Buddha statue on the upper terrace of Borobudur Stupa, Java, Indonesia (Order Fine Art Print)
Borobudur, a name deriving from an expression meaning 'Mountain of accumulation of merits of the ten states of Bodhisattva' is commonly thought of as a Buddhist structure, yet its initial construction was planned and conducted by Hindu builders sometime around 775 AD. The enormous first and second terraces were completed by a declining Hindu dynasty, construction was then halted for some years, and later, from 790 to 835 AD, the Buddhist Sailendra dynasty continued and finally completed the great stupa. The huge stone mass might have then been permanently abandoned, for it was difficult to adapt to the needs of Buddhism. However, leaving in evidence such an obvious manifestation of Hinduism was probably not deemed politically correct and thus the unfinished Shiva temple was transformed into the world's largest Buddhist stupa. After 832 AD the Hindu dynasty of Sanjaya began to reunify central Java and soon reappropriated the Buddhist monuments built by the Sailendra. Although the Sanjaya were themselves Hindu, they ruled over a Buddhist majority and thus, while some Hindu modifications and ornamentations were done on Borobudur, the stupa remained a place of Buddhist use. During the 10th and 11th centuries there was a transfer of power from central Java to the east, and the great stupa fell into decline. For centuries the site lay forgotten, buried under layers of volcanic ash and jungle growth. In 1815 Europeans cleared the site, in the early 1900's the Dutch began its restoration, and a US$21 million project begun in 1973 completed the work.
The Borobudur stupa is a massive, symetrical monument, 200 square meters in size, sitting upon a low sculptured hill. The monument represents a Buddhist cosmological model of the universe organized around the axis of mythical Mt. Meru. Starting at the eastern gateway, pilgrims circumambulate the stupa, always in a clockwise direction. Walking through nearly five kilometers of open air corridors while ascending through six square terraces and three circular ones, the pilgrim symbolically spirals upward from the everyday world to the nirvanic state of absolute nothingness. The first six terraces are filled with richly decorated relief panels in which the sculptors have carved a textbook of Buddhist doctrines and a fascinating panorama of 9th century Javanese life. Upon the upper three terraces are 72 small stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha (these statues are usually headless; relic hunters stole many of the heads, others are in museums). Crowning the entire structure is a great central stupa. Representing Nirvana, it is empty.
Buddha statue atop Borobudur, with Mount Merapi in background, Java (Order Fine Art Print)