Monday, October 11, 2010

Boro by morning

We were up at 4 a.m. today to get over to Borobudur for sunrise. Access to the temple for this time of day, considered primo picture-taking time, is controlled by a hotel near the temple site and they of course charge a king's ransom for the privilege of joining about 75 other Monday morning tourists for daybreak over Mt. Merapi. Like yesterday, the weather was exactly right and we got there in time to find Merapi smoking listlessly into the dawn, the light shifting in slow motion from red to orange to amber. Fog in the valley, birds and songs of birds in the air.

By morning light, Borobudur appeared more reddish yellow than gray, and its color and mood changed as the sun rose higher. The building became more stolid. It darkened and grew weightier. In the early morning it was less massive, more sleepy.

I'd hired Aris the Guide for two days and he joined us again, bright and early. Mostly the same drill with a mix of historical imprecision and outright fabrication, all delivered in good cheer. Aris, can you tel us about the terrorist bombings in 1985 that targeted Borobudur? Who carried out the bombings? They say that the same man who did that bombed Bali in 2002. Aris, that can't possibly be true. I've heard it said.

He was showing us around the intricate narrative carvings that ring much of the temple. In one series of panels that wrap around the building, we learn the story of Buddha's life, Aris told us. These images sit above another story-in-pictures that also wraps all the way around the building, so there are two concurrent stories happening on the inside wall of the temple--Buddha on top, the other story on the bottom.

Aris, what's the other story? It's a Javanese story, Mr. Brett. And what happens in the story? It's very long, Mr. Brett. Here, Buddha is sitting beneath a Bodhi tree.

So we walked around the temple and Aris told us the story of Buddha and we watched the Javanese story scroll by without comment. About three-quarters of the way around the building, hundreds of images into the walk, Aris told of Buddha's search for a spiritual teacher. And Aris, what's happening here in the Java story? Um, not much. Not much! I doubled over laughing. Not much? I guess not.

In fact, all of the narrative carvings at Borobudur are about Buddha. Who was not Javanese.

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