Brief IdentificationEdit

Borobudur buddha head british museum

The Borobudur Buddha Head (780 - 840 CE) from Java, Indonesia is currently on display at the British Museum in London.

This Buddha head made of volcanic stone was found at the Borobudur site on the island of Java in Indonesia. It was made between 780 – 840 CE, and would have belonged to one of the hundreds of seated Buddha statues at the Mahayana Buddhist temple at Borobudur. These seated Buddha statues were placed inside bell shaped stupas that surrounded the large stupa in the center of the temple. The Borobudur site had been abandoned sometime between the tenth and eleventh centuries, but was later rediscovered by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1814. Borobudur was and still is, a place for prayer and pilgrimage for practicing Buddhists.

Technical EvaluationEdit

The Buddha head was carved out of volcanic stone using basic stone tools during the Sailendra dynasty of Java around 780 – 840 CE. The entire Borobudur temple was made up of more than one and a half million blocks of volcanic stone, with each stone being placed one on top of the other without any type of mortar to glue them together. Without any modern technology to help lift the stones, the Borobudur temple was constructed using nothing but ropes, rolling logs, stone tools, and sheer manpower [See Soediman 1973, 104]. While no other physical materials were used from surrounding cultures, the design of the Buddha head was influenced by the Buddhist Gupta architecture in India .

The Borobudur temple, which is 150 feet tall, was constructed on top of a hill and consisted of eight stone terraces stacked on top of each other. It is in the shape of a lotus, which was the sacred flower of the Buddha, and is supposed to portray the path to enlightenment [See Dwiyanto 1984, 96]. The base of the temple represented desire and chaos while the top represented formlessness. As followers ascended up the temple they were hoping to reach purer forms, until finally achieving the goal of formlessness at the top. All along the walls are reliefs of Buddha's life, covering hundreds of feet of stone on the stupa [See Louis-Frédéric 1996, 51].

According to the British Museum's website, The Borobudur Buddha head shows the defining characteristics of the Buddha. The bump on his forehead is meant to be a third eye, which shows the Buddha’s spiritual knowledge. Also, the raised bun on the top of his head is a sign of wisdom.

Borobudur was abandoned between the tenth and eleventh centuries after the people of Java had left Buddhism and converted to Islam . The temple and Buddha head would remain untouched for hundreds of years. In 1815 the English lieutenant governor, Sir Stamford Raffles, discovered the Borobudur temple and hundreds of Buddha statues within. Having been abandoned for centuries, the temple was covered in volcanic ash and overrun with dense vegetation. Numerous restoration projects have taken place, with the largest taking place between 1975 and 1982 between UNESCO and the Indonesian government. The Borobudur temple is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Local Historical ContextEdit

The name Borobudur comes from the Sanskrit words vihara Buddha uhr which translates to the Buddhist monastery on the hill. This name is first seen written in Sir Thomas Raffles’ book History of Java which he writes after his journey to Java and the rediscovery of Borobudur [See Soediman 1973, 106].

The Borobudur Temple was constructed between 780 – 840 CE during the Saliendra Dynasty of Java. This temple was erected because of the influence Buddhism had on the people of Java. Not only was the it built to honor the Buddha, it was also made to honor the king of the Saliendra dynasty, Samaratungga , who was a Bodhisattva[See Murwanto 2004, 88]. During this dynasty, the people were very involved with maritime trade since Java is an island and separated from the mainland of Asia, sea trade was extremely important. However, they were also heavily dependant on rice cultivation and agriculture, so most common people were probably farmers or workers. Since the Borobudur monument was a massive undertaking at that time, it would have taken thousands of workers and decades to fully construct the stupa and all of the Buddha statues that adorn it.

The Buddha head, as are the rest of the statues in the temple, was created for all followers of Buddhism to benefit from. The Borobudur temple was a sacred spot, and Buddhists making their pilgrimage here would see the Buddha head along their journey. The Buddha head would have been a very important figure, because it was of the Buddha himself, and was displayed on the Borobudur temple for Buddhist followers to see. Buddha was a symbol of enlightenment , which followers of Buddhism hoped to one day achieve.

The design of the stupa resembles a mandala , which is a wheel shaped symbol of the universe. There are three levels to the universe: Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness) [See Louis-Frédéric 1996, 52]. Each of these levels can be experienced at Borobudur as followers make the pilgrimage here. Today, Buddhists in the area make the pilgrimage to Borobudur every year, and it is Indonesia's most popular attraction.

World - Historical SignificanceEdit

The spread of Buddhism from India to Java, Indonesia and Southeast Asia was an important event in establishing Buddhism as a universal religion. Buddhist ideas were spread along the trade routes that linked Java to India as other goods and ideas were also exchanged [See Dwiyanto 1984, 96] The Borobudur Buddha head is a representation of the importance of the spread of Buddhism to Southeast Asia, as Borobudur was the largest Buddhist movement. The Buddha head was a part of a larger statue that sat within one of the stupas on the temple. Followers would see these Buddha statues as they climbed their way up the temple on their pilgrimages. Just like in India, these Buddha statues were used purely for religious reasons.

The Buddha head, along with the rest of the Buddha statues and temple, was influenced by Gupta architecture from India, and resembles many of their religious statues. The Borodubur temple also later influenced temples built in Cambodia, especially the Angkor Wat, 300 years later after Buddhism reached there [See Louis-Frédéric 1996, 51].

Suggested BibliographyEdit

Dwiyanto, Djoko. Indonesia and the Malay World. EDS Foundation INC, 1984.

Murwanto, H. "Borobudur monument (Java, Indonesia)" SAGE Publications : London, United Kingdom 2004.

Nou, Jean Louis, and Louis-Frédéric. Borobudur / photography by Jean-Louis Nou ; text by Louis Frédéric. New York : Abbeville Press,1996.

Soediman. "Borobudur, Indonesian Cultural Heritage." Studies in Conservation 102-112. JSTOR Arts &Sciences III, 1973.

BBC "Borobudur Buddha Head,"

British Museum "Borobudur Buddha Head,"

Britannica Online "Buddha,"

Britannica Online "Mahayana Buddhism,"

Britannica Online "Mandala,"

Britannica Online "Sir Stamford Raffles,"

Buddhanet "Buddhist Art and Architecture,"

Heritage Key "Samaratungga,"

How Stuff Works "Borobudur,"

UNESCO "Borobudur Temple Compounds,"