I have finally made it to Borobudur last December. At last, it was something concrete to back up all that I have learned about the Sailendras and Srivijaya. There it was, a concrete proof in the form of one of the largest Buddhist structures in the world, standing right in front of me. I do not have to imagine the words that I have read anymore. There is now a mental image in my head, full of details no word can ever describe fully.
Angkor Wat, checked. Borobudur, checked. Next, I think I want to see Pagan in Myanmar. We will see how that goes. Myanmar will definitely be more challenging that both Cambodia and Indonesia. Also, more adventurous.
What made me excited about actually being there was that I knew the history behind both Angkor Wat and Borobudur. I know exactly how both are linked. The Sailendras built Borobudur. Jayavarman who lived among the Sailendras, was sent to Cambodia to govern it. Once there, he rebelled against the Sailendras and founded the Khmer empire, the builder of Angkor Wat and other magnificent Angkor structures littered throughout Cambodia and beyond in Indochina.
Understanding the link made me all the more appreciative of history. I know that these are not mere stones. They are proofs of our history. Some might want to deny it but there they are, shouting, we are here.
I could not help myself comparing Borobudur to the mountain temples in Siem Reap. Somehow, Borobudur has not been conserved as well as the Angkor temples. this appears to be true for Prambanan temples as well, which are located about 50km to the east. Maybe it is just me.
Nevertheless, Borobudur was abandoned for hundreds of years before Stamford Raffles re-discovered it in the 19th century. Borobudur was buried under volcanic ashes. For Angkor Wat and others, many of them were working temples even as the Khmer empire was long gone.
Furthermore, conservation works on Borobudur were carried out pretty late compared to Angkor Wat. My guide told me even in the 1990s, villagers living on and around the temples. Suharto evicted them later.
This was especially true for Prambanan. Worse, residents took some of the stone blocks from Prambanan for their own purposes, whatever that might be. Sacrilege. In Yogyakarta, there is a ruin called the Water Castle, or Taman Sari. And there are houses around the ruins. I imagine it was worse for Prambanan some time ago.
Anyway, here is a typical relief of Borobudur. My guide at Borobudur was not as good as the one in Siem Reap. So, I did not get to learn the story behind many of the reliefs. But one has to notice those featureless cubes. The Dutch (or was it UNESCO?) placed them there because the originals are lost.
In fact, many features at the lower levels are unseen as they are behind modern stone blocks placed to stabilize the whole structure. I suppose, that is the sacrifice of saving Borobudur. I hope, one day, those conservationists will develop a technology to stabilize Borobodur and remove those modern stones so that visitors can see Borobudur for what it truly is.
Here is what I mean.
See the stone floor? That is not part of the original structure.