Vesak at Mendut and Borobudur Temples, An Enligtenment for Myself

Submitted by viravira on 29 August 2012   •  Java   •  Central Java

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A long awaited event, Vesak at the Borobudur temple. Vesak day commemorates three important events at the same time: the birth, the enlightenment and the passing away of Buddha (who was named Sidarta Gautama by his parents). It’s the most important day for the Buddhists around the world, and I got to be a tiny teeny part of the ceremony earlier this year (April, 2012). At the end, I had mixed feelings of happy, satisfied, disappointed and sad.

Buddha statue at Vesak ceremony at Borobudur

Mendut Temple – Vesak Day

Our taxi driver Pak Robbi told us that Mendut is the oldest Buddhist temple in Java, that’s why the main ceremony of Vesak took place there instead of at Borobudur. Rushing from our hotel in Magelang, we got there at 9ish a.m, an hour late than what we had planned due to..well, laziness..haha.

Street vendors, tourists and the police troop were seen around the entrance. Inside the temple area there were tents where the Buddhists sat down and were following the ceremony. Wait a minute!! The seated people weren’t all the ones celebrating Vesak! Some of our friends and acquaintances, who I know aren’t Buddhists, sat amongst them as well! Now this doesn’t look right.. Cos I saw some people were standing around the back, praying and chanting like what the monks were doing, which means they’re the ones who should’ve been sitting under the tents!

Well, I got there late. Maybe the event committee had announced that it didn’t matter who sat or stood wherever. Just maybe. But if you were there as a tourist or journalist, do you really think that you have more right to sit in the more comfortable spot than the ones who were there for the praying? Really!

Vesak at Mendut temple
Praying anywhere they could

Anyway, we didn’t see much of the temple because we focused more on the ceremony, or at least we tried to, among so many people walking around. But from what I’ve read, Mendut temple was built around the early times of 9th century. And though it looks like a compact solid building, you can actually go inside and see some statues.

We settled with not being a part of the march from Mendut to Borobudur, which was going to be sometime later at noon. It was a 3km walk anyway, our lazy asses weren’t really up for that 😛

Borobudur Temple – Vesak Night

At first I was having doubt whether or not I should go see the Vesak ceremony at Borobudur, with all the tight budget, tight schedule (I had to call in sick on Monday!) and too much hype going on. I had wanted to see Vesak ceremony at Borobudur since 2011 when I realized that it was too late to save up for transportation. And suddenly it was a big hype when one of the scenes in an Indonesian movie called “Arisan 2” was shot at the ceremony – or so people said, cos I didn’t see the movie. I was afraid it was going to be too crowded. But then I read a post in someone’s blog about the lantern release on last year Vesak at Borobudur. That was it! Right then I knew I had to go. I was drifted by the beautiful description in her blog that I forgot the blog address. Sowwy.

We waited through the ceremony in the drizzling rain for hours, where Buddhist communities and monks from around the world gathered on stage, chanting, praying and paying sermons. Borobudur temple was lit brightly by the super moon – plus some artificial lights – that took beauty up to a whole new level (do I sound like Tyra Banks commenting on ANTM enough? *couture pose*).

Borobudur lit by supermoon

In the middle of the stage ceremony, the drizzle finally stopped. I don’t really like getting wet by the rain, let alone having to sit through it uncomfortably in my raincoat for so long. But guess what really got on my nerve. It’s this girl that pushed her way in and stood beside me clicking her shutter release nonstop! I don’t think she could get so much variations taking pictures from the same angle anyway. *whoosaaahh*

I felt bad that some others snapped their cameras with flash so close to the participants with no hesitation, especially at the Pradaksina part of ceremony (the walking around Borobudur temple three times clockwise). Man, people – and not all were journalists – can be so ambitious in taking pictures. I wonder if they’d like it to be flashed with bright lights when praying.


At that point, I felt a little bit regret that I was a part of the whole madness. I was too like them, being there as a tourist, wanted to see their religious and spiritual event up close. If I knew it was going to be that crowded and created disrespectful acts, I would probably choose not to go.

However! Now I can never regret going there for the last step of the whole Vesak procession: the lantern release. It was the whole point of me going, to see a thousand lit lanterns fly slowly up to the pitch black (cloudy) sky. It was beau-tee-full! After releasing our own lantern and lost track of it in the midst of all the others, I took my time just sitting and watching the slow swaying motion of the lanterns. I wonder where they ended up after flying so high up. I’m no scientist, so I’d like believe they could reach the other side of the globe, falling down slowly so little kids can catch and play with them 😀

Lanterns in the sky

My friend Kandi from Bandung joined our lantern release and Arya was being a gentleman taking a picture of us releasing that lovely huge thing. And after a ‘party’ there must be a mess to take care of. Trash was everywhere, chairs scattered all over, but we were soon told politely to take a hike by the committee because they had to clean the area right away.

Lantern release

What a night for me it was. A mixture of feelings and at the same time one more item crossed off my list. Yeah, crossing off a ‘to-do’ list is one of my favorite things to do. It gives a feeling of accomplishment no matter how small that thing is.

However, after attending this Vesak event, remembering the funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja and hearing Mumun’s stories of another festival she’s attended, I decided not to start a certain to-do list that I was thinking of doing: going to as many festivals as I can all over Indonesia. Especially the spiritual ones. Why not? Cos it’s sad to see something sacred turned into something too festive, too commercialized, or too crowded with people who are there just for the sake of seeing. I don’t think I personally did any harm to the Buddhists or the procession. But imagine how sacred and deeply absorbed the ceremony would be if people like me weren’t there with our cameras and chattery noise (we Indonesians love to chat), as I think it was supposed to be.

Check out our tweets on this Vesak (also known as Waisak) trip on chirpstory under the hashtag #Waisaktrip.

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2 Comments on "Vesak at Mendut and Borobudur Temples, An Enligtenment for Myself"

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6 years 10 months ago

That sounds like a great event that I’d love to be a part of someday! I can understand the mixed feelings though. The organizers should probably spread more awareness about respectful behaviours to the attendants, e.g. no flash photography and stay quiet. Flash photography in particular always bugs me a whole lot!

ps: hello from wandering mee! 🙂

6 years 10 months ago

Hi Mee,
yes, it was great indeed, it would probably be even more awesome if I were guided by someone who really knew the meaning behind all the rituals 😛
Yeah, banning flash usage would be a good way to minimize distraction to the Buddhists. Oh and it would probably help too if they set limit the number of non-buddhist visitors in the event. Not to be discriminating, just to keep comfort for the Buddhists.