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From Mendut to Borobudur

by N. J. Krom (1927)

Native legend relates that long ago a brick-paved road led from the Borobudur to the Mendut with walls on both sides and several chapels built into them. Referring to this, Dr. Brandes remarks that this road must naturally have led across the Progo and that it is still plainly to be seen how on the bank of the river, on the Mendut side, near the old ford, a stone building must formerly have stood. The large river stones at that spot are so cut down that it is plain some structure of large slabs has rested on them, the flat-hewn blocks still lie there equally level, and are such that they positively suggest their having been used to support some construction. The mass, as a whole, does not give the impression of being the bed of a staircase, which would there seem very appropriate; and as the opposite bank is some distance off and very steep -- possibly this may not always have been the case -- a bridge does not seem very likely. Brandes leaves it an open question,1 but calls attention to the great number of bricks found in the ground between the two temples.2

During the work of restoration Mr. van Erp again took the matter in hand.3 He was encouraged to do so by the coincidence that when, for the survey of the orientation of Borobudur, a theodolite (a surveying instrument consisting of a tripod, compass, level, scale and telescope) was fixed on to the central-stupa and the position of the Mendut brought into range, the randu alas tree (Bombax malabarica), which at that time was growing on the ruins of Pawon, came exactly into the focal line of the telescope. The three buildings are therefore situated in one straight line. This might be accidental, yet in conjunction with the tradition about a road, may be of some significance. It is noticeable, that in the field to the East of the village Borobudur-wetan, close to the route the alleged road must have taken, a headless unfinished, seated image of the Buddha was found, which judging by the size (85 cm high), cannot have belonged to the stupa itself, but may easily have had a place in one of the chapels along the road. Moreover, attention should be paid to the situation of the entrance to the temple-courts of Pawon and Mendut, both of which face NW while all other known Buddhist temples of Central Java, more or less accurately, face east or west; Borobudur itself as was shown, east, with a very slight divergence, as the axis varies south-north 1 1/2 degrees towards west from the actual north. Now to the temple-court from Pawon which faces NW, only one entrance was found, consisting of a brick staircase in the SW ? thus just in the direction of the alleged road of communication. To the temple of Mendut, itself carefully orientated in the same way, only one entrance was found in the enclosure of the foundations, also on the SW and thus facing the road side.4

Judging by the above details, there was then every motive for examination and experiment to prove if any remains of the road could be discovered, especially in places where the ground was heaped up and there seemed a chance of something being hidden below. In 1911 such an experiment actually took place at different, points between Borobudur and Pawon, near the latter temple. It was quite without any result.5

We can therefore go no further than the statement that the existence of such a road is very probable judging by the position of the buildings, though direct evidence of it is entirely wanting. It is surely more than likely, apart from the supposition of the road, that a pilgrim setting out to honor the Borobudur, would be sure to pay the same homage to the Mendut, not 3 km away, where he could worship the great image of the Teacher between his two most famous Bodhisattvas. The impression that this beautiful and sublime group still makes on the uninitiated of today, will have been far deeper to the believer of ancient times.

On the stupa is pictured the life-story of the Buddha but there was no separate image of the Savior placed to receive the adoration of his followers and satisfy the yearning which every faithful pilgrim would undoubtedly feel; while this they could find at the Mendut. To this end the Mendut might be considered as a completion of the Borobudur and there is certainly resemblance between the two temples both in decoration and the execution of various details. For other reasons as well, the two buildings can be put down as about the same age, chiefly because of the character of the inscriptions that were incised on the buried base of Borobudur and at the Mendut on a loose block of stone. This stone, inscribed with portions of the so-called Confession of faith, according to Brandes6 must have been fixed above the entrance to the temple and unquestionably belongs to the edifice, being found above the N. porch wall during the restoration.

The character of the Mendut writing is very old Kawi, the virama (a symbol used with Indic scripts to indicate a dead consonant) is still given by a stroke above the letter. Whether this is the same as that of Borobudur, is not quite certain, for by chance, no virama is really included in the remaining inscriptions.7 Yet on comparing the rest of the letters, it appears that the Mendut inscription is just as old as that of Borobudur, possibly a little older. We may go so far as to suppose that the two buildings formed part of one great plan, actually built for the purpose, but in any case, it is quite explicable that two Buddhist temples erected about the same time so near each other, should bear points of resemblance in many ways; on the contrary, it would be strange if the designers and builders had never imitated one another. It would be quite impossible to include the Mendut in the examination here; we refer the reader, for this building, to our Introduction to Hindu-Javanese Art.8

We shall in due time speak of the characteristics (of Mendut) with relation to Javanese Buddhism, and the way in which they may supplement those shown by Borobudur.9 The connection between Borobudur and the small Candi Pawon, is still closer than that of Borobudur and Mendut. Wilsen considers that this small building was intended as a place for the pilgrim, before visiting the holy hill, to meditate and free his mind from all impure thoughts,10 and van Erp is inclined to agree with this conjecture, especially as the (sculptured reliefs) of Pawon are in the same spirit as those of Borobudur. In the article in which the latter makes this observation,11 he endeavors to investigate more particularly the meaning of this temple. He remarks that some of the sculpture can be connected with the god of riches Kubera.12 This god, very popular in Java to judge by the many little bronze images of him that exist, was specially honored in the domestic religion, and though not exclusively a Buddhist one, was much venerated by the Buddhists. He is found, as IJzerman has already made known, in the porch of the Mendut; Kubera bronzes with the Buddhist confession of faith 13 occur frequently; we know even of a special Kubera-temple, viz. the Candi Asu, the…eastern front temple of the Buddhist sanctuary Candi Sewu, where no less than five images of the god of riches have been found.14 At Candi Pawon we find first, on the only remaining side of the staircase, a kalpavrksa (divine tree) with treasure vases at the foot, a “wishing-tree” designed in the usual style of Javanese art, hung with garlands and shaded by an umbrella. Again, in the tympanum above the entrance, there is a pair of human figures with twisted legs such as might be expected of the followers of the deformed Kubera, each of them bearing a treasure vase, the contents of which they pour out, while other vases are standing and lying behind them. Finally, on the center-panels, back and sides, of the temple another “wishing-tree” is seen with the traditional treasure-pots and flanked by a pair of kinnara (semi-divine being with a half-human, half animal body).

It is true, as will be seen later on, that the “wishing-tree” with kinnara at Borobudur is specially a representation of heaven, generally the heaven of the king of the gods, Shakra -- but on the other hand Kubera also has his paradise, Indian mythology represents him with kinnaras, and in the porch of the Mendut where the chief panels depict Kubera and his spouse, the smaller side panels show just such a wishing-tree with treasure pots and kinnaras. If we further take into consideration that Kubera is the chosen god of porches -- to Van Erp’s reference15 to Hindustan, we may add that in the rock-temples of the Western Ghats whose Buddhism has a decided resemblance to that of Java.16 Kubera is also to be found at the entrance -- that the already-mentioned Kubera temple Candi Asu, is the eastern front temple of the great sanctuary Candi Sewu and that the Pawon also lies east of Borobudur; then the possibility is not to be denied that we might look on Candi Pawon also as a Kubera-temple and that it has once contained an image of the god of riches.

We must allow that Van Erp’s explanation is most attractive and we have no evidence to bring against the conjecture being correct. The site of Candi Pawon was so carefully examined during the restoration of that small temple, that we can be well assured no Kubera image or fragment thereof could now be found in the ground, and the strict inquiries during the restoration among the natives after images or reliefs that may have been preserved, prevents any surprise being possible from that quarter. The image (or images) of Candi Pawon is gone and will probably never be seen again. Stone images of Kubera are very rare in Java; of the few examples known, there is only one that, to judge by the size, could have been the chief image of a small temple. This image is to be seen in the museum at Batavia17 and was brought there from the grounds of the residency of Yogyakarta and of course, though it is not quite impossible that it may have got there from Kedu, it is a much more likely conjecture that it comes from the plain of Prambanan. Certainty as to the intention of Candi Pawon is therefore not to be obtained in any way, but according to my opinion, in any case, it can be considered proved that the small temple stood in connection with Borobudur, while the supposition that it was a sub-temple dedicated to Kubera, if not actually proved, yet is least of all improbable.

(From Borobudur: An Archaeological Description by N. J. Krom)


(1) Rapp. Oudh. Comm. 1903, p. 75, etc.
(2) Since 1903 there must have been changes; neither T. van Erp nor the author could find the stones mentioned by Brandes when visiting the place.
(3) Tijdschr. Bat. Gen. 53 (1911), pp. 582-585.
(4) Rapp. Oudh. Comm. 1903, plates 58 and 62.
(5) Rapp.1911, p. 25.
(6) See Rapp. Oudh. Comm. 1902, p. 7.
(7) I think it not unlikely that on the very indistinct inscription 150a there actually is a virama to be found; and an old-fashioned one too.
(8) Inleiding tot de Hindu-Javaansche Kunst (Introduction to Hindu-Javanese Art), 2nd edition, 1923.
(9) See Chapter XIII of Borobudur: an Archaeological Description; and then compare with Van Eerde in Bijdr. Kon. Inst. 65 (1911), p. 22 note.
(10) Tijdschr. Bat. Gen. 1 (1853), p. 301; and Leemans, p. 9. It is of no importance to the value of his conjecture that Wilsen was partly led to it by the mistaken etymology given him by the Regent of Magelang (we refer to him in Chapter X of Borobudur: An Archaeological Description) for the name of the desa Bradjanalan where the small temple is situated, i.e., from pradja (“sharp”) and naham (“heart” = “cleansed heart”).
(11) Tijdschr. Bat. Gen. 53 (1911) , pp. 585 - 597.
(12) Beschrijving der oudheden nabij de grens der residenties Soerakarta en Djogdjakarta (1891), p. 92.
(13) E.g. Nederlandsch-Indie Oud en Nieuw, vol. I (1916-17), p. 391, plates 2 and 3.
(14) IJzerman 1.1. Borobudur 2.

(15) Van Erp’s suggestion that the figure with halo kneeling by this tree, behind whom is a follower holding a lemon, the known attribute of Kubera, is a representation of this god, does not seem quite acceptable. To begin with (as the author himself admits) Kubera should be corpulent, secondly we are not altogether convinced that the object is really a lemon, thirdly, an attribute loses in value if not held by the person it concerns, fourthly, what reason could there be for the giver of all riches, to be kneeling in homage by that tree with treasure vases
(16) Compare Chapter XIII of Borobudur: An Archaeological Description, with Chapter IV to Inleiding tot de Hindu-Javaansche Kunst  (Introduction to Hindu-Javanese Art).
(17) No. 207 of Groeneveldt’s Catalogue (1887) and Van Kinsbergen’s photograph no. 179 (also Archaeological Service No. 520).

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