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Photo by Emily Shahrzad Rahravan, Indonesia Semester.

Sunrise at Borobudur

Yesterday morning we watched the sunrise from the top of Borobudur, a 9th-century Buddhist temple in Central Java, Indonesia. We arrived in the dark and made our way up the steep stone stairs of the temple, not quite knowing what to expect. We joined people from all over the world, identified only by language, since it was still pitch black and no one was visible. As the sounds of the city traveled up to us from below—roosters, vehicles, competing calls to prayer—the sun began to peek out from between two volcanoes to the East.

Borobudur is a beautiful stone structure, an enormous stupa in the shape of a mandala. As we circumambulated the lower levels of the temple, Matt explained to us that the stupa represents the path to an enlightened mind. The first three levels have relief images that represent desire, the next three form or body, and the last three truth or enlightenment. It’s striking—or maybe even counterintuitive—that this physical structure is intended to take one beyond structure and form to enlightenment.

As Indonesia is close to the equator, sunrise and sunset are pretty consistent throughout the year. In Central Java, the sun has been rising around 5:30 am and setting around 5:30 pm. What this means is that we are up and eager to begin our days early and equally eager to go to sleep after nightfall. Today we are back in Jogjakarta enjoying a scavenger hunt and looking forward to this afternoon’s guest lecture on Indonesia’s history. Tomorrow we’ll immerse ourselves even more in Javanese culture as we head into Kedungmiri for our first home stay.