (88 panelsl)
5. Alley 4, level 5                                 - temple wall                   - Gandawyuha (84 panels)
                                                            - balustrade                    - Gandawyuha /Bhadracari (72 panels) 

Karmawibhanga. The Karmawibhanga relief often called Mahakarmawibhanga is carved on 160 panels, picturing the teaching of  cause and result, good and bad deeds, each panel picturing a certain scene and not a narrative [consecutive] story.

The scenes in this panel are very important, showing the benaviour of the Old Javanese community at that time, among others religious behaviour, means of livelihood, social structure, clothing patterns, life equipment, various kinds of flora and fauna.

The Karmawibhanga relief is not shown in full, because it is closed by the wide ‘second temple foot’;  only the relief at the southern side is opened a bit for the visitors.

What the reason is of this broad closing stone, is yet unclear. Was this broad closing stone used to prevent  the subsidence of the temple, or to close off part of the pictures on worldly passion that possible could disturb the concentration of those carrying out the ten levels road of Bodhisattwa in order to reach the level of Buddhahood?

 The Lalitawistara relief [120 panels] forms a narrative relief depicted consecutively in the temple wall of alley 1 at level 2,  The Lalitawistara describes the life of Buddha Gautama since his birth until he left the castle, to obtain enlightenment under the bodhi tree, ending with his first sermon in the Antelope Park near Benares.

The Jatakamala-jataka and Awadana jataka picture events and deeds of Buddha in his past lives, written by Aryasara in the fourth century. Buddha is depicted in his various reincarnations. As a human being, as well as an animal, presenting examples of his goodness and self-sacrifice.  Awadana is also a Jataka story, but its personage is not Buddha but prince Sudhanakumara.

 The Gandawyuha is a very important story, describing Sudhana, son of a rich merchant, in search of truth. He meets some priests and Bodhisattva, inclusive Siva Mahadewa. The final part of Gandawyuha is known as the story of Bhadracari, presenting Sudhana’s oath to make Bodhisattwa Samantabhadra  his life example.

This relief reaches only the balustrade of alley 5 at level 6, while this level 6 is followed by levels 7, 8, 9, almost round shaped, full with holed stupicas and finalized with the summit stupa at level 10.



There are various opinions why candi Borobudur was made in 10 levels, looked at from the aspect of its symbolism. W.F.Stutterheim for instance was of the opinion that those ten levels actually could be divided into three parts, conform the dhatu concept, namely the stages to be passed by those who wanted to reach the Buddha hood level.

These stages are kamadhatu-rupadhatu-arupadhatu, and those three dhatus are symbolized by the temple foot with the Karmawibhanga relief as kamadhatu, levels 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, with the Lalitawistara-Jataka-Awadana-Gandawyuha and Bhadracari  reliefs as rupadhatu, while levels 7, 8, 9, 10 symbolize arupadhatu.



Meanwhile de Casparis related the 10 levels of Borobudur to the l0 Bodhisattva levels [dasabodhisattwabhumi]., a teaching found in a sutra,  the Dasabhumika-sutra instructing that  a bodhisattva who wants to attain the level of Buddha, should pass these ten levels.

Besides the ornamental as well as the narrative reliefs, candi Borobudur is also equipped with  statues of Buddha Tathagatha at levels 7,8,9, totalling 504 statues.

The Buddha statues decorating the balustrade  total 432, show different hand postures [mudra] in accordance with the direction faced by the statue, for example the Amoghasiddha statue facing north has the abhayamudra hand posture, in the south Ratnasambhawa has the varamuda mudra, in the west Amithaba shows the dhyanamudra hand posture, while in the east Aksobhya has the bhumiparsamudra hand posture.

The Buddha Tathagatha statues in the balustrade  niches of level 5 show the witarka-mudra , while the Buddha statues in the trellised stupas at level 7,8,9 have also one mudra, namely the dharmacakramudra.



Apparently it is incomplete when in discussing the architecture of candi Borobudur, we do not mention the artists who constructed the candis on Java in general and those of the candi Borobudur in particular.  From research carried out, it is clear that the Indonesians themselves have built those temples.  According to two prasastis, in the past Indonesians studied religion in India, and there were possibly many of them, so that one of the Sriwijaya kings requested the king of the Pala dynasty to establish a dormitory for Indonesian students in Nalanda.  They learned about regulations for building holy construction and its components from the Vastusastra book, then visited arts canters in Northern India and/or South India, and afterwards returned to Indonesia.  That Borobudur was made by Indonesian artists and not by Indian artists is proven among others by the following:

  • First : The Borobudur relief scenes, especially the Mahakarmawibhanga story picture daily life on Java [working on the rice fields, market sales, carrying padi or other goods to be sold etc.]
  • Secondly: On the panels of Karmawibhanga reliefs short inscriptions are given as guidelines for the artists written in Old Javanese characters [and not Dewa-Nagari!] and in Sanskrit language or words [not in Sansekerta], however some of the words are incorrect grammatically.
  • Thirdly: When digging was carried out around the temple, no remains were found of ‘Keling villages’, the remains of the Indian settlements.

The construction of candi Borobudur took a long time, so that the artists when creating the temple had to settle in the surroundings of the candi in construction.

DR. Hariani Santiko   

Translated by Mrs. Ediati Kamil  Master of Library Science