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  • Guoying Stacy Zhang

Sky Lanterns and Walubi: My Waisak Day at Borobudur in 2018, Part 1

Borobudur has always enchanted me. Dated to the eighth and ninth centuries, during the Shailendra dynasty, it is the largest Buddhist monument in existence. Constructed out of 56,600 cubic meters of volcanic stone in the shape of a mandala, the site contains hundreds of Buddha statues and thousand panels of carved relief. We do not know exactly when Borobudur was abandoned after Islam arrived in Central Java in the 13th century, but it re-emerged in 1814 from layers of volcanic ash and jungle on the Kedu Plain. A timeless wonder created by mankind situated amid the wonder created by nature, in the name of Buddhism—who does not want to see Borobudur?

However, I never sat down to schedule a visit until one day in February I learned of the annual flying-lantern ceremony at Borobudur on the day of Vesak, or “Waisak” in Indonesian. Commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and Parinirvana of the historical Buddha, Vesak was formally established as a Buddhist festival in 1950, at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Since then, it has been observed across countries in South and Southeast Asia, albeit on different days according to different calendars. In Indonesia, Waisak fell on 29 May this year. Enthralled by photographs of previous celebrations at Borobudur, where countless glowing lanterns float around the step pyramid compound, I immediately sent out a call for travel companions among my friends. Sometimes, it is good to travel alone, but moments like this one wants to share.

Buddha statue at Borobudur. Image courtesy of the author

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