The Borobudur temple – Apollinaire


Today, my family and I went to visit the largest Buddhist temple in the world; the Borobudur temple. The Borobudur temple is located in the centre of Java in Indonesia.


It was built because the Buddhists were once having a fight against the Hindu’s competing over who’s religion was the best. One day, they decided to have a competition against each other to show each other how good Hindu’s could be or how powerful Buddhists can be. Each religion built their own temple, the Hindu’s constructed the Prambanan temple which is now the sixth biggest temple in the world, and the Buddhists built the Borobudur temple. This is why the famous temple was built.


The Borobudur was built in 750 AD and was finished in 825 AD (in total it took them 75 years to construct). When I visited the temple this morning, I noticed that there were lots and lots of ancient Buddha statues that were very badly damaged. When I did some further research back at our villa, I found out that in 2006, there was a major earthquake in Borobudur, but the temple was left undamaged. I also found out that during the eruption of Mount Merapi in November 2010, a layer of ash around 3cm high leaked onto most of the temple statues. That was why so many stone Buddha figures were damaged.



In total, it is known that there are 504 statues of Buddha in the Borobudur temple today.


Oddly, Borobudur was abandoned in the 1500s, at the time when Islam arrived on the island in the 13th and 14th centuries.
In the early 19th century Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (British governor of Java and also the founder of Singapore) heard of the site and decided to renovate and reconstruct the damaged parts of the temple.

The Borobudur temple has been so famous that it is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site (United Nations Eucational  Scientific and Cultural Organization).


When I walked around the temple in the hot sun, all the walls were covered in stone ‘relief panels’. The walls were made from stone that was carved beautifully by hand. Some had elephants, wise men but most of them were Buddha. Lots of the stone pictures had the wise men surrounding Buddha as he meditated. The relief panels were telling us a story from Buddhas birth to death.





As we climbed to the top of the temple near the main dome, I noticed that suddenly there were a lots of small (still bigger than me) domes. I found out that these are called Stupas. After a while, I spotted a Stupa that had half of the top that had fallen off! There, I saw the head of a tiny Buddha that was inside it! I didn’t have any idea that there were statues of Buddha inside them. I really liked finding that out today.



What is a stupa?

Stupas originated as pre Buddhist tumuli (a burial mound of earth and stones raised over graves). Śramanas (famous monks, Kings, nuns, etc..) were buried in a seated position (chaitya). After the death of the Buddha, his body was cremated (burnt) and the ashes were kept under eight mounds and two extra mounds were built, one held the urn (a small box that contains lots of ashes of Buddha) and the other held the embers (the leftovers of the fire) of the Buddha.

These are the five types of stupa:

* Relic stupa, a stupa which holds the relics of Buddha
* Object stupa, a stupa that holds an object of Buddha (robes, scripts, begging bowls, etc..)
* Commemorative stupa, built to remember Buddha and his teachings
* Symbolic stupa, to symbolise aspects of Buddhist theology (the Borobudur stupas are symbolic)
* Votive stupa, constructed to commemorate visits or to gain spiritual benefits

Stupas were elaborated as they spread to more countries in Southeast Asia becoming for example the pagoda in East Asia. The western world used to think that a pagoda and a stupa were the same because sometimes pagodas have a round top, however, the pagoda is different to the stupa as a stupa is a Buddhist structure whereas the pagoda is a religious structure  that can be entered.

Stupas was built in Sri Lanka (where my dad is from). Later on, more and more stupas were built one of which was a huge stupa in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa (which I went to visit last December). The most elaborate stupas to this day are the Borobudur stupas. This is the story of how a stupa evolved from a burial mound of soil to a intricately carved stone stupa which a Buddha sits inside in the lotus flower position.


During our time in Java , we went to the local village where we were staying and learnt how to make pottery and I decided to make a stupa from clay. A lovely lady spun a round platform , called a pottery wheel while I formed the shape of the stupa.


I really enjoyed my time in Magelang in Central Java. It has been my favourite history and religious lesson I have ever had in my life. I really enjoyed learning about the relief panels and especially about the stupas at the temple today. Also, my dad’s father is Buddhist and his mother is Hindu so it was really interesting for me and my dad (he is an architect) to learn more about Borobudur.

The stupas reminded me of when I went to visit the Rankot Vihara temple in Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka last December.  The main dome looked very similar to a stupa, but the dome didn’t have small diamond shaped holes cut into it.

My sister Capucine in front of the Rajkot Vihara temple last Christmas

I really enjoyed my day discovering the Borobudur temple and I am hoping to see other temples along the way (especially the Angkor Wat temple when we visit Cambodia which is the biggest Hindu temple in the world)!

From Apollinaire

One thought on “The Borobudur temple – Apollinaire

  1. Dear Apollinaire,
    what a wonderful adventure you’ve had! Indeed contemplation of ancient temples fills the soul with joy. Besides in good places old stones share their positive energy with you.

    I got expecially interested with the notion ‘stupa’ you’ve described. In my native language & culture it has a very particular meaning: it’s a kind of a transport our mythological creature Baba Yaga uses. She flies in it.

    Best regards,



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