Borobudur is a ninth century Buddhist Mahayana monument in Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome is located at the center of the top platform, and is surrounded by seventy-two Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.

The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path circumambulating the monument while ascending to the top through the three levels of Buddhist cosmology, namely, Kamadhatu (the world of desire); Rupadhatu (the world of forms); and Arupadhatu (the world of formless). During the journey, the monument guides the pilgrims through a system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the wall and the balustrades.

The earliest dated stone inscription to be unearthed in Borobudur's general vicinity presents a text that has been composed entirely in Sanskrit. Discovered near the top of a hill located some 10.5 kilometers to the southeast of Borobudur, the inscription of Candi Canggal bears a Hindu calendar date that is equivalent to October 6, 732 CE. The inscription was carved to commemorate the installation of a stone linga by King Sanjaya, who must have been a follower of the Hindu faith. The inscription’s text opens with the following benediction:


"He who is a Sun in the darkness of the world,
who has for his crest jewel the Moon on his matted locks,
which are beautified by the surging waves of the Ganges River,
may Shiva bestow upon you perfect bliss."1

A second inscription dating from 782 CE was discovered on the outskirts of the modern-day city of Yogyakarta to the south of Borobudur that commemorates the founding of a Buddhist temple. Called Kailasa in the inscription, the sponsor of this temple is identified as the "Lord of the Mountain" (Sailendra). Several other Buddhist temples in the general vicinity of Borobudur, which were all constructed within a period of about 75 years, were constructed by members of the Sailendra dynasty. For this reason, historians have long assumed that the Sailendra must also have been responsible for the construction of Borobudur.

The Kailasa inscription commemorates the founding of a temple dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, merchants and other travelers known as the goddess Tara. During the eighth century CE, both Buddhists and Hindus alike worshipped this particular female deity. Among other things, the name Tara means "star." The Buddhist scholar Alex Wayman has suggested that the goddess Tara may have once been associated with an ancient stellar cult. The name Tara is based on the Sanskrit root word "tar," which means "to sail across." Did Javanese sailors once associate the goddess Tara with a particular star that they once used as a night-time navigational aid during their journeys to and from the mainland?

Other Javanese inscriptions have been discovered that allude to the fact that the Sailendra often entertained learned Buddhist monks from India and Sri Lanka, which suggests that the Sailendra were at the time involved in the burgeoning maritime trade between the island and the Asian mainland. The following lines from the Kalasa inscription also seem to suggest that Tara may have once played a stellar role in terms of ancient navigation.

"May She, who seeing the world
immersed in the ocean of existence,
may She, the only guiding star of the world,
grant your desires…"2


A late eighth century inscription has also been discovered on the Malaysian peninsula that commemorates the victories of a Sailendra ruler called Vishnu. "The Sailendra king had the imperial title Rajadhiraja having conquered his enemies and was resplendent like the Sun in the first instance and secondly by his own might, he Vishnu by name, was born of the Sailendra dynasty."3

Dating from the time of the Kailasa inscription (778 - 782 CE), the discovery of the Stone of Ligor at a location on the Malay peninsula that is far removed from its base of power in central Java reinforces the perception that the Sailendra dynasty was once a major naval power in the region. Some additional support for this suggestion comes from the inscriptions of the Hindu kingdom of Champa, which formerly thrived in the area of southern Vietnam. These inscriptions record how black-skinned natives from the islands of the Southern Sea had once conducted raids along the Champa coast on at least three separate occasions during the late eighth century CE.

"In the Saka year 696 (774 CE), ferocious, pitiless, dark-skinned people of other cities whose food was more horrible than that of the vampires and were furious like Yama came in ships; they stole a Shiva linga and burnt the temple….”4

In 787 CE, a second sea raid took place along the coast of Champa that was responsible for destroying a sanctuary located near the modern city of Phanrang. The inscription “…tells in Sanskrit prose and verse a very similar story, but here the interesting point is that the invaders who had come across the sea are distinctly called Javanese…."5

"Indian influence in Indonesia was not primarily the result of Indian efforts to expand their sphere of influence and to export their own culture, but the fruit of Indonesian initiatives to assimilate those Indian elements that appealed to them and that seemed to fit best into the pattern of their own culture. The approach of the Indonesian who visited the Holy Land of Buddhism and Hinduism was an eclectic approach, one of picking and choosing instead of absorbing indiscriminately."

—Jan Fontein


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