Friday, May 16, 2008

Java Jive '08 Part 8: The Center of Central Java

One thing you must do while in Java is to visit Borobudur. Believed to be situated at the exact centre of Java, it is an ancient Buddhist temple complex (or candi) situated about one hour's drive from Jogjajakarta, in the city of Magelang.

Borobudur was founded around 800 AD during the Sailendra dynasty as a shrine to Buddha and also as a Buddhist pilgrimage site. Its construction took 75 years, and when completed, resembled a pyramid with each side a point on the compass, namely North, East, South, West.

The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms representing the three planes of conciousness - Kamadhatu(the world of desire);Rupadhatu (the world of forms); and Arupadhatu (the world of formless).

Upon arrival at the complex, we hired an English-speaking local guide to help us make sense of what we were seeing as apparently there were almost 3000 bas reliefs (stone carvings) depicting various aspects of life, Buddhist mythology and historical records.

Our guide was also very good at suggesting the best spots to take great pictures by taking advantage of the way the sunlight hits the temples many corners and angles.

It was a good thing we arrived early at the temple, as the sun was still not prohibitively hot, but that didn't stop us from running from shade to shade even as we tried to keep up with the guide's stories and explanations about the stories behind some of the bas reliefs.

This one tells the story of how the King had a dream one night and summoned his advisors to interpret his dream. The advisors told him that he will soon be blessed with a male heir to the throne, something he has been waiting for years to happen. Or so I think... I wasn't really listening the guide when he was explaining....
The middle and upper rungs of the temple is occupied by more than 500 statues of Buddha, seated cross-legged in a lotus position.

We were given ample time and opportunity to take our photographs, and there seemed to be countless carvings, statues and temple features that caught my eye, like this gigantic and well preserved water spout.

Along the way, we learned that Borobudur was establshed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1975, and since then, conservation and repair efforts have been undertaken by both the Indonesian government And UNESCO to restre this magnificent temple along with its beautiful carvings and statues to its former glory.

Like the Hindu-influenced Angkor Wat, the temple was built high up with narrow steep staircases built on each side. I really appreciated the steel side railing while I was climbing the rather tall steps, often times with my hands and feet.

After a while, I kinda got bored with the guide's monologue.... so I decided to walk around the second tier a bit... and look what I spotted taking breather on a stupa. (Hey, that rhymed!)

Ok, by now you'd have figured it out that this ia a Buddhist temple judging from the countless statues of the guy everywhere, looking all serene and contented, right? Then this Western tourist (probably European) suddenly asked the guide, "Isn't this a Hindu shrine, like the Angkor Wat?" D'oh!

I would've loved to be sitting where this particular statue was, as it had a commanding view of...

... Mount Merapi, an active volcano that's still spewing lava and smoke today!

The top tier symbolises the plane where one is supposed to be beyond human desires and has reached realm of the Gods... I think. Wasn't really paying attention to the guide as I was busy snapping pics of these stupas.

Each stupa contains a statue of Buddha, and even though there are about a gazillion stupas here, only one contains the 'lucky Buddha'. And if you stick your hand (and arms) and touch the ring finger of the statue and make a wish, that wish will come true! Oh boy, I am so in trouble with my church elder now when he sees this. ;)

Someone blew the lid off one of the stupas.... Looks like Buddha in a flying saucer a la the Jetsons, doesn't it?

Next, we headed to another ancient ruin, this time to Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple complex in South-east Asia.

In May 2006, the temples were rocked by a powerful earthquake that cracked some of the candis and reduced others to rubble.

Restoration work is still in progress, and we could see the aftermath of the earthquake everywhere.

Prambanan was built in the 9th century by either the kingdom of Mataram or Sanjaya and is characterised by its tall and pointed Hindu style architecture.

We opted not to hire a guide for this temple, as we realised not many of us were actually paying to the last one at Borobudur anyway. So we just wandered around the complex in twos and threes, taking our time to marvel at the architectural wonders.

The entire complex was completely cordoned off from the public, so we could not get too near for fear of falling stones and interference to the restoration works. Luckily I brought along my Tamron zoom lens to get some pretty zoomed up shots of the candis.

Everything was grey, and looking at my pics afterwards, I thought I had accidentally switched on the b/w filter. Still, the stupas, carvings and statues were amazingly detailed and beautiful.

As you can see, the temples were really huge and one has to wonder the practicality of building such great monuments and the amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into it.

Before we knew it, the sun was beginning to set, signaling the closing time for the site. As I was taking one last breather before we headed for the hotel, I spotted a few goats having an early dinner amongst the ruins. Hmmmm... I wonder if the mutton satay stall will be open tonight. ;)

No comments: