Statue in auction may be from Borobudur

by Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, April 9, 2005

Magelang, Central Java (Indonesia) -- It is possible that the Buddha statue withdrawn last week from an auction at Christie's in New York, following a request from the government of Indonesia, might have originated from the famous Borobudur temple in Central Java.

"Seen from its physical structure, as we saw it from the picture faxed to my office by the Ministry of Education and Culture some 10 days ago, it does have a similarity to the Borobudur statues," Borobudur Conservational Office head Dukut Santoso told The Jakarta Post at his office here earlier this week.

To decide accurately its authenticity, however, one needed to do a thorough physical examination of the object, he said.

"We cannot make a decision just by examining the picture," said Dukut.

Dukut expressed relief the statue was withdrawn from the auction.

"Once it is auctioned, it will be very, very difficult for us to trace its whereabouts. We will lose the chance to examine it, much less return it to its original place if it is proved authentic," Dukut said.

The Indonesian government, said Dukut, had good reason to ask for the cancellation of the auction because there was a strong possibility that the statue did come from the world heritage site.

"At the time, Borobudur was about to have its second restoration in 1973, we recorded that 30 of the Buddha statues at the temple were missing. If proved authentic it is quite possible that this is one of the missing statues," he said.

Built between 762 and 824 AD during the Syailendra Dynasty and comprising 55,000 square meters of andesite stonework, the temple was in ruins when it was rediscovered during the Dutch colonial era.

Dutch engineer Theodore van Erp did the first large-scale restoration of Borobudur from 1907 to 1911, the main objective of which was to prevent the temple from collapsing.

From 1973 to 1983, a comprehensive restoration was carried out with support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other international organizations under the coordination of UNESCO.

In December 1991, the imposing Buddhist temple, which stands magnificently on a hill in the form of a stepped pyramid of six rectangular stories, three circular terraces, and a central stupa (dome enclosing an effigy of Buddha) was listed as a world heritage site by the UNESCO Heritage Center.

Measuring up to 35.29 meters in height, the 14,161 square meter Borobudur temple comprises a total 504 Buddha statues.

Of them, 72 are in the three circular terraces of the Arupadhatu level right below the main stupa, and are called Wajra Satwa statues. The remaining 432 are at the Rupadhatu level, which comprises four levels immediately below the Arupadhatu, and are known as Dyani Budha statues.

One at the Arupadhatu level and 29 others at the Rupadhatu level, however, were not there at the time the inventory was carried out prior to the 1973 to 1983 restoration.

"None of their whereabouts is known thus far; not until the Christie's case emerged," Dukut said.

Buddha statues are differentiated according to their mudra (positioning of the hands). Those at Borobudur's Arupadhatu levels are dharmacakra mudra, which describes Buddha as moving the wheel of the world for its safety.

At Arupadhatu there are four different Buddha statues with different mudra. The ones in the eastern area are known as Aksobya and have the mudra of bhumisparsa, which symbolizes the strength of faith. In the southern area are Ratna Sambawa, with wara mudra symbolizing passion.

In the western area are Amitaba with dyana mudra symbolizing meditation, while to the north are Amogasidha, with abhaya mudra that symbolize courage in the face of danger.

The one at Christie's, as the auction catalog describes, is suspected to have come from the eastern side of the 3.5 million ton temple, and is an Aksobya with bhumisparsa mudra.
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