The archæological interest of Java culminates in the mysterious temple known as Boro-Boedoer, "the aged thing," with an actual history lost in mist and shadow, though recorded in imperishable characters on this spellbound sanctuary of a departed faith. The little tramway from Djokjacarta traverses fields of rice and sugar-cane, indigo and pepper; a range of dreamlike mountains bounds the view, crowned by the turquoise cone of Soemboeung, the traditional centre of Java, a green knoll at the base of the volcanic pyramid being regarded as the "spike" which fastens the floating isle to some solid rock in unfathomed depths of ocean. The fitful fancy of a wandering race, ever drifting across the changing seas, reflects itself in the legendary lore of the Malay Archipelago, often represented by weird traditions as though in perpetual motion. The vicissitudes of volcanic action, whereby islands were sometimes submerged or created, gives a colouring of fact to the vague ideas entertained by these nomads of the sea. Merbaboe, the "ash-ejecting," and Merapi, the "fire-throwing," flank the loftier crest, honeycombed with dim cave temples, now deserted and forgotten, but formerly sanctifying those watch-towers of Nature which guard the hoary shrine of Boro-Boedoer. At Matoelan we hear that the swift river separating the great Temple from the secular world is in flood, the bridge broken down, and the supplementary raft impossible through the swirling current. This untoward event involves a further expedition to Magelang, a sordid town of continuous markets, the Javanese population being of pronounced Hindu type, silent and sad, according to the idiosyncracy of their mysterious ancestors across the sea. The conversational difficulties presented by the Dutch and Malay languages, combined with the incapacity of our brown driver, eventually land us at Mendoet, on the wrong side of the turbid stream—the Jordan which divides the weary traveller from his Land of Promise. Evening draws on, the clear sky flushes pink above the darkness of the palm-woods, and hope sinks apace, for the surging flood shows no sign of abatement. Suddenly the apathetic driver rouses himself from what proves a profitable meditation, and, with folded hands, breathes the magic word pasteur, whipping up his sorry steeds to fresh exertions. We draw up at a white bungalow on the roadside, close to a rustic church, and find a friend in an English-speaking Dutch priest, who, after giving us tea on his verandah, suggests inspection of Mendoet's little moated temple, on the edge of the forest. An ever-growing tangle of lianas and vines buried this ancient shrine through the lapse of ages, until accident revealed the entombed sanctuary about eighty years ago. A processional terrace surrounds the walled pavement supporting the grey edifice, and the sculptured bas-reliefs denote the transitional stage of Buddhist faith, as it materialised through Jainism into the Puranic mythology of Hindu creed. The central chapel contains the famous picture in stone known as "The Tree of Knowledge," and represents the Buddha beneath the sacred Bo-Tree of Gaya. A fluted pajong, propped against the boughs, canopies his head, one hand being raised in benediction over kneeling converts, offering rice and incense. Listening angels hover overhead, birds peep out from nests among the leaves, and kids lean with necks outstretched over fretted crags, magnetised by the mystic attraction of the inspired Teacher. Long-eared statues show Nepalese influence, even the Buddhist images being girt with the sacred cord of Brahma. A controversy exists as to their identification with the Hindu Trinity, but as Eastern cults frequently bestow Divine attributes on mortals, the mysterious figures may possibly represent the murdered wives of the Rajah who founded the Mendoet temple in expiation of his crime. Another legend suggests the petrification of a princely family, as a punishment for marrying within the forbidden degrees, but myth grows apace in this haunted land, and every century offers fresh variations of old-world stories, until original form is lost beneath a weight of accretion, like the thick moss blurring the chiselled outlines of some carven monument. After careful scrutiny of the miniature temple which suggests so many interpretations of symbolic imagery, we return to the little presbytery to hear of the subsiding river, and the good priest, announcing that the raft can now be safely negotiated, accompanies us to the tottering structure, a straw matting laid over three crazy boats punted across the turbulent stream. A half-hour's stroll beneath the arching boughs of a kanari avenue, ends at a picturesque Rest House, facing the temple-crowned hill. Surely we have reached the peace and silence of Nirvana at last! and the exquisite beauty of the surrounding landscape, mountain and forest, park-like valley and winding glen, transfigured in the deepening gold of sunset, stamps an ineffaceable impression of Boro-Boedoer in that mystic gallery of imagination and memory which retains earth's fairest scenes as eternal possessions of mind and soul. A shadowy garden, fragrant and dim, stretches up to the pyramidal pile which covers the hill. A frangipanni grove scents the air, with gold-starred blossoms gleaming whitely amid the silvery green of lanceolated leaves, and a shaft of ruby light striking the stone Buddhas which guard the portico, emphasises the inscrutable smile of the tranquil faces. Like all stupendous monuments of Art or Nature, Boro-Boedoer at first sight seems a disappointment, simply because the mind fails to grasp the immensity of the noblest Temple ever dedicated to the gentle Sage whose renunciation typified the greater Sacrifice offered by the Saviour of the World. Who that reads the story of Sakya Munyi can doubt that through the Prince who gave up kingdom, throne, and earthly ties for the sake of downtrodden humanity, a prophetic gleam of heavenly light pierced the darkness of the future, and pointed to the distant Cross? Twenty-five centuries have rolled away since Prince Siddartha closed his unique career, and twelve centuries later the wondrous sanctuary of Boro-Boedoer was erected in honour of the creed eternally dear to the heart of the mystic East. The eight stately terraces which climb and encircle the sacred hill rise from a spacious pavement of blackened stone, and the walled processional paths display a superb series of sculptured reliefs, which would measure three miles in length if placed side by side. The grey and black ruins, with their rich incrustations of sacred and historic scenes, remain in such splendid preservation that fancy easily reconstructs the bygone glory of the golden age, when this mighty Altar of Faith witnessed the glittering pageantry of Oriental devotion; when gaily-clad crowds flocked to the morning sacrifice of flowers and music, while monarchs brought their treasures from far-off lands to lay at the feet of the mystic Sage, prophetically revealed as an incarnation of purity and peace vouchsafed to a world of oppression and sorrow. Life-size Buddhas, enthroned on the sacred lotus, rise above the crumbling altars of five hundred arcaded shrines, and stone stairways ascend from every side, beneath sharply-curved arches bordered with masks or gargoyles. The last three terraces form sweeping circles, flanked by bell-shaped dagobas resembling gigantic lotus-buds. Each open lattice of hoary stone reveals an enthroned Buddha, mysteriously enclosed in his symbolical screen, for these triple terraces typify the higher circles of Nirvana. Each dreamy face turns towards the supreme Shrine of the glorious sanctuary, a domed dagoba fifty feet high, and once containing some authentic relic of the Buddha's sacred person. Certain archæologists recognise in this spire-tipped cupola a survival of Nature-worship, incorporated with the later Buddhism in a form derived from the tree temples of primeval days, and built over a receptacle for the cremated ashes of the Buddhist priesthood. A touch of mysticism added by an unfinished statue in the gloom of the shadowy vault, suggests the unknown beauty of the soul which attains Nirvana's supremest height, for the supernal exaltation of purified humanity to Divine union may not be interpreted or expressed by mortal hands, but must for ever remain incommunicable and incomprehensible. From the central dagoba, ascended by a winding stair, the intricate design of the spacious sanctuary discloses itself with mathematical precision, and the changing glories of dawn, sunset, and moonlight idealize the sacred hill, rising amid the palm-groves and rice-fields of a matchless valley, sweeping away in green undulations which break like emerald waves against the deepening azure and amethyst of the mountain heights. The solemn grandeur of Boro-Boedoer blinds the casual observer to many details which manifest the ravages of time, the ruthlessness of war, and the decay of a discarded creed. Headless and overthrown figures, broken tees, mutilated carvings, and shattered chapels abound, but the vast display of architectural features still intact conveys an impression of permanence rather than of ruin.
For six centuries, Boro-Boedoer was blotted from the memory of the people, and the heavy pall of tropical verdure which veiled the vast Temple remained unlifted. Superincumbent masses of trees, parasites, and strangling creepers wove their intricate network of root, branch, and stem round the monumental record of a dead faith and a buried dynasty. The riotous luxuriance of tropical Nature triumphed over the glories of Art, hewn with incalculable toil and skill in the living rock. Seeds borne on the wind, or sown by wandering birds, filled every interstice of the closely-matted verdure; stair and terrace, dome and spire, sank out of sight into the forest depths, and when English engineers arrived to excavate the monumental pile, the task of clearing away the tangled masses of foliage occupied two hundred coolies during six weeks of arduous toil. The brief English occupation of the island necessarily left the work unfinished, but Dutch archæologists continued the labour, though with slower methods and feebler grasp of the situation. A transient cult sprang up among the Javanese populace as the ancient sanctuary revealed itself anew. The statues were invoked with reverential awe, incense was offered; the saffron, used as a personal decoration on festive occasions, was smeared over the impassive faces, unchanged in the eternal calm of a thousand years, and fragrant flower petals were heaped on the myriad altars. Vigils were kept on the summit, and the sick were laid at the feet of favourite images. This spurious devotion, hereditary or instinctive, sprang up in responsive hearts with simultaneous fervour, though the forgotten doctrines of Buddhism were never reinstated. Sentiment survived dogma in the subconscious soul, and the faint shadow cast by an immemorial past indicates the depths plumbed by the early creed in the abyss of Eastern personality. The vague simulacrum quickly faded, like a flickering flame in the wind which fanned it into life; but simple souls, as they pass Boro-Boedoer in the brief twilight, mutter incantations, and brown hands grasp the silver amulets which ward off the powers of evil, for the deserted temple is still regarded as the haunt of unknown gods, who may perchance wreak vengeance on the world which has forsaken them.
The long scroll of ancient history, unrolled by the sculptured terraces, represents the birth, growth, and development of Buddhist faith. Queen Maya, jewelled and flower-crowned, with the miraculous Babe on her knee, sits among her maidens, the earth breaking into blossom at the advent of her star-born child. His education in the mental and physical achievements imperative on Eastern royalty, when the sword-pierced heart of the mother who typified the Virgin Queen of Saints was translated to Nirvana's rest, is contrasted with the sudden realisation of life's vanity when brought face to face with the world's threefold burden of sorrow, sickness and death. The renunciation of power, wealth and love follows, liberating the soul for the pilgrimage along the mystic "path," pursued until "the dew-drop fell into the shining sea" of Eternity. The manifold details of the Buddha's traditional career are vividly pourtrayed on the hoary walls of volcanic trachyte in outline clear and sharp, as though the sculptors of the eighth century had just laid down burin and chisel. The indented leaves of the Bo-Tree, beneath which the Sage meditates, are so exquisitely carved that they almost seem to flutter in the breeze. The scene of the deer-park wherein he judges beasts and men, carefully weighing the tiniest birds in the balance of the sanctuary, suggests a prophetic vision of the greater Saviour, Who declared that even the humble sparrow is remembered by the Creator. Countless scriptural truths throw their anticipatory shadows across the life of the Eastern mystic who approached so closely to the Christian ideal of a later age, for the Buddha's spiritual experiences became the inspiration of unnumbered hearts, and exercised a purifying influence over every creed of the philosophic East. The social life of ancient Java, comprising public ceremonials, domestic occupations, architecture, agriculture, navigation, drama and music, is memorialised by succeeding terraces of the igneous rock which sufficed for the old-world sculptor as the medium of his Art. An unknown King and Queen, the traditional founders of Boro-Boedoer, appear in varied guise, throned and crowned, walking in religious processions beneath State pajongs, kneeling before Buddha with open caskets of treasure, and receiving the homage of the people, accompanied by bearers of smoking censers and waving fans. Armed warriors guard the jewelled thrones, and the popular attitude in every scene of the royal progress evidences the semi-sacred character awarded to Indian sovereignty. The eighth century A.D. was the meridian of the Javanese Empire, and in the subsequent changes of nationality the facial type of the past has altered beyond recognition, for in the ancient civilisation depicted on these sculptured terraces, archæologists assert that every physiognomy is either of Hindu or Hellenic character. Ships of archaic form, with banks of rowers; palm-thatched huts built on piles, in the unchanging fashion of the Malay races; graceful bedayas, the Nautch girls of Java, performing the old-world dances still in vogue; and women with lotahs on their heads, passing in single file to palm-fringed tanks, might be represented with equal truth in this twentieth century. Seedtime and harvest, ploughing and reaping, bullock-carts and water-buffaloes, fruit-laden wagons and village passers, pass in turn before the spectator in this wondrous gallery of native art. Richly-caparisoned elephants suggest Indian accessories of royal life and State ceremonial, an occasional touch of humour enlivening the solemn pageantry. In one grotesque relief a bedaya and an elephant stand vis-a-vis, the ponderous monster imitating the steps of the slim maiden in floating veil and embroidered robes, her slender limbs contrasting with the outflung feet of her clumsy partner. Weird myths of the great fishes which guided and propelled the coracle-like boats of the first Buddhist missionaries to the shores of Java are perpetuated in stone, and the forest, sloping down to the wave-beaten coast, shows the rich vegetation which still clothes this island of eternal summer. The sumboya or flower of the dead, droops over stately tombs; bamboo and palm, banana and bread-fruit, mingle their varied foliage; mangosteen and pomegranate, mango and tamarind, acacia and peepul, show themselves as indigenous growths of the fertile soil; while palace and temple, carven stairway, and flower-girt pavilion, suggest the wealth and prosperity of the ancient empire. The mighty Temple of Boro-Boedoer, built up through successive ages, indicates the gradual change from the simplicity of the early faith, at first supplanting, and eventually becoming incorporated with, the Brahminism which succeeded it in modified form, as though rising from the ashes of the earlier Hindu creed which Buddhism virtually destroyed. In the higher terrace, the last addition to this stupendous sanctuary, the images of Buddha represent the ninth Avatar or Incarnation of the god Vishnu, though he still sits upon the lotus cushion and holds the sacred flower in one hand. This inclusion of Sakya Munyi within the Puranic Pantheon was a masterly feat of strategy accomplished by reviving Brahminism, the heresy of the Jains supplying the link between the rival creeds. All the sculptured figures, leaning forward in veneration of the mystic statue in the central cupola, are invested with the sacred thread of the Vishnavite Brahmin. The images of the highest circular terrace are carved in four symbolical attitudes. The "teaching" Buddha rests an open palm on one knee; in the posture of "learning" his hands are outstretched to receive the gift of knowledge. In "exposition," one hand is raised towards Heaven, and in the act of "demonstration," thumbs and index fingers are joined. Ferguson points out that within the grey lattice of each lotus-bell dagoba, the right palm of the enthroned Buddha curves over the left hand. This restful posture indicates the state of final comprehension, when the aspiring soul, raised to the different spheres of Nirvana by steps of ascending sanctity, receives increasing peace and satisfaction from gradual absorption into the Infinite. No creed passes unaltered through any crucible of national thought; Indian Buddhism borrowed both form and colour from races which, in accepting the new faith, retained their own individuality and modes of assimilation. They gave as well as received, and the value of the gift depended on the character of the giver.
No inscriptions exist on the stones of Boro-Boedoer. The sculptured reliefs tell their own story, which admits of diverse interpretations. The relics of the world-renowned Mystic were dispersed throughout Asia in the sudden impulse of missionary enterprise three centuries after his death, and every Buddhist temple received some infinitesimal treasure. No record is found of the date when the precious relic, probably a hair or an eyelash, was deposited in the great dagoba of Boro-Boedoer, but an Indian prince sailed with an imposing fleet to found a Buddhist empire in Java at the opening of the 7th century A.D., and a subsequent inscription discovered on the coast of Sumatra commemorates the completion of a seven-storeyed Vihara, evidently the colossal Temple of Boro-Boedoer, by the contemporary King of "Greater Java," the ancient name of Sumatra. In the tenth century, a reigning monarch sent his sons to India for religious education. They brought back in their train artists, sculptors, monks, priests, and the gorgeous paraphernalia then used in the ceremonial of Buddhist worship, but the heart of the ancient faith was atrophied by the indifference of the people, and the zealous attempt to galvanise a moribund creed into fresh life failed even to arrest the progress of decay. National thought, fickle as the wind, had turned from an impersonal philosophy to the materialistic cult of Hindu deities, as the Israelites of old hankered after the visible symbol of Isis and Osiris in the Golden Calf. No definite creed succeeded in gaining a permanent hold upon the wandering minds and shallow feelings of a race whose deepest instincts reveal the fleeting fancies and inconstant ideas indigenous to a sea-faring stock, imbued with the spirit of change and unrest. A magical charm broods over the mysterious Temple, the materialised dream of a mighty past rescued from the sylvan sepulchre of equatorial vegetation, and restored to a vivid reality beside which the paintings of Egyptian tombs sink into comparative insignificance. The seclusion of the memory-haunted pile enhances the thrill of an unique experience. Vista after vista opens into the world of long ago so graphically depicted on the monumental tablets of the processional paths, while type and symbol point also to the infinite future intensely realised by Eastern mysticism. Mortal life was but a fleeting mirage besides this vision of the life beyond. For the words "Shadow, Unreality, Illusion," perpetually repeated by the yellow-robed monks on the beads of the Buddhist Rosary were inscribed on the inmost heart of the faithful disciple, who strove to attain that detachment from the world of sense inculcated by the creed expressed on the hoary stones of Boro-Boedoer.