The History of Borobudur, Largest Buddha Temple in The World. Part 2-Netherlands Era

Part 2. The Borobudur, Netherlands Era

We will not find a lot of literature about the Borobudur during the Era of Netherland colonialism. The fact that Borobudur is “just” historical site did not lure bot colonials and locals. They of course prefer to discover something that can quickly give benefit, such as low paid workers, tax, and natural resources.

Even tough during this reign, there are some of important development about Borobudur. In 1835, one of Dutch administrator, Hartmann, continued the work at Borobudur, when he finished unearthed the whole complex. Not a lot of documentation as the work was based on the personal interest. In 1842, a wooden deck had been installed above the top of the main stupa, some called it was a teahouse for the blue blood colonial.

tea house at the top of main stupa

The Dutch East Indies government then commissioned F.C. Wilsen, a Dutch engineering official. He make a significant progress to studied the monument and drew hundreds of relief sketches. Jan Frederik Gerrit Brumund (1814-1863), a priest of the Batavian Evangelic Community was also appointed to make a detailed study of the monument, which was completed in 1859. The government intended to publish an article based on Brumund’s study supplemented by Wilsen’s drawings, but Brumund refused to cooperate. The government then commissioned another scholar, C. Leemans, who compiled a monograph based on Brumund’s and Wilsen’s sources. In 1873, the first monograph of the detailed study of Borobudur was published, and translated to French a year later. The first photograph of the monument was taken in 1872 by a Dutch-Flemish engraver, Isidore van Kinsbergen, as a part of contract with the Batavia Society of Arts and Sciences in order to allowed him to take part for archaeological tour around Java, headed by J.F.G. Brumund,

Around year 1885, Jan Willem IJzerman (Leerdam, 9 April 1851- Den Haag, 10 October 1932), an Oil Extraction Engineer, member of the house of representatives and The First Chairman of the Archeological Society in Yogyakarta, and Chairman of the Royal Dutch Geographical Society, discovered the panels that surround the hidden base of the Borobudur. During 1890-1891, the path around it was excavated and the photographer Kassian Cephas was asked to photograph all 160 reliefs that emerged. Then the reliefs were covered again. That is why the recordings of Céphas are still the only source for the study of these reliefs to this day. This discovery brings about renewed efforts to protect the monument against vandalism and natural threats. It could be the reason why the reliefs were covered again after year of work to excavated.

officer pose in borobudur ruin

In 1896 King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited Java and requested and Dutch Colonial allowed him to take home eight cartloads of sculptures taken from Borobudur as a souvenirs. These include thirty pieces taken from a number of relief panels, five of the best buddha images, two lions, one gargoyle, several kala motifs from the stairs and gateways, and a guardian statue (dvarapala). Several of these artifacts, most notably the lions, dvarapala, kala, makara and giant waterspouts are now on display in the Java Art room in The National Museum in Bangkok. The Government of Indonesia should be able to reclaim this treasure.

In 1907-1911, after years of discovery, excavation and other basic work, Borobudur start to begin the major restoration. The restoration led by Theodor van Erp. He found the unfinished Buddha statue inside the main stupa, buried inside it by the dirt. It called unfinished Buddha because this Buddha statue found with no head. Which actually intentionally left unfinished built without head. Van Erp had it put under a pili tree next to the temple. He believed that those statue was a failed one and was thrown away. This is a controversial action where some archeologists sent him critics in the future. Later on, in 1994 Indonesian Professor Soekmono wrote an journal, stated that the reason Van Erp didn’t put the statue back inside the main stupa is that they would have had to partially dismantle the stupa which was restored and that that action would clash with the spirit of reconstruction of that time. This reason can accepted very well in context of reconstruction spirit. Van Erp had successfully dismantles and rebuilds the upper three circular terraces and crumbling stupas, cleaned many of the sculptures of moss and lichen. However, he is unable to solve the drainage problem which is undercutting the monument. Within fifteen years, the gallery walls are sagging and the reliefs show signs of new cracks and deterioration.

Soon after Indonesia seized their glory against Netherlands, Japan and Alliances army, Borobudur will receive a huge reconstruction and a proper treating also from UNESCO. You can continue to read in Part 3. Borobudur, Bring Back the World Legacy Alive.

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