Took a brief weekend trip to the Jogjakarta and nearby Borobudur. This area is on the south east of the island of Java.
Remember when you were growing up and the Scooby Doo cartoons and others had the main characters wandering through the forest and they’d come upon a lost temple? This has to be where that theme entered our collective conscience, for the place is littered with beautiful piles of rock that back in the early 19th century, people were tripping over.
This area was a hot bed for Hinduism and Buddhism and there was competition for followers. The competition, though was healthy. Instead of forcing others to comply, they had what seems to be a temple building contest. About 1200 years ago both branches started and built temples. The Buddhists build Borobudur, the Hindus, Prabanam temple.
Both are wildly ornate and grandiose displays of stone laying and stone carving. Borobudur rises 10 stories from the top of a hill. A full ten levels, with hundreds of friezes depicting the life and times of their man, Siddhartha. At the base of the temple are a bunch of friezes about human condition. They built that part and decorated it, then they buried it. There are hundreds of Buddha statues and dozens of bell-shaped stupas. 2,000,000 hand cut stones. It must have been amazing to see. The detail of the panels. The consistency of each buddha. The walkway is an intricate random tetris-like pattern designed to be as difficult as possible to lay out.
Back before there were frequent flier miles and economy class seating, pilgrims came from China and India to walk and meditate around these temples, stopping at a few other temples along the way.
Prabanam temple, too, is a massive complex of temples large and small. Each temple housing a
Hindu god or goddess. What is lacks in imposing height and a hill it makes up for in sheer size. 12 hectares of temples, most of which have not been excavated.
For many years, these temples were under construction, then for 150 years or so, they kept them operating. Pilgrims came, pilgrims went. Then there was a volcanic eruption and then the Muslims came in and forced out the other relgions and so the temples fell into a state of disrepair and were swallowed up by the jungle.
The British and the Dutch came by in the early 1800’s and like those Scooby Doo kids, “discovered” these temples lying under ash and trees and vines. Rather funny that word, “discovered.” The locals knew full well there was something there. They were using the stones as foundations for their houses. At any rate, discovered they were, and the process of restorations began and continue to this day. This despite further volcanos and other religions trying to blow up the temples and the difficulties with corruption that siphon off the money for restoration.
Today, they are UNESCO world heritage sites, which means that millions of tourists bus in to see them and thousands of hawkers try and sell them little replicas and t-shirts and glassware etc. All the sites have a gauntlet at the exit many times worse than any museum gift shop. Any interest shown toward some shiny bauble is seen as a sign of weakness and the haggling begins with the vendor following you ¼ mile back to your hotel. How many times can I say no? How many t-shirts are you going to give me for $8.00?
We got there before dawn trying to see the sunrise. But, the clouds and mist kept it hidden. But, we were fortunate enough to miss the crowds and most of the hawkers, so it was worth the extra admit fee.
And sitting there in the dawn had me wondering how the world would turn out if if we didn’t proselytize, didn’t convert, didn’t kill in the name of our god. Wondering what would happen if we channeled our resources toward a massive design and build contest To each religion’s glory as they saw fit.