The archaeological remains of the Buddhist monuments in the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia are authentic and sublime in terms of their forms and design, materials and substance, and locations and setting, as well as, to a degree, their spirit.
These monuments have been conserved and preserved with sensitivity, both historically and in contemporary times. Though the original function of these sites were discontinued long ago, having been abandoned for hundreds of years, a stream of Buddhist pilgrims and visitors originating from all over the Buddhist world, has revived in a limited way their living fervour.
Borobudur epitomises an Outstanding Universal Value
- Borobudur is a masterpiece of Buddhist architecture and monumental arts. Laid out in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha, Borobudur is an exceptional reflection of the very central idea of indigenous ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of ‘Nirvana’. The ten mounting terraces of the entire structure correspond to the successive steps that the ‘Boddhisatvas’ have to achieve before attaining to Buddhahood’ – the final stage of sublime enlightenment.
- It is also an outstanding example of Indonesia’s art and architecture from between the early 8th century CE and late 9th century CE that exerted considerable influence on an architectural and artistic revival between the mid 13th century CE and early 16th century CE in Indonesia.
- Borobudur is the largest and most elaborate Buddhist temple in the world and inscribed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Borobudur signifies an outstanding universal value and has international significance in promoting Buddhism.
- The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades. Borobudur has one of the largest and most complete ensembles of Buddhist reliefs in the world.
- Researchers are of opinion that besides functioning as a place of worship for Buddhists, Borobudur Temple is thought to have other functions related to Astronomy probably as a Sky Movement Recorder evidenced by relief panels depicting stars, moon and sun.
- The symmetrical shape of the building that has a parallel side to the direction of the sun’s movement from east to west suggests that the Borobudur Temple is probably a giant sun clock or sun dial.
- The art of Borobudur is also clearly influenced by the artistic expressions found in the Indian sub-continent during the Gupta and Pala periods.
- The rediscovery and restoration of Borobudur has been hailed by the Indonesian Buddhists as the sign of Buddhist revival in Indonesia.
Profound Historical Significance of Borobudur
- Sriwijaya kingdom in Sumatra and Syailendra kingdom in Java were important centres for the expansion of Buddhism from the 8th to 12th century CE. This expansion followed trade routes of Silk Road inland and maritime route.
- The kingdoms were active promoters of Mahayana Buddhism and had religious, cultural and trade links with Gupta and Pala dynasties of India.
- Sriwijaya once served as a centre of Buddhism and for learning of Sanskrit language. This encouraged travel from China to Sriwijaya to India, and vice versa.
- According to Dr. Ramesh Chandra Majumdar, an illustrious Indian scholar, the Syailendra dynasty that established itself in the Indonesian archipelago originated from Kalinga in Eastern India. This opinion is also shared by historians Nilakanta Sastri and J.L. Moens. Moens further describes that the Syailendras originated in India and established themselves in Palembang before the arrival of Sriwijaya’s Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa. In 683 CE, the Syailendras moved to Java because of the pressure exerted by Dapunta Hyang and his troops.
The Knowledge Route
- Beside the renowned Silk Route and Spice Trail, there is another lesser-known historical trail ‘the Knowledge Route’ between India and Indonesia.
- The Knowledge Route connected the Sriwijaya Kingdom in the south-western part of Sumatra (previously known as ‘Swarnadipa’) and Nalanda University located in the Bihar State of India.
- This trail is called Knowledge Route due to the reputation of both Nalanda and Sriwijaya as the centres of Buddhist scholastic learning and centres of knowledge.
- Built during the Gupta Empire, Nalanda Mahavihara was the location of an ancient university that attracted students from other countries including China and Tibet. At Nalanda, students not only studied Buddhist philosophy and culture but also learnt about astronomy, mathematics, medicine, Eastern philosophy and Greek philosophy as well.
- Meanwhile, Sriwijaya was the first unified kingdom to dominate much of the Indonesian archipelago. The rise of the Srivijaya Empire was parallel to the end of the Malay sea-faring period. Due to its location, this once-powerful state developed complex technology utilising maritime resources. In addition, its economy became progressively reliant on the booming trade in the region, thus transforming it into robust economy.
- Sriwijaya wan an important centre for the expansion of Buddhism from 8th to the 12th century AD. Hence, reviving the ancient tradition of Knowledge Route connecting Nalanda, Mahavihara, Srivijaya and Syailendra er Heritage Sites and Borobudur Mahavihara as these places were significant centres of Buddhist learning.
Sustainable Tourism Promotion
- The pilgrimage to Borobudur is undoubtedly a unique and transformative experience for pilgrims and visitors alike as an illuminating journey and a sense of wonder.
- Borobudur is Indonesia’s single most visited tourist attraction and it attracts about 4 million visitors annually including up to 60,000 visitors per day during the peak period.
- It seems that Borobudur temple site has been witnessing a huge surge of tourist arrivals and to a certain degree has compromised by the lack of control of commercial activities and the negative tourism impacts.
- It is important to focus on sustainable planning and development of infrastructure andservices and adapting to ‘Tourism Carrying Capacity’ of the site.
- By promoting cultural exchanges and encouraging more effective stewardship of the area’s assets will result in improving local living conditions, and stimulating economic opportunities for local communities.
- Developing a Joint Promotion Strategy and design of Cultural Tour Packages will result inattracting tourists from cross-cultural segments and geographies.
- The Master Plan of Borobudur Historic Site and its Influence Area needs to formulate a long-term development framework for tourism promotion, develop a clear statement of its mission and vision, identify a set of goals and objectives and formulate key strategies that address those factors that are essential to the sustainable promotion of Borobudur as an iconic Buddhist attraction for the future.