Borobudur is constructed in such a way that it reveals various levels of terraces, showing intricate architecture that goes from being heavily ornamented with bas-reliefs to being plain in arupadhatu circular terraces. The first four terrace walls are showcases for bas-relief sculptures. These are exquisite, considered to be the most elegant and graceful in the ancient Buddhist world.
The bas-reliefs in Borobudur depicted many scenes of daily life in 8th century ancient Java; from the courtly palace life, hermit in the forest, to those of commoners in the village. It also depicted temple, marketplace, various flora and fauna, and also native vernacular architecture. People depicted here are the images of king, queen, princes, noblemen, courtier, soldier, servant, commoners, priest and hermit. The reliefs also depicted mythical spiritual beings in Buddhist beliefs such as asuras, gods, boddhisattvas, kinnaras, gandharvas and apsaras. The images depicted on bas-relief often served as reference for historians to research for certain subjects, such as study of architecture, weaponry, economy, fashion, and also mode of transportation of 8th century Maritime Southeast Asia. One of the famous rendering of 8th century Southeast Asian double outrigger ship is Borobudur Ship. Today the actual-size replica of Borobudur Ship that had sailed from Indonesia to Africa in 2004 is displayed in Samudra Raksa Museum located few hundred meters north of Borobudur.
The Borobudur reliefs also pay close attention to India aesthetic discipline, such as pose and gesture that contain certain meanings and aesthetic value. The reliefs of noblemen, and noble women, kings, or divine beings such as apsaras, taras and boddhisattvas usually portrayed in tribhanga pose. The three bent pose on neck, hips, and knee with one leg resting and one uphold the body weight. This position is considered as the most graceful pose, such as the figure of Surasundari holding a lotus.
Borobudur contains approximately 2,670 individual bas reliefs (1,460 narrative and 1,212 decorative panels), which cover the façades and balustrades. The total relief surface is 2,500 square metres (27,000 sq ft) and they are distributed at the hidden foot (Kāmadhātu) and the five square platforms (Rupadhatu).
The narrative panels, which tell the story of Sudhana and Manohara, are grouped into 11 series encircled the monument with the total length of 3,000 metres (9,800 ft). The hidden foot contains the first series with 160 narrative panels and the remaining 10 series are distributed throughout walls and balustrades in four galleries starting from the eastern entrance stairway to the left. Narrative panels on the wall read from right to left, while on the balustrade read from left to right. This conforms with pradaksina, the ritual of circumambulation performed by pilgrims who move in a clockwise direction while keeping the sanctuary to their right.
The hidden foot depicts the workings of karmic law. The walls of the first gallery have two superimposed series of reliefs; each consists of 120 panels. The upper part depicts the biography of the Buddha, while the lower part of the wall and also balustrades in the first and the second galleries tell the story of the Buddha’s former lives. The remaining panels are devoted to Sudhana’s further wandering about his search, terminated by his attainment of the Perfect Wisdom.
You may also like: