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Yogyakarta: Home to some of the world’s greatest monuments

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Buddha Statue on Borobudur Stupa

Uday k Chakraborty writes about rich in culture Yogyakarta which is enlightened with some of the world’s greatest monuments  

Yogyakarta (Pronounced Jogjakarta or simply Jog-ja) is the centre of Javanese arts and culture. Here is a bustling regional capital of Java with great character that hosts some of the world’s greatest religious monuments and is full of myriad touristic delights.

Borobudur –Buddhism’s greatest edifice 


Buddha Statue on Borobudur Stupa

On first sight what impressed me about Borobudur were not its size, but its symmetry (a very deceptive symmetry, as I discovered) and its settings. And, yes I was also overwhelmed by the statistics. Borobudur is the largest religious building in the southern hemisphere, constructed more than a millennium ago, without mortar, with 1,600,000 stones fitting into one another. It has almost five kilometers of carvings, 2,000 beautifully sculpted panels along its galleries and hundreds of Buddha images.

Best time to visit Borobudur is early dawn. At that time silence and peace of the setting is awesome. The mist hangs off the palm trees, the dew glistens on the grass, and the far away volcanoes are dark silhouettes. Now the slate-grey stones of Borobudur are glowing with pink and the mass seems far larger. The pink turns to rose, and then the light changes to gold, and the stupa changes with it. And, the Borobudur looks magnificent and slightly foreboding as I begin to climb.

The carvings and bas reliefs in stone depict the Great Wheel of Buddhism in three stages or three states. First is the world of desire and the senses. Then is nature, earthy form, the Buddha on earth. And finally, the world beyond form, the world of perfect nothingness. So, each higher terrace suggests the gradual disappearance of the need for sense.

Sculptures on the lower terraces are astonishing: the story of the birth of the Buddha, the Queen relating her dream, the life of the Buddha and the gods, of course Buddha’s confrontation with the old man, the poor man and the dead man, his enlightenment…These are the inner walls. On the outer walls are panels without end with its plethora of real and mythical animals, its symbols of flowers and clusters of abstract designs hints of a secret world – heaven, hell or somewhere in-between… who knows.

At the highest terrace the panels have disappeared. The material world has gone. Instead one finds seventy-two miniature stupas with latticed windows and statues of Buddha inside each of them. For luck, one should reach in an attempt to touch each Buddha statue. On the very top, the main stupa is placed on a double lotus. The stupa is closed. Inside is an empty space that may – or may not – have held a statue or a relic.

Prambanan – A grand temple complex 

Prambanan temple

Next day we wanted to spend half a day in Prambanan temple complex. It is the tallest and one of the most extensive Hindu temple complexes in the world. Built in the ninth century AD by Hindu kings, the temple is dedicated to Shiva so that it is locally called Siwagra (Shiva Griha – a home for Shiva). The temple consists of three yards arranged concentrically and consisting of 224 of original 240 temples. The innermost yard being most sacred and consists of 16 temples including main temples of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu), three Wahana (Vahana or animal vehicle of gods) temples, four Kali temples. While main Shiva temple has four chambers housing idols of Shiva, Durga, Ganesha and Agastya Muni. Brahma and Vishnu temple have only one chamber housing respective idols only. Stone Reliefs depicting scenes from Ramayana adores the walls.

Many tourists ignore visiting the small but intricately detailed Candi Sewu (Siva temple), located at the far end of Prambanan archeological park. Another walk down the line shall bring you to another Plaosan temple, where there should be no tourist and you will have enough solitude to contemplate the great spread of Indian culture so far from Indian peninsula.

It was heartening to see, how a softer version of Muslim culture so lovingly preserved the original Hindu and Buddhist cultural monuments in their country. Both Borobudur and Prambanan temple have been very well kept inside a sprawling and protected cultural park. We saw a lot of Muslim Indonesian visitors and our interactions revealed that they consider it as part of their vital cultural heritage. Traditional dance theatres and shows, including renditions of Ramayana, is part of daily cultural shows in Jog-ja.

Palaces and people 

Yogjakorta Royal Palace, better known as Keraton, was located just a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. It is where the king and his family stay. The Keraton museum is a great place to visit and learn more about Javanese culture. There is a Javanese cultural show that you can enjoy almost every day either at 9 or 10 am. Adjacent Taaman sari water castle is a great place to wander around. We also let ourselves loose in the nearby village with little alleys and small mosques.

Visiting Yogyakarta is not complete without an evening stroll around Malioboro, its shopping boulevard. There is plethora of shops selling handloom and handicrafts products. Street pavements are also lined with many small cafes. Indonesian Batik prints and local foods are both attractive and inexpensive attractions.

The rhythm of Jog-ja is mainly guided by its friendly and amiable people. Indeed, while it seems to be a happening place, no one seems to be in a hurry. That was my lasting impression of the city.

Text: Uday K Chakraborty

Photos: Uday K Chakraborty