Category: News@Borobudur.

Mount Merapi at peace

The volcano, now quiet once again, is lazily sending smoke up into the air, as it does for at least once 300 days a year.

The ash, sand and stone from its last eruption still covers much of the surrounding area, including the world heritage site of Borobudur, home to Indonesia’s greatest Buddhist monuments.

“Merapi or the Mountain of Fire comes from a combination of Javanese words: meru meaning mountain and api meaning fire,” Kodar, our guide, explains, on the drive to Borobudur temple, 42 km northwest of Yogyakarta city.

Mount Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia, is special to the people of Java, as it is believed to be the kingdom of the spirits.

It has significant cosmological symbolism, forming a straight, sacred imaginary axis from the north – where it is located – to the south where the kingdom of Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea, lies, with Yogyakarta Palace or Kratan, the residence of sultan and his family as well as hundreds of abdi dalem, palace servants, at its centre.

That imaginary path symbolises spiritual continuity, the process of human life from birth to death when one meets the Supreme Creator.

Merapi is one of four places where officials from the Royal Palaces of Yogyakarta and Solo make annual offerings to placate the spirits of Javanese mythology.

Yogyakarta, like the city of Ayutthaya in Thailand, is named after Ayodhya, an ancient city in India believed to be the birthplace of Hindu god Sri Rama.

“A thousand years ago, Yogyakarta was the centre of the highly civilised Mataram Kingdom.

“This kingdom built Borobudur Temple, 300 years before Angkor Wat in Cambodia and some other relics like Prambanan Temple and dozens of other temples scattered throughout Yogyakarta.

“For reasons unknown, Mataram Kingdom moved its central government to East Java in the 10th century. The magnificent temples were abandoned and partially buried by materials from the Merapi volcano,” Kodar explains.

Towering in front of us in a vast green field is the gigantic Borobudur, 35-metres high with a base that stretches over 14,641 square metres.

At the far corner, we can see hundreds of bags containing some of the three-centimetre layer of volcanic ash from Mount Merapi carried more than 40 kilometres by the strong winds.

“We have just 15 minutes to walk straight to the top of Borobudur. Time is limited, as the site is not fully open to tourists. This special trip is for media inspection only,” says Kodar.

Pilgrims usually walk along the staircases and corridors ascending to the top platform in a clockwise direction, keeping the sanctuary to their right.

Each platform represents one stage of enlightenment and the path symbolises Buddhist cosmology.

The base of Borobudur is the world of desires or Kamadhatu, the body consists of five square platforms representing the world of forms or Rupadhatu, while the top has the three circular platforms with the large topmost stupa representing the formless world or Arupadhatu.

Climbing quickly up the steep stairway is hard work but the view is worth the effort. The structure suddenly opens up to reveal the final four circular terraces with 72 stupas housing hidden Buddha statues and a big stupa in the centre.

“The two chambers inside the main stupa are empty. It is unclear whether they were empty from the beginning to represent nirvana, or whether they originally contained now lost statues,” Kodar says once we are back on the ground.

After lunch, we head to Prambanan, a huge Hindu temple complex named after the village, 15km northeast of Yogyakarta.

The Prambanan temple is dedicated to Trimurti, the three Hindu gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Keeper and Shiva the Destroyer. The complex was built in the ninth century with 224 temples in total but most of them have deteriorated.

“The temple was built to honour lord Shiva and the original name of the temple is Shiva-grha or the house of Shiva. That’s why the Shiva temple is the highest and is in the centre.

“It’s flanked to the north by the Brahma temple and to the south by the Vishnu temple,” Kodar explains.

Though the Shiva temple is still undergoing restoration works following the 2006 earthquake and thus off bounds to visitors, the site is magnificent in its own right.

And while those living in the vicinity of Mount Merapi say they’ll take warnings about future eruptions with greater caution than before, they’ve also turned what many would see as a curse from angry mountain gods into a blessing.

“The lands here are blessed with the fertile volcanic soil. Villagers are also making profits from the volcanic materials that fell over their houses and backyards by selling it to construction companies. Life goes on,” Kodar says.

If you go:

You can visit Yogyakarta any time of the year but the best time is during the dry season from April to October. There’ll still be rainy days but fewer of them.

Borobudur is still undergoing cleanup operations. Check information on what’s open before visiting.
There are daily flights from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. Check the flight schedule at www.GarudaIndonesia.com/.

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Category: News@Borobudur