The largest Buddhist temple in the world is the Borobudur Temple located in Magelang in Central Java, Indonesia. It is the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple and features nine stacked platforms, six squares and three circulars that are topped by a central dome. It is burrowed within an isolated valley surrounded by trees and mountains. 

Being the oldest temple in Indonesia, Borobudur Temple has survived over 1200 years of volcanic eruptions, terrorist bombs and earthquakes. 

Architecture

The Borobudur Temple has a base of 1200 square metre terrace topped with 6 tiers and has the majority of this monument walls adorned with numerous Buddha statues. Its’ foundation hints to hold more indigenous Javanese traits than Hindu or Buddhist. The monument is large and given if one were to place the galleries end to end, it spans at least 5 kilometres. The monument also took the form of a step pyramid and followed a mandala plan. 

In 1885, a  group of buddha reliefs was found hidden at the back of the line stones at the base. Words inscribed in ancient Javanese script were also found there describing how the earthly world is dominated and led by greed. The real base is hidden by an encasement base which till today no one knows why. 

However, a theory stands to say that it was built because the original footing goes against the Indian ancient book about architecture and town planning. 

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia World's largest Buddhist temple - Sheet1
Borobudur Temple ©Michael Rivera

Buddhist Cosmology

After much research on the Borobudur Temple, there is no found evidence as to the purpose of the construction of the temple. However, given a theory, it states that the monument represents Buddhist cosmology and symbolises some sort of Buddhist mandala. Borobudur Temple pushes to represent the 3 realms of Buddhist cosmology. The base represents the world of desire followed by the world of form and lastly the world of formlessness which is the highest level of enlightenment and located at the top of the temple.

The experience walking through the gallery and entering the world of form shows engraved people that seem to be trying to achieve excellence over worldly desires. There is evidence of women trying to seduce buddha where he is seen to be meditating and ignoring the seduction of the women. 

It is said that Buddha convinced himself that the seduction of the women is all illusions in his mind. Moving upwards and into the gate of the world of formlessness, there are 72 lined-up stupors. There are statues of Buddha inside the stupors and only be seen through small openings of the stupor. 

Finishing the temple with a nice touch, the Borobudur temple features a 10-metre stupor at the top of the monument that sits in the middle of the temple. This symbolises and pushes people that practice Buddhism to strive for enlightenment over worldly affairs.

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia World's largest Buddhist temple - Sheet4
Mandala Plan ©Gunawan Kartapranata

Structure

Borobudur Temple is made with andesite stones taken from neighbouring stone quarries. The stones were all cut to size and then brought over and stacked onto one another. Instead of using mortar, knobs, indentations and dovetails were used to join the stones. As for the roof of stupas, niches and arched gateways, they were all built with the corbelling method. 

The reliefs of the monument are all done on-site. The drainage system was also in mind when the monument was built. Borobudur temple catered to its region’s high stormwater run-off by installing 100 spouts each with a unique carved gargoyle that looks like a Makara. The spouts are all installed at the corners of the monument.

As for the Borobudur Temple foundation, it was built on a natural hill and due to its pyramid shape, it was first thought to be a stupa that was intended as a Buddha shrine, not a temple. Stupas are typically constructed as a sign of devotion towards Buddhism whereas a temple is made to be a place of worship towards a religion. After much study and excavation, Borobudur is settled to be a temple due to its meticulous details and structure.

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia World's largest Buddhist temple - Sheet3
Gargoyle ©Andrey Bond

Interestingly, in the past, they did not use the metric or imperial system. Instead, they used tala, a basic unit of measurement used during that time. Tala is the length of a human face, starting from the forehead’s hairline to the tip of the chin or the length of the tip of the thumb to the tip of the middle finger when the hand is fully stretched out. Tala is relative from one individual to another. 

Furthermore, the Borobudur Temple also holds a 4:6:9 ratio around the monument. Gunadharma, the architect, used the 4:6:9 ratio to layout the accurate and precise dimensions of the fractal and self-similar geometry that the Borobudur Temple holds. This same ratio can also be found in neighbouring Buddhist temples. 

To add on, the ratio also possesses calendrical, astronomical and cosmological significance which seems appropriate in the design of the Borobudur Temple.

All in all, the Borobudur Temple has attracted many tourists alike to visit and further indulge in this 9th century-built temple. As much as research goes, the true meaning as to why it was built is unknown, but this structure still stands to fascinate and allow anyone who visits to feel calm and captivated by this form of architecture. 

Borobudur Temple, Indonesia World's largest Buddhist temple - Sheet4
Borobudur Temple ©Yi Mun Loo

Reference

Borobudur: Golden Tales of Buddhas by John N. Miksic and Marcello Tranchini. 

Author

Currently an architecture student in National University of Singapore (NUS), she wishes to eventually live in a van, swims with whales and delve into different works of arts. An avid learner who strives to be of an all-rounded individual, she too is a lover of words, psychology, and human experiences.

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