Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gygantic Mysteries

Thirteen centuries ago, a group of artists and religious leaders remaining anonymous until presently began founding a structure of massive rocks I a location regarded sacred and encircled by volcanoes in Central Java. Apparently, they didn’t live long enough to see the finished construction of what they had initiated but they knew very well that the coming generations would complete, marvel and maintain it. (Daoed Joesoef, Borobudur, Penerbit Kompas, 2005)

For us who live in today’s world to see, observe, and interpret Borobudur, questions around it and around our own relevant roles remain to be answered. Borobudur as an historic artifact, an art object and an element of Buddhist rituals has kept silent. The ‘crazy’ idea of Syailendra Dynasty kings to show the world that they were able to make real a dream doesn’t seem very striking to many people today. Very possibly, the region or the dynasty was affluent in those days. Yet, will the structure that comprises 504 Buddha statues, 72 stupas and 4 passages embellished by 1300 panels of stone carvings remain inspirational for us in our contemporary setting?

Such social concern provides the background for us (UNESCO Office Jakarta, Department of Culture and Tourism of The Republic of Indonesia, Jogja Gallery, and all our partners) to run this exhibition. Borobudur as an historic site that belongs to Indonesia (and the world) is a precious heritage. This exhibition forms a medium and space to explore various aspects that remain vague concerning the monument. The exhibition tries to make its historical details easy to understand by people at large without denigrating the roles of scholars and scientists. Indonesian historians, religious people and artists are challenged to reassure the world on the significance of Borobudur.

Mysteries & Interpretive Dialog

This exhibition is forum for persons and instructions having concerns for Borobudur to meet each other. We believe that art offers an attractive ‘middle way’ in the uncovering of various aspects of Borobudur that have become mysteries. While religious leaders function to voice spiritual beauty and bliss, historians reveal the charm of theory and rational thinking, art provides the way of imagination of one – together with the founders of Borobudur – to walk the various realms of dreams ever conceived.

Visual arts apparently offer support to the validity of historians’/scientists’ findings while providing the medium for new assumptions and creativity to emerge. Visual arts refer to creative attempts in the realm of sight and to the revealing of images no longer restricted by certain standardized approaches, conventions, schools, styles and artistic norms already established. It gives freedom by which individuals can find the suitable ways to put across their own findings. Visual arts also include maps, sketches, comics, performances, documentary photos, posters and others materials (those not acknowledged as fine art in the past) in addition to paintings, sculptures and prints (that used to be conventionally taken as ‘art’). Furthermore, visual arts are not defined by just its physical materials but also inspired by the interpretations of its viewers. That’s why this exhibition forms a forum of interpretive dialog for anyone through the media of visual arts. This is because we believe that every person has his/her imaginative and interpretive abilities since he/she is aware of his/her own life.

Illustrations of Ideas and Thoughts

During the curation process, various ‘findings’ about Borobudur were revealed. The ‘middle way’ that we pursue accommodates and integrates different fictions, myths, hypotheses and theories hitherto existent. This exhibition mediates personal opinions as well as the results of formal discussions as found in significant publications. In this exhibition of twenty works of competition winners, conjectures and perceptions, which might seem too mischievous, fantastic, allegorical, narrative symbolical, and even absurd and abstract, are presented. This exhibition is designed to display notions of Borobudur as represented by some selected works from among the competition participants, the works by invited artist, as well as works based on scholarly/research findings, which together seem to point to a new interpretation of the monument. It turns out that Borobudur still keeps mysteries for rational consideration and imaginative reflection.

Certain works try to articulate the existence of Borobudur and its mysteries (further, see ‘Ten Main Subject Matter of the Exhibitions’ some place else). Borobudur becomes rich with metaphors and provides as a source of inspirations for individuals to manifest what they have in mind. These interpretations by artists, scientists, and believers of today represent the richness of a civilization that was perhaps already forecast by the founders of the monument. With that in mind, this exhibition seems to open the path not only to visit the past but also to prefigure the future by drawing on an old artifact.

Mysteries as Collective Pride and Identity

By this exhibition, we are not going to only deal with the results of research studies and interpretations that are useful for Borobudur itself but also with the possibility of new creations with relevance for the image and development of Indonesian culture and art. Issues and mysteries around Borobudur being explored here offer the chance to elevate the quality and development of Indonesian culture and art on the international level. On the basis of its high culture root represented by Borobudur, Indonesian art has the opportunity to feature a subject matter regarded significant by the international world. This means we have a source of inspirations that may lead our Indonesian art to become a “topic”.
The inspirations from and the subject matter of Borobudur can give a possible ‘collective identity’ we’ve been searching for. And from Borobudur we can accumulate the results of comparative studies over time to help us in dealing with the developments of various contemporary issues underway.

In a flash various questions raid our heads. Two of them are quite crucial. Firstly, I am feeling ashamed sometimes regarding as a local person, in among of the pride for having Borobudur, there still not balancing with the mature way for taking care of it. Will do the Borobudur as an only matter continuing considered? Secondly, what are the possibilities for religions, science and art spinning will provide for the emergence of interesting intellectually encounter? So, it could simultaneously provide the possibility a new creativity which is more gigantic – as well as the way artists, scholars & scientists, and religious leaders managed to generate when they joined to work together in building the Borobudur thirteen centuries ago.

[Source: Mikke Susanto, The Thousand Mysteries of Borobudur, Jogja Gallery, Yogyakarta: 2007]

Discovery to Restoration

After Borobudur was abandoned in ancient times it was mentioned twice in two historical Javanese texts Babad Tanah Jawi (1704) and Babad Mataram (1754). But the temple, for the most part, remained neglected and in ruins until the English took interest in restoring the temple 1814. A complete restoration did not take place however until 1907, under the guidance of a Dutchman, Theodorus Van Erp. He worked on the project until 1911.

During British administration in Indonesia between 1811-1815, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles found Candi Borobudur (Borobudur temple) from its slumber for almost 1 millennium. Raffles, motivated with the temple mystery, started the groundwork for actual archeological survey and research works in 1814 right after its discovery. He commissioned H.C. Cornelius, an officer of the Royal Engineers, to institute further investigations. Later, in 1835, the structure and basic dimension of Borobudur were first investigated by Hartmann, and a German artist, A. Shaefer, made the first daguerreotype photos. Afterward, between 1849 to 1853, F.C. Wilsen together with Schonberg Mulder was given the task by Dutch government to make drawings of all relief.

Leemans, as director of Leyden Museum of Antiquities, created first monographs of Borobudur temple in 1873, in cooperation with J.F.G. Brumund and Isidore van Kinsbergen. An important aspect of Borobudur relief hidden in the base of Candi was discovered by J.W. Ijzerman in 1885. In 1890 the concealed relief’s was entirely revealed and photographed by Indonesian Kasijan Cephas for documentary purposes. Later on, in 1900, J.L.A. Brandes formed a committee together with Theodoor van Erp, a Dutch army engineer officer, to restore the deteriorated conditions of this great monument. Actual renovation began in 1907 with 50,000 Dutch guilder of cost, which took 4 years of hard work until 1911 (Erp, 1931).

This 1907-1911 restoration was established to primarily focus on cleaning the sculptures, and excavating the grounds around the monument to find missing Buddha heads and hidden panel stones. The restoration project did not address and solve the drainage problem. Within few decades, the gallery walls were sagging and the relief showed signs of new cracks and deterioration. Theodoor van Erp used concrete from which alkali salts and calcium hydroxide are leached and transported into the rest of the construction. This has caused some problems that a further thorough renovation is urgently needed (Soekmono, 1973).

UNESCO and Indonesian government undertook a complete overhaul of the monument in a big renovation project from 1975 to 1983. Under the chairmanship of R. Roseno and Soekmono, Indonesian engineer and archeologist, the northern and western balustrades were partly dismantled and restored. Many UN experts and archeologist in the field of stone preservation were also invited to solve the serious problem of damage to these relief and statues. The overall foundation was stabilized and all 1,460 panels were cleaned. The restoration involved the dismantling of the five square platforms/galleries and improved the drainage by embedding water channels into the monument (Parmono, 1988). Preservation of Borobudur temple became national and international attentions in order to protect them from further natural destructions.

UNESCO International Safeguarding Campaign for Borobudur

In 1967 the government of Indonesia asked UNESCO for technical assistance, particularly in connection with Borobudur temple. A similar appeal was made at the XXVII th International Congress of Orientals in Ann Arbor, Michigan USA. The response was prompt. From 1968, the expert from several countries came in turn to carry out the survey and on-site studies, in close cooperation with archeological institute and the various government agencies involved.

The international character of the project now being ensured by a National Executive agency, a UNESCO Coordinator and an International Consultative Committees, the government and UNESCO signed a formal agreement in January 1973 in Paris. In August 1973 the start of the project was announced by President Republic of Indonesia, inspite of the fact that the international fundraising campaign had only just been started.

UNESCO five years of extensive research (1968-1973), (2) Ten years of restoration works (1973-1983), (3) There are 27 Countries joined hands, including private sector, US$ 6.5Million provided to Indonesia of total project cost US$ 25 Million, (4) More than 1 million blocks moved!. The significance of Borobudur Temples has an outstanding universal value and UNESCO world cultural heritage inscribed the temple and its surrounding in the World Heritage List in 1991 no. C 592.

The gigantic project was completed, and the new Borobudur was officially inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Indonesia in the presence of the Director General of UNESCO, ambassadors of donating and friendly countries and of many more high officials

[Source: Masanori Nagaoka, Effective Management for Borobudur Temple Compounds, Discussion and Expert Meeting in Borobudur, UNESCO: 2008; Borobudur Prayer in Stone, Archipelago Press, Singapore: 1999]

Philosophy and Architecture

Buddhist cosmology is divided into three worlds: the Kamadhatu or the phenomenal world, the world of desires; the Rupadhatu, a transitional sphere where humans are released from their corporeal form and worldly concerns; and finally the Arupadhatu, the sphere of Gods the sphere of perfection and enlightenment.

Borobudur's architecture is modeled after this cosmology. Each part of the monument is devoted to a different world. The Kamadhatu is a huge, rectangular wall that just out at the foot of the monument. Above the base is the Rupadhatu, four rectangular terraces with procession corridors that are decorated with myriad statues and relief. These terraces are three circular terraces and a large dome. When we approach the monument however, it is difficult to discern the three separate elementary structures.

The rectangular foundation is obscure; rather than appearing as a step pyramid, the temple gives the illusion of being a solid circular dome with the final stupa protruding on the top. The monument is a confusion of endless terraces, statues and niches.

The temple's architecture shows incredible precision and tremendous human labor. Fifty-five thousand cubic meters of andesit stone or more than two million blocks of stone were brought from the Progo River to the building site. The rock was first roughly carved in the river bed and then dragged to the monument by elephant and horse. It was Mount Merapi's volcanic activity that provided this building material.

Borobudur was built during the Golden Age of the Syailendra Dynasty, sometime in the beginning of the 8th century. Syailendra translates as "Kings of the Mountains" but it is uncertain where these rulers actually came from. The kings of this period built a number of great monuments through out Central Java. Borobudur was built in various stages under the authority of several different kings.

It was used for meditation and rituals by the Vajrayana sect of the Tantric School of Buddhism which made its way into Java during the 8th century. The word Borobudur is believed to mean monastery on a hill. It is derived from the words "baram" and "buduhur". "Bara" is from the Sanskrit word "Vihara" meaning a complex of temples, monasteries or dormitories. "Beduhur" is a Balinese word meaning "above".

In order to more fully appreciate a structure like Borobudur we should approach and experience the temple as the Buddhist initiates ten centuries ago were required to do. We should enter the temple by the east gate and circle the temple clockwise. There are eleven series of relief depicted on the monument. Sometimes two or three stories parallel each other on a gallery wall. To follow a story from beginning to end we must walk one complete circle around the temple. This process is called Pradakcina or paying homage to the good spirits. To walk counter clockwise is to recognize the spirits of the dead.
In total there are 1460 individual narrative relief and 1212 decorative relief. The stories are taken from several Sanskrit manuscripts that discuss the many lives of the Buddha. On the relief Buddha sometimes appears in human form as the Buddha or in one of his previous reincarnations as a rabbit deer, swan, bird or elephant. If the relief were laid out lengthwise they would cover a distance of three kilometers.

The reliefs of the base level, Kamadhatu were covered up with an extra wall before they were completely finished. There are two theories for the additional wall: 1) the entire structure began to slide and needed support or 2) perhaps the explicit material on the reliefs was considered too revealing for the young Buddhist initiates. During the Japanese occupation part of the wall was removed exposing reliefs from the Karmawibanggha, an ancient Tibetan text that discusses good and bad deeds and their consequences. This particular relief’s can be viewed on the southeast corner.

The Rupadhatu begins with the first terrace. Turning to the left down the corridor we see on the main wall relief’s from the Lalitavistara text, a Sanskrit manuscript which depicts Buddha's life. In brief the story is as follows: Prince Shidharta, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the Lumbini garden in Nepal. His father was a great king. His mother, Maya Dewi, died a week after his birth. Prince Sidharta led a very secluded life. When he reached adulthood he married Princess Gopa. One day he had a vision: he saw four figures that represented aspects of life he had never experienced or imagined: a blind old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk.

Having experienced this, the Prince was inspired to leave the palace in search of wisdom. He became wanaprastha or a hermit wanderer and studied under famous teachers Brahmapani, Rudraka Aradakalapa and five famous hermits. Despite their teaching he was still unsatisfied. Prince Sidharta practised his own way that is the middle path or madyamika. Finally he meditated under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya town and attained Buddhahood. After his enlightenment he was named Buddha Gautama.
In the Rupadhatu there are also small Buddha statues in niches in the balustrades of the four terraces. On the first terrace there are Manushi Buddhas who have manifested themselves in the world. Each directional point is protected by a Manushi Buddha: Knakanmuni to the South, Kacyapa to the West, Ckvanmuni to the East and Maitreya to the North. On the three higher terraces are Dyani Buddhas or meditative Buddhas. They can be distinguished from one and other by the position of their hands referred to as mudra.

On the east wall :
Buddha Akcobya with his palm turned down ward calling the spirit of the earth to witness his victory over evil spirits, and to witness his inner strength (Bhumisparca mudra).
On the south wall
Buddha Ratnasambhawa with his palm open, showing giving blessing (Wara mudra).
On the north wall :
Buddha Amoghasidha with his raised palm, showing his immunity to danger (Abhawa mudra).
On the fifth terrace : Buddha Wairocana with a circular finger gesture which indicates giving instruction with an honest and pure heart (Witarka mudra).
In total there are 504 Buddha :
statues. Buddha wears a cassock consisting of there part two of which are visible: an outer garment that leaves his right shoulder bare and an undergarment that is visible at his legs.

As we ascend the monument, reading the stories and climbing the terraces we will pas six archways. Before the final level, the Arupadhatu, we must pass through a double archway between the third and fourth terrace. These are called the double gates of Nirwikala. After passing through these gates our body leaves its corporeal form. Rupadhatu, and enters the world of formless spirit, Arupadhatu. The Nirwikala is the final door leading to the supreme final reality of Buddhism. The most architecturally complete archway is found on the side of the monument.

Once we enter the Arupadhatu we experdience a more spacious and open feeling different from the confining rectangular corridors of the terraces below. Before us are three circulation terraces.
Geometrically arranged on the terrace are 72 lattice dagobs (small stupa shaped structures) containing Buddha Vajrasat twa statues. The philosophy behind these encased Buddhas is complex and not yet fully understood. Perhaps the lattice Structure represents a sieve like boundary separating the world of form and that of formlessness. Notice that the holes on the first two terraces are diamond shaped but the last terrace holes are square. There is a legend that says if you can reach in and touch the cloth of the Buddha near the east stairway whatever you wish will come true. At the entrance of each stairway there are two mythical lion statues that serve as guards. No lions ever actually existed on Java. The symbol of Prince Sidharta's kingdom in Nepal was the lion.


History of Borobudur

Borobudur was built on a small hill in the Kedu Basin, a rich, fertile valley surrounded by spectacular volcanoes. To the east lie Merapi and Merbabu and to the north lies Sumbing and Sindoro. The unusual jagged Menoreh Hills encircle the temple to the South and West. The temple is also located near the meeting place of two rivers, the Elo and the Progo. These rivers are believed to be symbolic of the Gangga and Yamuna, the two rivers feeding the Indus valley in India. The location was most likely chosen for its central location and expansive views.

Borobudur lies directly south of Tidar Hill, a small knob on the valley floor which according to myth nailed the island of Java in place. We get a sense of the grandness of the landscape when we rise to the final terrace of the monument which opens up into a 360 degree view of the magnificent valley. This feeling of freedom and openness evokes the sense of spiritual release that occurs in Buddhist philosophy when one enters the Arupadhatu, the sphere of enlightenment which is manifested on the final terrace of the monument.

This famous Buddhist temple, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, is located in central Java. It was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,500 m2. Around the circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha. The monument was restored with UNESCO's help in the 1970s.