In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Borobudur

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Pictorial Essays
  • Historical Context and Epigraphy
  • 19th-Century Accounts
  • Architecture
  • Archaeological Studies
  • Restoration and Borobudur Tourism Board
  • Lotus Floating on a Pond
  • Mandala
  • Second, Third, and Fourth Terraces
  • Mendut and Pawon

Buddhism Borobudur
John N. Miksic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0046


The Buddhist monument Borobudur is located in central Java, Indonesia. It was constructed between the late 8th and the mid-9th centuries. Buddhism entered Java in the early 5th century, by which time Java had already been in commercial contact with Bengal and Southeast India for several centuries. Chinese monks beginning with Faxian around 400 CE visited Java on their voyages to India to collect sutras. When a center of culture and government arose in the hinterland of central Java in about 700 CE, Hinduism, principally the worship of Shiva, initially claimed more adherents than Buddhism. By 780 CE a dynasty known as the Sailendras, staunch adherents of Buddhism, came to power. During their relatively short reign of fifty years, they left numerous inscriptions and Buddhist sanctuaries around the base of Mount Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. The monument known as Borobudur was built during the heyday of the Sailendras. During this time Buddhism was evolving rapidly, and Borobudur’s plan was changed to accommodate new religious ideas. Technical considerations also contributed to the evolution of the monument. After 830 CE the Sailendras and the previous Saivite dynasty, the Sanjayas, intermarried. Both Hindu and Buddhist monuments were built for the next few decades. An unexplained catastrophe struck central Java around 919 CE. No more temples were built in central Java. Borobudur was largely abandoned until it was restored in the early 20th century.

General Overviews

Borobudur has inspired hundreds of works since it was exposed to the world by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in his 1817 publication (Raffles 1965, cited in 19th-Century Accounts). Borobudur began to attract international tourists almost immediately. Before Raffles identified it as a manmade monument, it was described in Javanese chronicles as a mountain with a thousand statues, including one of a warrior in a cage. The British and their Dutch associates recognized its affinity with the art of the Indian subcontinent but could not decipher its basic affinity, much less its more precise symbolism. Artists and, after 1839, photographers began to document it, and erratic and unscholarly efforts to extract it from the dirt and vegetation that obscured it continued until the early 20th century. The first work to provide a comprehensive overview of the monument was that of Conradus Leemans, who drew heavily on contributions by Frans Carel Wilsen (Leemans and Wilsen 1874), but Leemans could provide descriptions to accompany only the lithographs of reliefs; the texts that were illustrated therein were not known, and so the meaning of the monument as a whole was still conjectural. The work of deciphering the reliefs began only in the late 19th century. By 1920, great progress had been made both in restoration and interpretation due to the efforts of N. J. Krom and Theodoor van Erp (Krom 1923; see also Krom and van Erp 1931, cited in Architecture). Interest in the monument revived after World War II. By the 1960s the monument was in danger of collapse, and the government of the Republic of Indonesia could not afford to shoulder the burden of conservation alone. General works appeared in Dutch (Bernet Kempers 1976) and French (Sivaramamurti 1961). Gómez and Woodward 1981 is a very good compilation of articles that in many instances remains the best analysis of the monument. As tourism and Indonesian scholarship began to thrive, two works appeared simultaneously, Miksic 2004 (originally published in 1990) and Soekmono, et al. 1990. These were followed by Frédéric 1996, which is monumental in itself, because it contains photographs and descriptions of every relief on the temple. See also sources cited in Pictorial Essays.

  • Bernet Kempers, August Johan. Ageless Borobodur: Buddhist Mystery in Stone, Decay and Restoration, Mendut and Pawon, Folklife in Ancient Java. Wassenaar, The Netherlands: Servire, 1976.

    The author was the last Dutch head of the Indonesian Archaeological Service, who handed over control of the office to his successor, R. P. Soekmono, in 1954. First published in Dutch as Borobudur: Mysterie gebeuren in Steen in 1960.

  • Frédéric, Louis. Borobudur. New York: Abbeville, 1996.

    The most complete modern reference work.

  • Gómez, Luis O., and Hiram W. Woodward, eds. Barabuḍur: History and Significance of a Buddhist Monument. Proceedings of the International Conference on Borobudur, 16–17 May 1974, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Berkeley Buddhist Studies 2. Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities, 1981.

    The two editors were students of Paul Mus (see Mus 1935, cited in Mandala). See also references to individual contributors in this bibliography.

  • Krom, N. J. Inleiding tot de Hindoe-Javaansche Kunst. 2 vols. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1923.

    First published in 1920. This work has never been surpassed as a survey of Javanese art history, from the introduction of Hindu and Buddhist ideas and motifs in the 5th century to the coming of Islam in the 15th century. It is regrettable that no translation exists.

  • Leemans, Conradus, and Frans Carel Wilsen. Boro-boudour dans l’ile de Java. 4 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1874.

    Published at the order of the minister of the colonies of the Netherlands. Monumental early study with 696 pages of text and 393 plates with lithographed illustrations. The standard work on Borobudur until the publication of Krom 1923 and Krom and van Erp 1931 (cited in Architecture).

  • Miksic, John N. Borobudur: Golden Tales of the Buddhas. Singapore: Periplus, 2004.

    Originally published in 1990 (Boston: Shambhala). The author taught archaeology at Gadjah Mada University from 1981 to 1987 and conducted archaeological research with his colleagues and students. In 1987 he moved to Singapore but continued to work with students and colleagues from around the world who were interested in Borobudur. He utilized much of the new research on Buddhism that appeared in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Sivaramamurti, C. Le stupa du Barabudur. Publications du Musée Guimet, Recherches et Documents d’Art et d’Archéologie 8. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1961.

    An excellent French source. Discusses the origin of the name Borobudur, the hidden foot, sculptures, royal emblems, ornaments and costumes, dance, music, vehicles, furniture, rituals, clothing, and various motifs, such as lotuses. Includes a glossary and numerous drawings. The text emphasizes the influence of South India on Java.

  • Soekmono, R. P., J. G. de Casparis, and Jacques Dumarçay. Borobudur: Prayer in Stone. Paris: Éditions Didier Millet, 1990.

    Photographs by eleven contemporary professional photographers, paired with archival pictures from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Essays deal with the reliefs (Soekmono), architecture (Dumarçay), and history (de Casparis). Oversized work (thirty-five centimeters high).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.