Friday, October 26, 2012

Stamford Raffles and Borobudur婆罗浮屠

My NMS (National Museum of Singapore) mentor Loy Siang Teng (黎上增) shared his thought of Borobudur after a recent visit to the ancient site. In his words, "想想一千多年前,爪哇先祖就已经有这个能耐建造如此辉煌的神殿,感叹。"

In 1811, after the invasion and annexation of the Kingdom of Holland by France during Napoleon's war, Raffles mounted a military expedition against the Dutch and French in Java. During his governorship as the Lieutenant-Governor, Raffles introduced partial self-government, stopped the slave trade, became an early opponent of the Opium trade by placing strict import control, much to the dismay of East India Co. in Calcutta. One of his legacy at that time was the discovery of Borobudur although this was only briefly mentioned in "History of Java" which Raffles completed in 1817. The book describes the history of the Java island since ancient days. Raffles is credited for the discovery of Borobudur.

(Outline drawing of Borobudur during Raffles time)

(Portrait of Stamford Raffles kept in National Portrait Gallery, London. A duplicated copy is shown in the National Museum of Singapore. Do note the Buddha artefacts on his table.)

In 1815, Raffles received order to leave for England after Java was returned to the Netherlands under the terms of the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. He sailed to England in early 1816 and en route St. Helena, visited Napoleon who was in exile on the island. 

Raffles was appointed as the Governor-General of Bencoolen (now Bengkulu) on 15 October 1817. This staged his return to South East Asia and his subsequent venture into establishing Singapore as a trading port in 1819.

Raffles' discovery of Borobudur convinced him of the existence of a great Hindu-Buddhist religion and civilisation in Java prior to the advent of Islam. Raffles’ emphasis on the Hindu-Buddhist legacy led on to extensive researches in appreciating the Malay Archipelago and later became a hit in Dutch academic circles. Raffles described, "The antiquities of Java have not, till lately, excited much notice; nor have they yet been sufficiently explored. The pursuits of commerce have been too exclusive to allow there being much interest in the subject."

(Raffles, "The antiquities of Java have not, till lately, excited much notice; nor have they yet been sufficiently explored. The pursuits of commerce have been too exclusive to allow there being much interest in the subject." Loy Siang Teng, 2012)

In many ways, Borobudur is a wonder of architectural design, of spiritual experience, and of the long-lost Buddhist culture in Java. Borobudur deserves to be a monument of mankind. Raffles wrote, "In the whole course of my life I have never met with such a stupendous and finished specimen of human labour, and of the science and taste of ages long since forgot."

The great discovery began with native Indonesians who told Raffles about rumours of ancient sculptures in the hills around Megelang. According to the description at the monument site, Raffles first discovered the Borobudur temple in 1812 where the temple was covered with bushes in a very bad condition. However, many other records stated otherwise that it was in 1814, Raffles sent one of his army engineers, H.C. Cornelius to search if the legends were real. The search party found a large hill which in fact was the Borobudur monument covered in lava. In order to arrest the decay that was threatening the monument, Raffles started the first European conservation project in Java. Cornelius worked laboriously for six weeks with the support of two hundred men and managed to clear most of the fallen trees, trash and soil from the Buddhist monuments. The British and after them the Dutch colonists (from 1816) did not have the experience to restore the monument so it was left uncovered for around 70 years. However, the clearing effort by Cornelius was so extensive that it eased the work of subsequent Dutch archaeologists 70 years later.

(Effort from all wards contributed to the restoration of Borobudur. Loy Siang Teng, 2012)

In 1885, J. W. Ijzerman, a Dutch architect involved in a restoration project, walked along the high processional path that surrounded the base of Borobudur. He noticed that the molding of the wall continued underneath a crack that he saw in the floor. This meant that all these stones must have been added at a time when part of the building was already finished.

Ijzerman called for a section of the path to be removed. When sixteen layers of stone had been pulled away, Ijzerman discovered another tier of panels quite unlike those of the upper galleries. These were portrayals of hellish tortures mixed with scenes of sweet pleasure. In all, one hundred sixty panels are uncovered. A few scenes had been left unfinished, with instructions to the stone carver inscribed in Sanskrit, and the style of lettering was so distinctive that it could be dated specifically to the middle of the 9th century. Experts concluded that Borobudur must have been built by the Sailendra kings (夏连特拉王国, 信奉金刚乘佛教who ruled in Central Java at that time.

Many of the stones were removed by local villagers to build their houses, and statues were removed to decorate gardens. Even the Dutch removed some of the items as souvenirs and even presenting them to foreign governments as gifts, including to the king of Siam in 1896. Many of these items were never returned and are still displayed in museums around the world.

Restoration was continued by a Dutch engineer, Theodor Van Erp between 1907 and 1911. He managed to restore the lower levels and the upper terraces and the very top stupa though the base was unstable and at further risk from earthquakes.

(Stupas at the top of Borobudur. Loy Siang Teng, 2012 )

In 1960 the United Nations declared Borobudur the eighth wonder. In 1968, the Indonesian government and the United Nations, working through UNESCO, launch the "Save Borobudur" campaign. Over the next fifteen years, twenty million dollars are raised to support the complete dismantling and reconstruction of the lower terraces of the monument – stone by stone. Professionals from twenty-seven countries join their Indonesian counterparts to carry out the restoration project.

IBM Indonesia documented over 1,300,000 stones. Each stone was removed, restored, tagged and returned to it's original position. Many of the broken stones around the monument were analysed and a computer program assisted them with placing them in the right location. Even sculptured heads of the Buddha statues were matched with the correct statues. From the work completed to restore the monument, experts estimated that the monument originally took around 30,000 stone cutters, 15,000 people assisting in carrying the stones and 80 years to complete the task.

Looking back, it was articulated that in year 1006, a massive earthquake struck western Java which caused the volcano Merapi to erupt, covering everything for a few km radius of the volcano with lava and volcanic ash, including Borobudur. The discovery of Borobudur started with the curiosity of Raffles after listening to the locals. Western civilisation somewhat broadened humans mind and led on to many 'wow' discoveries. I tend to believe that if Raffles did not order the search, someone would. Also legends come with a cause. They provide us with border-less imagination to venture into the unknown. 

In the words of Professor Soekmono, the Indonesian archaeologist who directed the Borobudur restoration project: "Borobudur has resumed its old historical role as a place of learning, dedication and training. We might even conclude that the builders of the monument hoped and planned for such continuity. An excellent training program, either for the pilgrim-devotee or for the field technician, is always based on a wish, a fervent wish, that the trainee will achieve what is projected. For the ardent Buddhist it is the Highest Wisdom that leads to the Ultimate salvation, and for the technician the highest degree of expertise that leads to the appropriate fulfillment of his duty. In both cases, Borobudur is the embodiment of such a deeply felt wish. It is a prayer in stone."

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