Buddhism has existed for thousands of years, and so has its sculptures and fine art. But what is more representative of the fine art and religion of Buddhism are these marvelous and exquisite sculptures of Buddha? If one was to suspect where the earliest statue was, one would likely suspect India, Thailand, or Myanmar as a result of the popularity of tourism in these locations. Angkor Wat is quite possibly the most popular statue or temple that numerous individuals think of when thinking of a sculpture of Buddha, and would probably be everyone’s first guess. But in actuality, the oldest sculpture of Buddha is in Indonesia.
The oldest Buddha statue is at Borobudur Temple in the Central Java province. This temple is considered to be between 7th or 8th century in age. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim now, and the temple was abandoned hundred of years ago, due to the mass conversion to Islam in the nation. Neglected for hundred of years from abandonment, the temple was covered in ashes and taken over by forest, hiding in the jungle and neglected.
It wasn’t until 1814 that an Englishman uncovered the temple in 1816, and ever since then, the restoration procedure has begun to take place with the Indonesian government leading the charge in partnership with UNESCO. It’s a true blessing that this majestic temple and Buddha statue has not fell victim to war.
To describe the temple and its Buddha sculptures would be a travesty for the temple, because the layout and architecture of this temple were meticulously designed to represent the underscoring tone of Buddhism. The temple offers a plethora of contours and architecture. At one location of the temple a person can see structures of a large “stupa” or a Mandala, the main part of the temple is square in contour, and is encompassed by plates of the teaching of Buddha along with statues of Buddha. On the mount, there is a mount or a point representing the knowledge of Buddha.
The structure itself is one having many in and out 90 degree points that forms what looks like an overall square shape. On the top of this shape is a platform that has the stupa and mandala wheel. And on the very top is the mound that represents enlightenment.
The shortage of traveler sites in the location and channels to funnel information about this temple, the temple has not gained as much publicity as the ones in Myanmar or even Afghanistan for that matter.
There may still be older statues that exist, but these have yet to be discovered. Just like the temples and structures of the ancient Aztecs in Mexico, many of these structures have been covered by dense jungle and forgotten over time.
It will be important for the Indonesian government to continue to take a proactive role in properly supporting and preserving this unique Buddhist temple in Indonesia.