Legendary Borobudur


Our first impression of Borobudur was, well I’m not really sure what it was. Instead of being more like a sight, where you get a first impression and think wow, that is amazing, seeing Borobudur was more of an experience. Walking by all of the reliefs and listening to the stories of animals, princes and princesses, and learning the teachings of Buddha were part of the experience. We marveled at the thousands of reliefs that were carved in such a detailed manner, so long ago, in strong contrast with the elegant, unadorned stupas at the top. The surrounding mountains and dark green hills made you feel secluded, like you were on top of a little grey jewel surrounded by green. The low-hanging clouds shifted and made a mysterious atmosphere, sometimes enclosing you in grey, and suddenly you couldn’t see the same view you had a minute ago.

There is an amazing amount of symbolism, from the shapes between the rocks, meaning the various degrees of stability, to the lotus flowers under the Buddhas, symbolising how things come in threes. The lotus flower’s stems are in the mud, vines in the water, and flower in the air, the same way life goes by in birth, marriage, and death.
There are many legends told about the temple as well. One tells about the making of the temple. The legend says that Borobudur was built by one man in one night! I’m not so sure about the credibility, but if you look closely at this photo you can see the builder’s face in the hills.

Borobudur's builder is lying on his back in the hills

This relief tells the story of monkeys, which are sacred in Buddhism. Here people are trying to shoot them out of the tree, and the King monkey saves his fellow monkeys by creating a bridge with his tail, leading them to safety. Afterwards, he grows tired and falls from the tree, dying for the good of others. A Buddha is in the corner, smiling at the bravery.

Apart from a few tourists and guides, there were also many school-groups. And the lessons did not only include the temple and its history, but also English. I think the assignment was “go find a tourist and practice your English”, because we were bombarded with questions (often repetitive) by groups of eager looking kids! Their English was quite good and we had a great time. They especially loved my mother because they don’t often see a lot of freckles!

Some little things we learned about Borobudur:

  • There are 505 buddha statues
  • The top was taken off and replaced with a lightning rod after lightning struck.
  • If you look at the temple from a helicopter, it looks like a lotus flower.
  • The temple is built around a hill.

Afterwards we took a horse-drawn carriage through a small, well-kept village. The money for the tour would benefit it and in turn we can see how people live. Every family has had their trade for decades. We watched a women weave mats, one make tempe, or fry cassava chips, which comes from a root. Houses are bare, have rooms partitioned with straw mats, are often dark, and have an earth floor.

This women has probably woven baskets since she was 6.. she is 90 now! Her age didn't show though, she chattered away, smiled and shook our hands warmly

Making tempe, which is like tofu but with chunky soy beans

Borobudur was checked off our list, with a great time included, and we were off to Singapore, which had some culture shock in store!


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