...the hidden panels
hidden panel detail
Unlike the panels of the galleries above the processional pathway, the hidden panels discovered by Dutch architect J.W. Ijzerman in 1885 were peopled by villains, demons, ogres and nymphs, clearly depicting worldly passions and desires. Here each action in the pictorial progression is followed immediately by a repercussion: blameworthy deeds with the corresponding punishments, and praiseworthy activities with their subsequent rewards.

ugly faces on hidden panel
But it was not until these panels were linked to the Buddhist doctrine of Karma that their significance was understood. In Buddhist philosophy, Karma is the cosmic law of cause and effect, determining what happens to you in the next life, i.e. saying ugly things about others in this life results in rebirth as an ugly person; those who mistreat animals will be trampled by elephants; the dishonest will be tortured with a hot iron.

On the other hand, good deeds are well rewarded: donating a bell to a temple ensures that in your next incarnation you will have a melodious voice;
heavenly scene on hidden panel
for offering a seat to another, one acquires grace and amiability, the company of the learned, glory and reputation, pleasure and good humor, the support of one's country, many servants, a high station in life and a sufficiency of seats. (You choose.)

But why had the laws of Karma – the foundation of Buddhist belief – been covered, hiding the skill and invention of the stone carvers? Perhaps beliefs changed over the course of the monument's construction. Or it may be that the base was covered because it symbolizes the lowest part of the universe, the sphere in which man is controlled by his desires.

Experts believe that Borobudur was constructed in stages over a long time. Originally conceived as a stepped pyramid, it was built on a small hill. In 790 AD, Buddhists took over what may have originally been a Hindu structure to build a gigantic stupa. Carvings were completed on the base and first gallery, but as the temple grew higher, more pressure was put on the foundation, causing it to spread, and the monument suffered a serious collapse.
raised walkway
The two upper galleries were completely destroyed, and portions of the facades were severely damaged.

This setback points strongly to the theory that the original base was covered for a compelling technical incentive: to shore up a sagging foundation and keep the monument from collapsing under its own weight. It was at this stage, that a large retaining wall was built around the base. Ijzerman reached the same conclusion in 1885. After photographing the panels, he replaced the original pathway to re-stabilize the structure.

historical records | Borobudur revealed | Enlightenment | building Borobudur
nature takes a toll | saving Borobudur | timeline

Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
Hope Diamond
Taj Mahal
scene from Borobudur

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