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Main Stupa at Borobudur

Borobudur is the biggest Buddhist temple ever built and also one of the largest religious monuments in the world. The temple was begun in 750 CE by a king of the Sailahendra Dynasty of Java, Indonesia and took many years to finish. Borobudur consists of six polygonal and three circular terraces one on top of the other and each smaller than the one below it. The last three round terraces have seventy three small stupas on them and a large central one. The sides of all the lower terraces have hundreds of carved panels on them depicting scenes from the Buddhacarita and the Jàtakamàlà and several other Buddhist books. This amazing temple is constructed in such a way that a pilgrim starting at the bottom could learn about the Buddha’s former lives and his last life as he or her made their way to the top. Thus Borobudur is actually not only a temple but also a stupa and a book of Dhamma in stone.

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. The foundation is a square, approximately 118 meters (387 ft) on each side. It has nine platforms, of which the lower six are square and the upper three are circular. The upper platform features seventy-two small stupas surrounding one large central stupa. Each stupa is bell-shaped and pierced by numerous decorative openings. Statues of the Buddha sit inside the pierced enclosures.

Approximately 55,000 cubic metres (72,000 cu yd) of stones were taken from neighbouring rivers to build the monument. The stone was cut to size, transported to the site and laid without mortar. Knobs, indentations and dovetails were used to form joints between stones. Reliefs were created in-situ after the building had been completed. The monument is equipped with a good drainage system to cater for the area's high stormwater run-off. To avoid inundation, 100 spouts are provided at each corner with a unique carved gargoyles in the shape of giants or makaras.

The main vertical structure can be divided into three groups: base (or foot), body, and top, which resembles the three major division of a human body. The base is a 123x123 m (403.5x403.5 ft) square in size and 4 meters (13 ft) high of walls. The body is composed of five square platforms each with diminishing heights. The first terrace is set back 7 meters (23 ft) from the edge of the base. The other terraces are set back by 2 meters (7 ft), leaving a narrow corridor at each stage. The top consists of 3 circular platforms, with each stage supporting a row of perforated stupas, arranged in concentric circles. There is one main dome at the center; the top of which is the highest point of the monument (35 meters (115 ft) above ground level). Access to the upper part is through stairways at the centre of each side with a number of gates, watched by a total of 32 lion statues. The main entrance is at the eastern side, the location of the first narrative reliefs. On the slopes of the hill, there are also stairways linking the monument to the low-lying plain.


Borobudur, Golden Tales of the Buddha, John Miksic, 1990.