We woke up at 3:00 a.m. to the sounds of the alarm and crickets. I was tempted to skip sunrise because of the tiring day at Prambanam. But once I was up, I couldn’t contain my excitement and was all set to go. Eko, our guide, was waiting at the lobby of our boutique hotel. It was nearing 4:00 a.m and it took us 15 minutes, by car, to get to the ticket entrance for sunrise. We joined a small crowd of enthusiastic travellers who had gathered at the main gate. Once the guard opened the gates, it would be a chase to find the best viewing spot.
The dimly lit forest path opened into a wide lawn. Guided by torchlight, we fumbled to find our footing on steps that ascended into the darkness above. It was hard to look beyond the step below our line-of-sight. After a few huffs, Eko lead us to a spot — a level lower — than what the others had chosen. It was a test of patience now. We had over an hour for the sun to come out from hiding. The city, below, was still lit up by street lights, and the sky above — was dotted by twinkling stars. As time passed, more sun-chasers gathered around us. Few restless kids shone their torchlights on the statue of Buddha and boisterous teenagers photobombed the frame by sitting directly on the stupa. I hoped for better sense to prevail and finally one of the guides intervened.
“Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
Mount Merapi made an hazy appearance as the sun’s rays penetrated the dark sky. As the sun peeped under cloud cover, it engulfed the mountain in its light, and bathed the sky in hues of red.
“Doubt everything. Find your own light.”
No matter how many times I’ve seen the sun rise (or set); every sunrise feels like the first. Moments like these are precious and hard to replicate. They remind me of higher powers at play and the possibility of unimaginable surprises in the celestial sky. It’s quite probable that we are not alone and there may be so many different worlds like ours.
Most tourists started leaving once the sun was out. I found it hard to leave our spot. I wanted to stay behind and try to take in every moment of this spiritual experience. But, Eko wanted us to continue as we had a long day ahead.
With sunlight covering every inch of the historic monument we stood upon, it was easier to get a visual of what we were surrounded by. Gigantic bell-shaped stupas, arranged in 3 levels of concentric circles, engulfed a central stupa at the core of the temple. We had observed sunrise from level 8 and we climbed to level 9 to get a better look of the view below. We could see hazy mountains in the distance and mist cover trees in the valley below. The fresh morning air and blue skies made me want to find a quiet spot and meditate.
Each stupa is intricately carved with a pattern and some have a statue of Buddha encased within. All in all, there are about 72 stupas spread across the 3 concentric levels of the temple. Many statues have been decapitated and conservation efforts are carried out to preserve these ancient relics. It was heartbreaking to see tourists stand on these stupas or try to touch the statues inside.
As we descended, the temple began unravelling itself to us. Eko mumbled historical facts and stories about the buddhist temple, but my mind was in another world, perhaps in another epoch. Statues of Buddha, in different hand positions or mudras, each symbolising a particular virtue/action, surround the stone walls of the temple.
The next set of 6 levels are built in squares — each square is built a level lower than the one above. The walls turned yellow to dark grey as we walked from sunshine to the shade.
Intricately carved bas-reliefs narrate stories from Gautam Buddha’s life as Prince Siddharta to his quest for enlightenment.
As the sun rose higher, more tourists started to appear from hidden corners and the steps below. A dull buzz surrounded the main pathway to the top. I was happy to leave before the crowds threatened to overpower the solitude of this ancient buddhist temple.
As we made it to the base of the temple and walked further away from the main structure, we finally saw the temple in its entirety. Built around a core, with 9 levels of geometric shapes, the temple looked like a pyramid rising towards the sky. Its unique shape arises from the Buddhism belief (mandala) that the universe is divided into 3 zones/spheres: kamadhatu, rupadhatu, and arupadhatu. The outermost zone is the sphere of desires, the inner zone is the sphere of name and form, and the core is known as the sphere of formlessness. As we we progress through each sphere — we first give up our desires and then our form/name to attain true enlightenment.
Borobudur was built between the 8th and 9th century by the Syailendra Kings and was eventually deserted when the power shifted to another city. It survived volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, a terrorist attack, and the ravages of time. It’s a UNESCO Heritage Site and probably the largest Buddhist Temple in the world. For many, it’s still a place of sanctity and meditation. For the rest of us: it’s an opportunity to walk from darkness towards the light…