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Borobudur Temple: A spiritual experience

travel Updated: Jan 31, 2011 17:28 IST
Highlight Story

It's early in the morning. The land, silent for hours has begun coming to life with the screeching of birds. As the spearing orange light from the rising sun slowly takes away the white mist shrouding the verdant surrounding, a soaring stepped pyramid, said to be the world's largest Buddhist shrine, majestically unveils in front of me. 

It's the Borobudur Temple in Indonesia whose architectural grandeur and picturesque setting never fail to instil a great sense of admiration in the first time visitor.

This monumental human achievement is thronged everyday with thousands of visitors, who like me, would seem to believe that no matter how much one has read or heard about a place, nothing beats seeing the real thing for oneself. So, early morning start is a good option to avoid the crowd and heat as well, the location being a tropical one.

Situated in Central Java, it was built around eighth century and like Cambodia's Angkor Wat, this architectural marvel after a short lived period of glory, sank into oblivion under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth, for almost a thousand years. Finally, it was discovered in the 19th century, by Sir Stamford Raffles, then the Governor General of the British administration in Indonesia.

When viewed from a distance the huge grey structure (amazingly intact having survived a millennium of torment), strikes as a large single edifice, but actually the 45 metre high colossus, with a square base measuring 120 metres on each side. It comprises ten superimposed terraces, six square shaped at the bottom followed by three circular ones, each getting progressively smaller with a large single dome adorning the apex, much like a multilayer wedding cake with a flower on the crest.

Built atop a natural hill, the monument was purposely designed that way for students of Buddhism to understand the spiritual philosophy behind their religion, by gradually ascending from one layer to the other, as if moving from the world of desire and lust to the ultimate state of absolute nothingness.

The odyssey begins at the base of the temple, requiring a long walk from the main gate. There are flights of stairs on all four sides to take you up straight to the top, but the traditional way is to go round the pyramid in clockwise direction, while stepping up from one stratum to the other.

Following this path, you are required to walk over four kilometres. It can be tiring, but the rewards are high as you go through enclosed galleries which are entrenched with ornately carved bas relief panels depicting tales of Buddha's life, earthly and spiritual and a fascinating panorama of the ninth century Javanese life. All carefully preserved to show the modern generation, the customs and traditions of a race whose culture achieved peak and then collapsed.

A breathtaking vista unfolds the moment you step into the open circular terraces, dotted with several Buddha statues, some without heads because of pillaging and 72 small bell shaped structures called stupas, inside each of which nests a Buddha bust that you touch with your small index finger through the diamond shape openings as an ancient pious tradition of Mahayana Buddhists.

The temple holds over 500 Buddhas, including the ones inside the stupas. Each of them sculpted out of single block of stone, is slightly different, yet all a display of remarkable serenity.

The voyage finally ends when you reach the top and lay a hand on a giant stone piece, blissfully pointing towards heaven. At that fine moment, a warm feeling of accomplishment grips you as if you have reached a significant milestone in life.

Borobudur is 45 km by road from the city of Yogyakarta, an hour by plane from Denpasar (Bali) or Jakarta (Indonesian capital), both destinations conveniently reachable from any major Indian City, flying Singapore Airlines(www.singaporeair.com). There are no shortages of hotels in Yogyakarta to suit budget, Melia Purosani Hotel (www.meliajogia.com) in the heart of Yogyakarta being a convenient option. The temple is open from dawn till dusk and entry fee is US$12.00.

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