Saturday, September 18, 2010

Off To Borobudor!

I took a little weekend trip to Borobudor, the largest Buddhist monument in the world! Borobudor is about an hour away from Jogja, so I had to rent a motorcycle. Traffic is very different in Indonesia; there are many many more motorcycles and scooters on the road than cars, and sometimes you see a motorcycle carrying a whole family! The traffic here also doesn't really follow the lane markings in the road; it flows much more organically. And it seems like, for Indonesian drivers, what is behind is not really important. But once you get used to it it's easy to get around.

But back to Borobudor. It's a pretty neat place. It was built in the 9th century by the Sailendra kingdom, a dynasty of rulers here that very actively promoted the spread of Buddhism. The construction of this massive temple is estimated to have taken 75 years! I've included a picture of one of the stone reliefs; these go all the way around the temple in two layers and tell in pictures about the life of Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Borobudor was intended to be a destination for pilgimages, which are journeys to sites of religious importance. The pilgrim would walk around each of the levels of the temple to follow the story of Buddha.

It's really hard to imagine, but for a long time this giant monument was unknown to that outside world! At some point about 1000 years ago the temple was abandoned as the kingdom moved to another part of the island of Java, far from Borobudor. Now remember one of the major features of this is very volcanic. So over the years, volcanoes erupted and covered the area around Borobudor. Later lots of trees and thick bushes moved in as well, because volcanic land is very fertile. This is because volcanic soil is full of minerals that help plants grow.

But the monument was not forgotten completely by the locals (who could forget something like Borobudor), and when the British briefly gained control of the island of Java it was "rediscovered" around 1820. The Dutch, who were the colonial governors of Indonesia, investigated Borobudor and sent expeditions to catalog and describe the temple. However, as word spread international collectors also became interested in Borobudor, and as a result parts of the temple were stolen by treasure-hunters.

Indonesia became independent in 1945 and assumed the responsibility of preserving and restoring Borobudor. Now the monument is the most-visited site in Indonesia, welcoming over 2 million guests a year! I can tell you, it's definitely worth the trip!

1. What is Buddhism? What are the major beliefs of Buddhism? Where was it founded and where is it mainly practiced now?

2. What do you remember from the blog post about volcanoes and land? Can you think of any examples in Hawai'i?

Check out the neat video tour from Indonesia's Tourism Ministry:

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