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Sunrise at Borobudur | Chasing Light Indonesia

Each day we are midwifed to the world with new beginnings. Just like how we first open our eyes to receive the gift of sunlight, we start to write the stories of another life. And mine begins here—-chasing sunrise at Borobudur.

sunrise at borobudur

Since the first time I ran my fingers on its antiquity back in 2008, Borobudur never ceases to amaze me. Its graceful architecture, intricate artistry & cherished sanctity leave me in awe all these years.

But I’ve always dreamed of experiencing sunrise at Borobudur. I promised myself, one day I will witness this enchanting moment, standing on a 9th century wonder, watching the sun creep through Mt. Merapi in the horizon.

That day had come & there couldn’t be anything more joyful than fulfilling a promise 2 years short of a decade.

Chasing sunrise at Borobudur, the most priceless splashes of gold in Indonesia!

Like fireflies, hundreds of flashlights flickered through the darkness illuminating the path to the massive stone lotus that sits in the far end. From a distance, I could already see his faint pyramid silhouette framed by the pale shades of dawn.

Borobudur rests like a giant tantric Buddhist mandala laid out in mounting terraces & crowned by a huge bell-shaped dome. It is adorned with thousands of exquisitely carved relief panels & Buddha statues.


But more than it being a monumental art, Borobudur is foremost a Buddhist temple, a consecrated place for Bodhisattvas. While its design blends indigenous Javanese elements, Borobudur represents its people’s cosmic belief in attaining nirvana.

Then there I was, standing on the footsteps of the largest Buddhist monument in the world, slowly ascending into his kingdom of spatial cosmology.


It was an easy flight to the base, the Kamadhatu or the realm of desire. It is the most ornate section of the temple showing stone reliefs that depict scenes of man’s worldly life on earth.

Climbing into the transitional level or the Rupadhatu made me start to pant for breath. These layers of square platforms represent the formless world or the realm where man detaches from his desires.

sunrise at borobudur

Chain of niches containing Buddha images & corridor galleries filled with intricate low reliefs began to show its form as light crawled into its cold ancient walls.

As I made my way into the final arched gate, the image of the central stupa emerged, seemingly whispering, come to the abode of the gods, my child.


Finally, I have reached the summit, the Arupadhatu or the formless world where man experience the purest reality. To those attaining Buddhahood, this is their ocean of nirvana.

Here, the depictions of intricate sculptures in the lower levels have disappeared. Washed in unadorned simplicity, the pinnacle platforms metaphorically present the dimension of formlessness, voidness & non-existence.

And then there was light.

I waited so long for this to happen & now it’s unfolding before my eyes. I left my camera rolling & stepped aside to just marvel the glory in silence.


The dead of night that cloaked the horizon in darkness began to brighten. Slowly, like a misty lotus bud blossoming in the break of day, streaks of gold crept through Mt. Merapi. Then pale flushes of pink & orange casted light on the crouching plains of Kedu, the garden of Java.

I held my breath & blinked a few. Not for long, the horizon was washed in pulsating reds. It bled & battled with yellows & whites like night letting go of its shadiness to the morning light.

sunrise at borobudur

Then the sun finally breaks. Hanging up there—roaring & mighty, blissfully luminescent.

At that point in time, I understood better why the topmost spherical terraces are architectured in simplicity. Because standing on these podiums in the Buddhist cosmic traditions mean that man has risen above the world & is free from all forms & desires.


One of the realities in chasing sunrise at Borobudur is the horde of tourists standing in cheek by jowl with each other. It’s an inescapable battle for space.

But it didn’t bother me at all. I just completely zoned out on my plane, focused my attention on the bursting perspective & savored my own piece of theater.

Borobudur is a narrative of its people’s lives & aspirations, fancies & lust. It tells the tale of man’s journey from incarceration into redemption.

It is everyone’s metaphor of reaping the truthful state of happiness, of finding peace amidst the chaos.

sunrise at borobudur

There are many ways than one to experience this temple & with a thousand & one intentions too. Some are there just for the pretty snaps & some are on a pilgrimage.

But one thing is common—-chasing sunrise at Borobudur is worth telling a story, the universal & eternal truths that Buddha preaches.


The fairytale of lights is over. The dewdrops have dried up & the crisp scent of the morning had dissipated. Its beacons glared & bounced everything on its sight.

Its fleeting beauty had disappeared. But it left me with another dream, to experience this magical moment all over again, chasing sunrise at Borobudur from Puthuk Setumbu.



Find your light. Check out this short video about Borobudur.

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