The Greatest Monument in the World – Borobodur

View of Borobodur, Antoine Payen, 1835

View of Borobodur, Antoine Payen, 1835

It was Sir Stamford Raffles who receives credit for ‘rediscovering’ Borobodur during the period of British rule in Java from 1811-1816 and information about this monumental work of art came as a great surprise to the outside world. After being cleared of the jungle that had hidden its secrets for a centuries, Raffles writes in his book ‘The History of Java’ of his experience when first viewing the Borobodur:

No description in writing can convey the amount of work that has gone into this immense monument and the detail of its story carved in stone. Its grandeur is too vast and overwhelming, and it compares to no other monument in the world … The amount of human labour and skill expended on the Great Pyramids of Egypt sinks into insignificance when compared to that required to complete this sculptured hill temple in the interior of Java.

I agree that Borobodur is the greatest monument in the world and I am astounded that an internet search will list the pyramids amongst the top ten historic monuments and yet not include Borobodur. There is even a recent television documentary entitled ‘Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World’, that does not include the Borobodur Monument.

The Borobodur Monument

The Borobodur Monument

I hope to reach some level of spiritual enlightenment by joining a dozen other dedicated pilgrims at 5am to experience the sunrise from the top of Borobodur. The night is black and silent as we enter the great monument and the moonlight casts mystical shadows around the temple. Protecting us from these shadows our torches light the way as we climb directly up the stairs that lead to the top of the monument. I stop to rest at one of the carved gateways that lead from one level to the next and my torch reveals above the gateway, the fearsome features of a Kala Head. In Javanese mythology Batara Kala is the god of death or destruction and I remember this warning as I climb to the upper terraces.

Knowing that the sun has risen over Borobodur for more than a thousand years is awe-inspiring. I assume the same position as the 72 Buddha’s on the uppermost terraces, legs crossed, hands posed, waiting in silent contemplation for the dawning of the new day. Slowly, very slowly, the black of the night is replaced by a deep blue light. I have never experienced this light before and it seems to last for a long time before slowly changing to a sky blue and then an early morning grey daylight. Soon the red disc of the sun appears revealing the blue profiles of the surrounding volcanoes, the blue grey of the distant hills, the dark green of the forests high on the hillsides, the bright green of the terraced rice fields, and the white morning mist that fills the lowest parts of the valleys.

The first light of dawn over Borobodur

The first light of dawn over Borobodur

An excerpt from Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia to be published September 1.


Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago nation comprising as many as 17,000 islands spread over the same distance as Los Angeles to New York, or Perth to Sydney. Indonesia is also the most culturally diverse nation on the planet and its national motto had to be ‘Unity in Diversity’ as these islands are an extraordinary mixture of races, religions, languages and cultures.
Ian Burnet sets out on a journey across the archipelago to discover this rich cultural diversity. He describes how the early Malay people came to these islands and the influence of the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. He discovers the heritage of the Indians, Chinese and Arabs who came here to trade in spices and sandalwood, he follows the rise of Islam and the traces of the first Europeans to enter Asia – particularly the early Portuguese traders and the priests who brought Christianity to these lands.
Travelling by bus, plane, train, ferry, boat, car and motorcycle from Java to Timor, he hops from island to island across the Indonesian archipelago, following the smoking volcanoes that form its spine.
Ian Burnet combines his love of adventure and travel with his knowledge of history to take us on a personal journey through geographic space and historical time, which will delight all armchair travellers.

Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia

Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia


About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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3 Responses to The Greatest Monument in the World – Borobodur

  1. Carol Graham says:

    Dear Ian,
    You may remember Mathis and Carol from 2008. We spent a week or so traveling together in Flores, where you left us in Ende, and we continued on to Sumba. We have read with interest some of your postings, and will surely order Archipelago. Mathis will be 90 in February, and no longer travels abroad. But we are both well, and wish the same for you and your family. Best…

    • ianburnet says:

      Thanks Mathis and Carol for making contact. I have very fond memories of our trip across Flores and our discussions about life in general. Mathis story features prominently in the book Archipelago and I will send you a copy.

  2. Indones1a says:

    Reblogged this on Indones1a and commented:
    Good read on Borobodur

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