The World's Largest Buddhist Temple

Besides being the world’s largest Buddhist shrine, Borobudur has the most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs worldwide. As a travelearner, it is a great source to learn many things, including the beliefs of Buddhism and its dogma, the architecture of Javanese Buddhist, the history of religion and reign shift in Indonesia, and so forth.


This 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist Temple is still used for pilgrimage once a year, during the Vesak Day. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument, ascending to the top through three levels, which symbolize the three “realms” of Buddhist cosmology: Kamadhatu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). Ordinary sentient beings that are still bounded by lust live on the lowest level, the realm of desire. Those who have burnt out all desire for continued existence leave the world of desire and live in the world on the level of form alone: they see forms but are not drawn to them. Finally, full Buddhas go beyond even form and experience reality at its purest, most fundamental level, the formless ocean of nirvana.


Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia

What can we learn:

  • Buddhism

  • Architecture

  • History

  • Culture

Learn to Travel:

  • Read an overview of Borobudur

  • Make a list of questions

  • Dressed decently

  • No littering

  • No climbing up the stupas and reliefs

Borobudur's Relief Panels

Photo: pustakadigitalindonesia


It is like a giant picture-storybook in which each level has reliefs that tell various legendary stories of Buddhist and Buddhism in a clockwise sequence:


1.    Karmavibhannga*

Here, the law of karma (cause and effect) is illustrated through the depictions of blameworthy activities and their corresponding punishments as well as praiseworthy activities and their subsequent rewards.

*The full panels can only be seen through the photographs of these reliefs in Borobudur Museum (Karmavibhangga Museum) as it is hidden behind the foot base encasement.


2.    Lalitavistara

It is the story of Prince Siddhartha and the birth of Buddha. It starts with the descent of the Lord Buddha from the Tushita heaven as Queen Maya gave birth of Prince Siddhartha. The story continues until the prince becomes the Buddha.


3.    Jataka & Avadana

Jatakas are stories about Buddha’s previous life before he was born as Prince Siddhartha, while Avadanas are stories of other legendary persons. It is similar to Jatakas, but the main figure is not the Bodhisattva himself.


4.    Gandavyuha

It depicts the story of Sudhana’s tireless wandering in search of the Ultimate Truth or the Highest Perfect Wisdom. The narrative panels finally end with Sudhana’s achievement of the Supreme Knowledge and the Ultimate Truth.

The Hidden Foot Reliefs
The Hidden Foot Reliefs

In 1885, a hidden structure under the base was accidentally discovered. The "hidden footing" contains reliefs, 160 of which are narratives describing the real Kāmadhātu. Photo: ladyshinta17

Borobudur's Architecture
Borobudur's Architecture

Borobudur is built as a single large stupa and, when viewed from above, takes the form of a giant tantric Buddhist mandala, simultaneously representing the Buddhist cosmology and the nature of mind. Photo: borobudurpark

Surrounded by Mountains and Rivers
Surrounded by Mountains and Rivers

Borobudur is located in an elevated area between two twin volcanoes, Sundoro-SUmbing and Merbabu-Merapi, and two rivers, the Progo and the Elo. Photo: URtravelearners

Temple Complex
Temple Complex

Three Buddhist temples in the region: Borobudur, Pawon and Mendut, are positioned along a straight line. Photo: wikipedia

Borobudur's Spout
Borobudur's Spout

To prevent flooding, 100 spouts are installed at each corner, each with a unique carved gargoyle in the shape of a giant or makara. Photo: wikimedia