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May 27, 2015

A Temple for the Ages

Tom McLaughlin

Borobudur, Central Java – Okay, go to Google, and well, Google, Borobudur. There, see a picture of it? Looks confusing, doesn't it? When we first stood before it was even more confusing. But, we tried to decipher the mystery of the largest Buddhist temple in the world.

First, it's blackish in colour. That is caused by the lava in the soil from Mount Merapi, a very active smoking and rumbling of a giant. I know. I saw it.

The volcano has exploded over many hundreds of years, last time in 2010. Eruptions and earthquakes have plastered the place. In fact, before Borobudur was rebuilt by the United Nations and declared a world heritage site, it was a pile of black rubble. The rebuilding started as early as 1815 when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles made it known to the western world. Then the U.N. took over and corrected the past mis rebuildings.

The place is blistering hot after about 10 A.M. All of that lava mixed in with earth and used as building materials acts as a receptacle for the tropical sun at a couple of degrees below the equator. And it was at the end of the rainy season.

The first thing you notice, other than the heat, are the stairs that climb to the top of Borobudur. They go straight up, seven flights at a steep angle. They bypassed the layers that wound around the temple. I don't think it was meant to be like that. I believe you had to walk around the seven layers of the structure to reach the pinnacle.

I climbed the steps the first time I was there, stopping at the layers to catch my breath. It was about 1 P.M. I made it to the top where the bells were. Good lord, such heat.

The next morning I got up early to explore this amazing edifice. The story begins at the lowest level. Several stories are related in relief form on the sides of the walls. Intricately carved images of the tales tell the story as one winds one’s way up to the top. To be truthful, I tried to read these while I was in graduate school many, many years ago, but I could not deal with all the cosmology or science fiction contained therein.

However, the pictures were insanely carved into stone, 2,500 or so as I worked my way up. I took pictures of the ones I liked while journeying to whatever god was at the top. When one climbed to the third layer, the Buddha's appeared gazing out to the horizon, some without heads, which had been stolen in the early days by collectors and museums.

The triumph was fun as I reached the top, about five hours including the numerous stops I made with local Indonesian students for pictures with them. I could not fathom why anyone would want a picture with a potbellied, t-shirt wearing, shorts and floppy hat attired American. But they did and I was happy to oblige listening and answering their broken English and smiling for one more photo.

...Life is good. . . . .


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