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Borobudur

Borobudur Collection

History Archive - Borobudur Collection

Borobudur, or Barabudur is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Magelang Regency, not far from the town of Muntilan, in Central Java, Indonesia. It is the world's largest Buddhist temple. The temple consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. It is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.

Borobudur lay hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth. The facts behind its abandonment remain a mystery. It is not known when active use of the monument and Buddhist pilgrimage to it ceased. Sometime between 928 and 1006, King Mpu Sindok moved the capital of the Medang Kingdom to the region of East Java after a series of volcanic eruptions; it is not certain whether this influenced the abandonment, but several sources mention this as the most likely period of abandonment.

Following its capture, Java was under British administration from 1811 to 1816. The appointed governor was Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles, who took great interest in the history of Java. He collected Javanese antiques and made notes through contacts with local inhabitants during his tour throughout the island. On an inspection tour to Semarang in 1814, he was informed about a big monument deep in a jungle near the village of Bumisegoro. He was not able to see the site himself, but sent Hermann Cornelius, a Dutch engineer who, among other antiquity explorations had uncovered the Sewu complex in 1806–07, to investigate. In two months, Cornelius and his 200 men cut down trees, burned down vegetation and dug away the earth to reveal the monument. Due to the danger of collapse, he could not unearth all galleries. He reported his findings to Raffles, including various drawings. Although Raffles mentioned the discovery and hard work by Cornelius and his men in only a few sentences, he has been credited with the monument's rediscovery, as the one who had brought it to the world's attention.

Christiaan Lodewijk Hartmann, the Resident of the Kedu region, continued Cornelius's work, and in 1835, the whole complex was finally unearthed. His interest in Borobudur was more personal than official. Hartmann did not write any reports of his activities, in particular, the alleged story that he discovered the large statue of Buddha in the main stupa. In 1842, Hartmann investigated the main dome, although what he discovered is unknown and the main stupa remains empty.

The Dutch East Indies government then commissioned Frans Carel Wilsen, a Dutch engineering official, who studied the monument and drew hundreds of relief sketches. Jan Frederik Gerrit Brumund was also appointed to make a detailed study of the monument, which was completed in 1859. The government intended to publish an article based on Brumund's study supplemented by Wilsen's drawings, but Brumund refused to cooperate. The government then commissioned another scholar, Conradus Leemans, who compiled a monograph based on Brumund's and Wilsen's sources. In 1873, the first monograph of the detailed study of Borobudur was published, followed by its French translation a year later. The first photograph of the monument was taken in 1872 by the Dutch-Flemish engraver Isidore van Kinsbergen.

Appreciation of the site developed slowly, and it served for some time largely as a source of souvenirs and income for "souvenir hunters" and thieves. In 1882, the chief inspector of cultural artifacts recommended that Borobudur be entirely disassembled with the relocation of reliefs into museums due to the unstable condition of the monument. As a result, the government appointed Willem Pieter Groeneveldt, curator of the archaeological collection of the Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences, to undertake a thorough investigation of the site and to assess the actual condition of the complex; his report found that these fears were unjustified and recommended it be left intact.

Borobudur was considered as the source of souvenirs, and parts of its sculptures were looted, some even with colonial-government consent. In 1896 King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited Java and requested and was allowed to take home eight cartloads of sculptures taken from Borobudur. These include thirty pieces taken from a number of relief panels, five buddha images, two lions, one gargoyle, several kala motifs from the stairs and gateways, and a guardian statue (dvarapala). Several of these artifacts, most notably the lions, dvarapala, kala, makara and giant waterspouts are now on display in the Java Art room in The National Museum in Bangkok.

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