Asia is full of ancient temples and structures.
There’s the grand Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the thousands of temples and pagodas spread in the Bagan plains in Burma, the rich Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, and numerous other beautiful and impressive works of art throughout Asia that remain standing through centuries.
An hour from the city of Yogyakarta in Indonesia, however, stands the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, Candi Borobodur (candi means “temple,” equivalent to the wat in Cambodia). It is a single structure built in 750 AD with over 500 statues of Buddha and around 1,500 bas relief panels showing his life and teachings.
Proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, Borobudur’s name means either “a mountain having terraces” or “monastery on a high place.” It was built with ten terraces symbolizing the life stages. To reach enlightenment, one must go through each stage until the top level (where Buddha sits) is reached.
The first six terraces are square and form the temple’s base, the second level has three circular platforms, while the last serves as the main dome, with a giant stupa (a stupa is a dome-shaped structure used to house Buddhist relics) on top. There are 72 other stupas around the circular terraces, and most have a statue of a kneeling Buddha inside. A lot of them, however, are damaged.
The base of Borobudur, which has been closed off to provide a stronger foundation, is called the Kamadhatu (world of desire). Its 160 panels depict how man is ruled by lust and how karma works. Since it has been closed off, only a few of these bas relief can be seen.
The second level is called the world of forms, or Ruphadatu. It symbolizes the way people are still influenced by appearances and shapes. The panels in this level depict stories of the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, based on the manuscripts of Jataka-Avadana, Lalitavistara, and Gandavyuha.
The third level is called Arupadhatu, or the world of formlessness. The circular structure symbolizes eternity, with no beginning and no end. The Buddha statues here are inside the stupa, representing the freedom of humans from desire and forms. At the top is Buddha, symbolizing the attainment of nirvana, a complete peace with the world and total freedom from suffering.
How to go to Borobudur Temple: There are many travel agencies in Yogyakarta arranging trip packages not only to Borobudur, but also to nearby Candi Prambanan. It is recommended to hire a vehicle, as there is no public transport going to the temple. Locals pay Rp 17,500 while foreign tourists have to pay USD$19 each. A bottle of water or a cup of coffee is included in the rate. Best time to see it is at sunrise.