30: The Sailendra Dynasty's Borobudur

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The alternation of the monsoons blew alternating cultures into Southeast Asia. When the winds blew one way, it would bring the Indian traders and their culture from the West and send the Chinese back home to the East. When it blew the other way it would bring the Chinese and their culture back and send the Indian traders home. This cycle exposed Southeast Asians to both Chinese and Indian culture.

As mentioned, one of these cultural meeting points was at Palembang. It was at this port town that Chinese, Hindu, and local scholars congregated to study Hindu and Buddhist thought. Another place that became a significant spiritual center for both Buddhism and Hinduism was Central Java. The golden age of this region was relatively brief – just the last few centuries of the 1st millennium. But what an impact!

The Kedu Plain, a rolling valley between the Progo and Opak Rivers, is located in Central Java. Because of the volcanic ash that falls regularly from Mount Merabi and other volcanic mountains in the vicinity, the Kedu Plain is one of the most bountiful on earth. As an indication of the abundant fertility of the region, its nickname is ‘the Garden of Java’.

The population of Central Java was centered in the ancient city of Yogyakarta. Due to the agricultural bounty, Yogyakarta became a birthplace of human culture. The kingdoms of Java began and spread from this agricultural center. The guaranteed agricultural surplus from the region provided sustenance to a growing population that eventually became an empire.

The Javanese God-kings - Southeast Asia’s first Devarajas

The fertile Kedu Plain was also the birthplace of devarajas, the god-kings of Southeast Asia. A Sanskrit inscription from 684 CE commemorates the building of a park. These stone-etched words are the first clear-cut example of a ruler presenting himself as a divine religious leader. In this King’s prayer, he assures the reader that building this park will bring merit to all involved. He goes on to state that while disloyalty to the king brings death that obedience brings eternal bliss. In such a way, these rulers aligned themselves with the gods. If the ruler manifested divine qualities, then those around him were attracted to his court and kingdom. This idea was a foundation of the aforementioned mandala kingdom.

The Javanese were worshippers of Shiva, called Shaivites. It is tempting to suggest that they worshipped the destroyer god presumably because of the many active volcanoes on Java and on the surrounding islands. However Shiva worship was probably more associated with Tantra, which spread from southern India. Shiva, one of the three main gods of Hinduism, was noted for being an ascetic, as well as the god of destruction. To emulate his behavior, the Javanese kings were also ascetics like Shiva.

The Javanese, being of a flexible and supple mind, were also Buddhists. Under the influence of Mahayana Buddhism, this god-king became a Bodhisattva, a divine being who was meant to assist people on their path to enlightenment. Whether on the mainland or the islands, Southeast Asian kings have regularly played the role of the compassionate one, the Bodhisattva. Their intent is to provide the means of personal salvation to others.

Ideally, these devarajas attempted to maintain their country as a holy land, by providing an environment where religion could flourish. This was a huge responsibility. It meant keeping the peace, protecting religious sites, encouraging spiritual practices such as purification and scriptural study, and teaching the people about the religious significance of life on the earth. Along these lines, the Bodhisattva Kings were meant to help their subjects along the spiritual path by providing them with opportunities for spiritual advancement and growth. It is certain that human cravings frequently corrupt this ideal. Nevertheless, what a refreshing sentiment!

One such ‘opportunity’ for spiritual growth was to support the king in the construction of temples. In this way the citizenry could earn religious merit. There are even inscriptions which reveal that local Javanese princes ‘cheerfully’ participated in these projects, rather than being required to by law.

Borobudur - architectural Buddhism

The rulers of Central Java's Sailendra dynasty manifested the concept of the god-king, devaraja, on a grand scale. During their rule, they constructed many religious monuments designed to instruct their people, as well as following generations, to enter the path to enlightenment. The most famous of these monuments is Borobudur, a Buddhist masterpiece of superior grandeur and beauty. Consisting of 1.3 million stone blocks, it was carved and constructed by 50,000 Javanese over 50 years. At 115 feet tall and sitting atop a 403-foot square, it is still the largest Buddhist stupa in the world. To augment the grandeur, the monument is set upon a small plateau that rises 40 feet above the Kedu Plain.

The first written records concerning Java are from 732 CE. In that year, a Hindu noble, Sanjaya, established a kingdom called Mataram (or Medang) on the Kedu Plain. In 775 CE his kingdom began construction on a monument to commemorate the introduction of Hinduism to Java. A plateau created by the confluence of the Progo River and its tributaries provided the temple’s site.

Ten years later this Hindu kingdom was replaced by the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty, vassals to the Srivijaya Empire. Accordingly, they shifted the religious focus of the temple from Hinduism to Buddhism. It took 50 more years to complete this architectural monument – called Borobudur.

Borobudur is built in the style of the Indian tjandis with a pyramidal structure. However, the Javanese introduced their own innovations. The Indian tjandis were meant to house the gods - provide them a home - a resting spot - a sophisticated spirit house. However Borobudur was not just meant as a memorial or shrine of the gods, a place of worship. Instead it was meant to be an architectural representation of Buddhist philosophy. It was designed to represent complex metaphysical theories. At this level, it was completely original. In this manner, Borobudur provided the pattern for Angkor.

The temple mountain at Borobudur, like the Indian tjandi, was constructed from a solid mass of stone, 2 million cubic feet around small hill, with little or no interior space - certainly no internal shrines. (In contrast the Khmer temples of Angkor are noted for their vast amount of empty space created by structural pillars.)

Based upon the supreme mystical power of the mandala, Borobudur has 10 stories corresponding with the 10 stages that lead to Buddhist Enlightenment. The first level is the entry level. The next five are associated with the 5 Buddhas. They represent the entire external Universe - the vajra-dhatu - the realm of total reality. This group of 5 Buddhas is familiar in the diverse areas of Tibet, Japan, and northeast India. The bottom levels are all squarish, having a zigzag external design on their corners.

The next three levels are all circular terraces with stupas on top. They represent the 3 Buddhas of the esoteric tradition associated with Tantric Buddhism - the garbha-dhatu - the womb of innermost secrets. The 10th level is empty, representing the final goal of Enlightenment, the abandonment of attachment to Form. This is the Void of the Vairocana Buddha.

On the walls of each level there are sculptured relief panels, 1500 over all, which represent the trials and traps on the journey to enlightenment. The zigzag corridors and prescribed direction concealed the Buddhist statuary so that the adherent wouldn’t be distracted by what lay ahead and could focus upon the lesson at hand. Thus on one level the entire monument is a Buddhist teaching device.

The Sacred Mountain

On another level, the viewer is meant to perceive this enormous pyramid as a sacred mountain. The sacred mountain has many parallels in religion. The most immediate is Mount Meru of Hindu mythology. Frequently, these tjandis, upon which Borobudur was based, were meant to be temporal representations of Mount Meru, a mythical mountain in the center of the Universe, which connects god and man.

This merged neatly with native beliefs. As with many early cultures, the Javanese had always worshipped sacred places. Their central plain has 6 active volcanic mountains, ranging in height from 6000 to over 10,000 feet. As such, the Javanese had great respect for mountains. Mount Merabi, an active volcano in the vicinity of Borobudur, had already been dedicated to Shiva - the entire mountain, not just a temple.

In constructing this mountain temple, the king was fulfilling his role as Bodhisattva, one who has devoted his life to assist others attain merit as a means to enlightenment. This public project enabled the king to accomplish his dharma duty on many planes simultaneously. As a Bodhisattva, the king was constructing a teaching device to aid his people’s quest for enlightenment. The king was also building this sacred mountain to establish his correspondence with the gods. Finally he was providing an external circumstance where a maximum of his subjects could earn merit towards enlightenment by service to their king.

Borobudur simulates Buddhist Pilgrimage

As a teaching device, Borobudur also simulates the pilgrim’s journey to enlightenment. Although many wish to race to the top to see the magnificent vistas, the proper pilgrim style is from the bottom up. Following is our direct experience of a Borobudur pilgrimage.

Soul-mate Laurie and I begin our pilgrimage by examining Borobudur's exposed 'foot' at the base. As mentioned, the bottom levels are square. The standard square base enables the structure to kiss the sky. However, because the planner’s vision exceeded the physical possibilities, they had to expand the base at one point. This expansion hid the bas-reliefs at the base – the foot of the temple. Initially, scholars and philosophers assigned mysterious religious significance to the concealed friezes. Most now believe that the decision to enclose the bottom was ultimately based upon practical considerations.

However, the friezes on what is called Borobudur's 'foot' are of a deliberately different nature than the friezes on the higher levels. The subject matter is supposed to represent the consequences to those who are trapped in the world of illusion. Note the sorrowful looks, the shame, and the sense of fear exhibited by the sculpted figures.

The bas-reliefs of the 'foot' represents those who are still victims of their fears and desires. The friezes of the next 4 layers are meant to represent the world of form. While the pilgrim has escaped the world of desire, he is still trapped in the world of form – the everyday world of thoughts, ideas, and personal life.

Another distinctive feature of Borobudur is the yantra shape of the bottom floors. The yantra is a mystical Hindu mandala that supposedly inspires enlightenment if meditated upon for sufficient duration. In this case, the yantra determines the architectural form of the walls. The aerial view of Borobudur reveals the yantra form of the bottom layers complete with interior circles at the top.

The sharp right angles of the rectangular design prevent one from seeing ahead. Turning a corner, we are greeted with surprise after surprise by the sculpted panels. Regular oohs and aahs accompany our mystic quest upward through the world of form. The many angles also provide an abundance of surface area for the artist to ply their sculptural talents. Just as every square inch of land is covered in agriculture, every square inch of wall is covered in bas-reliefs. The diversity is astounding. There are mythological creatures and voluptuous women.

     

Buddhas and ancient boats.

     

Besides the friezes, we also are greeted by Kala's gaping mouth at each doorway and Makaras at the cornices of some of the balustrades.

     

As we head from the bottom level upward, the forms and topics of the friezes become simplified - less village life, more abstract Buddhas. On the bottom levels, tall corridors blocked the vista of the surrounding countryside. Viewing the temple from the outside, these intricate balustrades provide visual interest. On the inside, the walls enclose the pilgrim within the world of form.

     

Indeed, we are so wrapped up in the gorgeous world of illusion – Maya – that we barely see the omnipresent Buddhas gazing down upon us from the upper ledges.

     

We finally reach the 7th platform - the first one that is round. We are barely able to see over the wall to gaze out in wonder at the magnificent views. As we mover higher, presumably into the deeper stages of enlightenment, we are able to escape the narrow confines of our petty world to experience the grand picture. Not trapped in the immediacy of the moment, we experience the eternal now that is everywhere at all times.

The omnipresent serene Buddhas are also on the top levels. But now they are enclosed, even hidden, within mini-stupas – individual bell-shaped structures. They watch us and perform their magic from within their little cell.

Having reached enlightenment, we bow down and pray before the magnificence of existence.

As an indication of the importance of this particular location to the Javanese, they also consider it to be the center of the earth. Besides the volcanoes and magnificent vistas, the visitor can also see Magelang, i.e. the Tidal Hill, from Borobudur’s top floor. This large mound of earth rises abruptly from the relatively flat valley floor. According to tradition, all islands and landmasses were wandering at the beginning of time. At one point, the gods nailed Java to the Earth to fix its location. From that point forward, everything else revolved around this fixed spot. The Javanese consider this sharp uplift to be the ‘Nail of Java’.

Tantra-inspired Mudras

Let’s look at Borobudur in a little more detail. On each level of the structure, there are meditating Buddhas. These Dhyani Buddhas are distinctly different from the historical Buddha. A transcendent eternal savior, the Dhyani Buddha has a dot on his forehead, a symbol of the 3rd all-seeing eye. There are 504 meditating Buddhas at Borobudur. Each are unique, but all are serene.

The bottom level, i.e. the hidden foot, doesn’t have any of these peaceful figures, as it represents the corrupted realm of fears and desires,.The next 5 square levels symbolize the world of form. These terraces contain 432 Buddhas, with the number decreasing as the visitor moves to the higher floors (104, 104, 88, 72, 64). Each of these meditating figures has its own cubicle located just above the friezes.

The next 3 round floors, representative of the stages of enlightenment, have another 72 Buddhas (32, 24, 16). Each of these is enclosed in its own mini stupa. Although hidden from casual view, they can be viewed through the grates of the bell-shaped stupa.

Each of the Dhayni Buddhas has a specific symbolic hand position – a mudra. These mudras are part of the Vajrayana sect of Mahayana Buddhism – the Tantric branch. The Buddhas have 6 different mudras. On each terrace, the Buddhas have a different hand position.

In each case, the left palm of the meditating Buddha faces upward. It is the right hand that indicates the symbolism. The 4 lower terraces exhibit the same identical 4 mudras. The mudras on these bottom levels are directional. In contrast, the upper terraces exhibit hand positions that are unique to them and are omni-directional. Let’s see what this means.

On the first four square levels, all the Buddhas that face east have the same mudra. The Buddha’s right palm is outward and points to the earth. This mudra indicates ‘right conduct’. This position derives from one of his prior incarnations, when Buddha appealed to the earth goddess to testify to his right conduct to refute Mara’s impeachment of his motives.

For the Buddhas that face north, the right palm faces forward, which is the mudra to ‘dispel fear’ or instill ‘courage’. For the westward facing Buddhas, both palms face up and the thumbs touch indicating the importance of ‘meditation’. The hand position of the southward facing Buddhas symbolizes the need for ‘charity’. The right palm faces upward and out, while the fingers face down in a posture that indicates giving.

Each of these mudras is of equal importance as visitors can access the monument from each of the 4 sides.

All the Buddhas on the 5th and final square terrace have the same mudra. It symbolizes ‘deliberation’. The right palm is outward and the forefinger touches the thumb.

The mudra of the 72 Buddhas on the next three round terraces is identical. The complicated interlocking hand position suggests revolution and symbolizes the Turning of Dharma Wheel’. As mentioned, the Buddhas on the square terraces are easily visible in their little cubicles. In contrast, the Buddhas on the round terraces are hidden in little stupas and can only be seen through perforations in the bell-shaped enclosure. Evidently the mudras of the bottom terraces are quite common, while the complicated ‘Turning of Dharma Wheel’ mudra is not so widespread.

Visiting Borobudur in 2013, the more complicated mudras haven’t survived the ravages of time and need restoration. For instance, there were only a handful of Buddhas on the circular terraces whose hand position was still intact. The three dimensionality of the hand positions that project into space seem to be particularly vulnerable to destruction. In contrast, the mudras of nearly all the Buddhas whose hands were in their laps were intact.

Right conduct, dispel fear, meditation, charity, deliberation, the turning of the Dharma Wheel are the symbolic meanings of the 6 mudras. The hand positions of the meditating Buddhas remind pilgrims of these important virtues as they ascend the monument walking from terrace to terrace.

The Content of the Friezes from Chinese Mahayana

While the employment of mudras suggest the tantric influence, the  content of the friezes definitely derives from Mahayana Buddhism. The 6 square bottom terraces are filled with 3 kilometers (approximately 2 miles) of museum quality stone friezes. Of the 2672 friezes, 1460 are narrative and 1212 are decorative. The narrative friezes are devoted to Buddha’s biography, primarily his past lives.

Recall that the goal of Mahayana Buddhists is to become a Bodhisattva through multiple incarnations. In this regard, Mahayana de-emphasizes the importance of the historical Buddha and instead focuses upon the events of his past lives that led to Buddhahood. Because Mahayana denies the existence of everything, these past lives are akin to vibrations or emanations of the Buddha essence rather than being connected to an individual. In similar fashion, the meditating Buddhas with their 6 mudras are perfect abstractions rather than humans with personality accompanied by character flaws.

The hidden ‘foot’ contains 160 relief panels that indicate the law of karma. Each frieze is a story of cause and effect. In other words, blameworthy deeds lead to retribution. For instance, one panel shows individuals slaughtering and cooking meat and then going to Buddhist hell where they are slaughtered and eaten by demons. Each panel is self contained with no connection to the rest. Although there are pictures of the friezes, the visitor can only see a small fraction of them, as the rest of the foot has been enclosed.

The remainder of the friezes on the next five terraces, i.e. the ‘body’ of the monument, are primarily representations of stories from Buddha’s past and present lives. Most of these derive from 3 Buddhist works – Jataka, Awadana, and Gandavhaya.

The first visible terrace and half of the second are primarily devoted to the legendary life of the historical Buddha, i.e. Gautama Siddhartha, and the Jataka Tales. The friezes on the first level illustrate the entire story of Buddha’s life, beginning with his descent from heaven until he achieves enlightenment. As a white elephant with 6 tusks, Buddha enters the womb of Queen Maya. After birth, his life is then experienced as a dream. Prince Siddhartha’s father builds 3 palaces to distract him from the spiritual life. However he has 4 encounters, i.e. with the old, the sick, the dead and a monk. These chance encounters introduce him to suffering and the transitory nature of life. After much travail, he attains enlightenment. His life exhibits the possibility of salvation from suffering. Rather than leaving this world, Buddha begins giving sermons regarding the law of Dharma to help individuals on the path to enlightenment. All of these events are illustrated in sequential order on the carved panels.

The Jataka Tales are past life stories, where Buddha is frequently an animal. These animal tales contain a Buddhist message. In this sense they are somewhat akin to Aesop’s fables. Borobdur contains depictions of all 34 Jatakas from the Jataka Mala, the primary and traditional collection of these tales.

460 friezes on the 3rd, 4th and half of the 2nd terrace are devoted to the Gandavhaya text. This Mahayana text tells the story of the tireless wandering of Sudhana, one of Buddha’s past lives. Sudhana’s many experiences are depicted on the walls of Borobudur. He has no less than 30 teachers before he attains Bodhisattvahood. The panels on top level depict Sudhana teaching the Mahayana doctrine post-enlightenment.

The Gandavhaya text is the last chapter and culmination of the Avatamsaka sutra. Popularly known as the Flower Garland Sutra, this sutra is exceptionally important in Eastern Asian Buddhism. This East Asian influence indicates the importance of the Chinese in the transmission of Buddhism to Southeast Asia’s islands.

 The 40 chapter long sutra is a compilation of many works, some of which are sutras in their own right. Central Asian monks joined the diverse literary pieces into a single sutra in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries of the Common Era. The entire work was first translated into Chinese during the 5th century. It was one of the many sutras that the Kushan monks employed to successfully convert the Chinese populace to Mahayana Buddhism.

The Flower Garland’s 40 chapters are on disparate topics. However there are 2 overarching themes: the interdependency of all phenomena (dharmas) and the Buddhist progression to enlightenment. One of the chapters is devoted to the 10 stages it takes to become a Bodhisattva. East Asians frequently cite this chapter as a sutra in its own right. As an indication of its importance, this, the 10 Stages Sutra, was translated into Chinese in the 3rd century, a few centuries before the larger Flower Garland Sutra.

Sudhana’s biography, the last chapter of the sutra, encapsulates these 10 stages in story form. Recall that Borobudur’s 10 levels symbolize these same developmental steps. Some scholars even believe that Borobudur means ‘Mountain of virtues of 10 stages of the Bodhisattva’. Although others believe the name the name of the monument derives from the location – ‘monastery of Budur’, an ancient city, it is apparent that Borobudur’s 10 levels are linked with the pilgrim’s journey to enlightenment.

Besides architectural similarities and the obvious influence of East Asian Mahayana upon Borobudur, locals claim that the Chinese brought Buddhism to the islands. In these pregnant times, it could be roughly said that Hinduism came to Southeast Asia’s islands from India, while it seems that Buddhism was due at least in part to the Chinese influence.

A Stepped Pyramid: Ancestor worship combined with Buddhism

The Buddha’s past and present lives are depicted on the friezes. There are countless meditating Buddhas. There are also innumerable mini and medium sized stupas throughout the monument. Plus a tall stupa tops the entire structure. Most consider Borobudur to be the largest Buddhist stupa in the world. But is it really only a stupa?

Although it is tempting to categorize this enormous monument as a stupa, this is stretch. For one, the top is not the dominant feature, as it is in most stupas. Instead the pilgrim/visitor initially experiences Borobudur as an enormous stepped stone pyramid. Only after viewing the enormity of the angular stone fortress does one notice the round stupa at the top. In terms of direct experience, it is probably more accurate to characterize the monument as a stepped pyramid topped by a stupa.

In the Javanese tradition, the prasada is a stepped pyramid frequently located in the mountains. The prasada is considered to be the abode of the ancestors. Gunung Padang is a stepped pyramid from the Megalithic that is probably associated with ancestor worship. If so, it is the earliest known example of a prasada. Not only in Java, but throughout Southeast Asia, the stepped pyramid is associated with ancestor worship.

As mentioned, Southeast Asians, especially the Javanese, never gave up ancestor worship. Instead they blended and continue to blend it with the newer religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and even Islam. At the time that Borobudur was built, the Javanese were both ardent Buddhists and worshippers of their forefathers. In this regard, they respected their elders as Bodhisattvas. As such, it makes perfect sense that the Javanese would construct a monument that both honors their ancestors and simultaneously is a stupa, the Buddhist symbol par excellence – an ideal fit with their inclusive temperament.

This interpretation of Borobudur was suggested by no less an authority than Professor Soekmone, the Javanese scholar who was instrumental in the restoration of Borobudur.

Modern History

Some accounts state that Borobudur was lost to history when it was buried by volcanic ash a few centuries after it was completed. However, historical records indicate that Hayam Huruk, the great ruler of the Majapahit Empire, visited Borobudur in the 1300s. Due to insurmountable problems, i.e. structural damage from water seepage, upkeep halted in the 1500s.

With an enthusiasm for archaeology sweeping Europe, the Englishman Raffles rediscovered Borobudur buried under dirt and hidden by underbrush in 1814. This was during the brief period that England ruled Java after the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch began a major, although unsuccessful, renovation in 1907.

As soon as Indonesia attained independence in 1948, the government expressed the goal of restoring Borobudur. Why did predominantly Islamic Indonesia commit time, energy and precious resources to the restoration of a Buddhist temple?

The Indonesian word ‘candi’ represents the remains of all structures from the Hindu period, which lasted from the 5th century CE to mid 16th century. This is not just the ruins of temples and shrines, but also includes gates and baths, virtually any structure done in classic Hindu style.

A candi is also a pusaka, an expression of cultural heritage. According to Javanese tradition, a pusaka has mystical and magical powers. The pusaka’s supra-rational powers tie the past and present together in order to better face the future. In more psychological terms, the Javanese embrace the relics of the past as a form of national pride. Rather than rejecting the past because it was dominated by an alternate religion, they proudly include any part of their history as part of their national heritage.

In 1968, Professor Soekmone of Indonesia began the ‘Save Borobudur’ campaign. Due in part to his efforts, the global community marshaled the necessary resources and manpower to restore the spectacular Buddhist monument beginning in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Restoration usually implies rebuilding the original monument as it was as before the ravages of time took their toll. Borobudur was different in this regard. Borobudur’s original design had some fatal structural flaws that had to be addressed before it could be rebuilt.

First, the weight of the 1.6 million blocks of andesite was simply too heavy for the porous soil of the river plain to support. The entire monument had problems with sagging before it was even finished. This was one reason the original builders expanded the base and covered the bottom floor. In the decades following completion, the Javanese did what they could to bolster their gorgeous but slumping Buddhist stupa. Yet all attempts were ultimately unsuccessful.

The second problem concerned the abundant rainfall in the region. The individuals responsible for designing the stone pyramid had not taken drainage into account. Water seeped into the structure, adding to the weight and contributing to the structural damage. Weight and water flow were fatal design flaws that doomed the Buddhist monument to degeneration. The Javanese eventually abandoned the upkeep, not because they weren’t interested, but because they really didn’t know what to do to prevent the innate degradation. Borobudur was simply buckling under its own weight.

Even in modern times, the reconstruction project was plagued with false beginnings. The Dutchman Van Erp came up with a plan for renovating Borobudur in 1907. Those in charge of renovation quickly discovered that the plan was inadequate to the task and abandoned the project.

Once the international community was convinced to commit the funds necessary to both restore and rejuvenate Borobudur, architects and engineers collaborated to devise a permanent and viable plan. Due to the enormity of the task, global cooperation was and is required to marshal the necessary talent, the labor force and sufficient funding.  Restoration finally began in 1975. Although the structure is gorgeous, Borodudur is still many years, if not decades, away from completion 40 years later in 2014.

It remains a heterogeneous work due to so many stages and structural difficulties. Before one block of the crumbling monument could be restored to its original position, proper drainage had to be installed in order to avoid the problems associated with water. Further the stone pyramid required additional structural support to bear the enormous weight. To accomplish these daunting tasks, the international work force labored on many fronts simultaneously.

1) Carefully dismantling the entire structure

2) Cleaning 170,000 stones

3) Constructing cement reinforcement and water channels

4) Freeing mantel stones of filth

The fun stuff, i.e. replacing the stone blocks, began only after these foundational steps were completed.

As a testament to the enduring nature of its original intent, Borobudur continues to entice millions of visitor/pilgrims every year to have its ‘enlightenment’ experience. Even the didactic function of the Javanese pyramid persists. The thousands of individuals involved in the reconstruction project required retraining to understand the meanings behind the friezes. In this fashion, Borobudur acts as both an instructional tool and a place of education.

Paraphrasing Professor Soekmone’s poetic writing: the training is based upon a wish – a prayer for the salvation of the student/pilgrim. In this way, Borobudur is a ‘prayer in stone’.

 

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