February – Bali & Java, Indonesia

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Beauty, Art & Mysticism on Bali &

Sunrise at the Borobudur on Java

After my annual classes in Singapore this year I decided to visit Bali (a place I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time) and Java (to visit the Borobudur):


As it was my first time here, and I was warned by friends who had been visiting many times over many years ad I did not expect the culture to be still so strongly present. In fact, I was blown away by the sweet people I met, the beauty, art, culture and mysticism that is still there. I think the pictures I took speak for themselves.

Our first stop was Ubud where we drenched ourselves in the Balinese art and temples.

Death procession and cremation ceremony
balinese-flowersIn Ubud we witnessed a Balinese death procession and cremation ceremony of a priest, where the body is placed within a ‘bull’ made out of wood, iron and fabric, together with a lot of offerings and all that the person needs in the hereafter. After that the whole thing is set on fire…. it’s such an intriguing culture.

Special ceremony in the village temple
Upon hearing our interest in the Balinese culture, Buddhism and Hinduism, our driver who lives in a nearby village, invited us to a special ceremony that’s only held every 5yrs. It was in his village temple, would take place the next day and would last for 5hrs. The long procession of the villagers to the temple, the many offerings of flowers and fruits, carried in bamboo baskets by the women on top of their heads (and of course we brought a basket of offerings too), the beautiful traditional clothes (that we wore too of course), all the incense burning, the long and mystic rituals by the priest, all people sharing food and eating together, the wayang puppet play (performed by our driver, who appeared to be one of the main people of the temple)… we felt so welcome and fortunate to be invited to join as the only westerners there. It was simply unforgettable.


When we traveled further to the far east of the island (it’s much bigger than I expected) we again were so fortunate to be invited, this time to a traditional Balinese wedding.
On the picture above the wedding priest performs his rituals for the marriage, accompanied by the gamelan orchestra that plays beautiful music.

Our visit to Bali was in one word magical!
…So the deception couldn’t be bigger when we flew to Java.
It’s like the atmosphere and the people changed 180 degrees. The first few days in Yogyakarta we regretted we hadn’t stayed on Bali instead. But our main goal was to visit one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world, the Borobudur on Java, Indonesia:

 The Borobudur

This ancient temple complex and Buddhist kingdom was constructed between 760 and 830 CE. In 1991 it was recognized as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Building Style
The building style of the Borobudur was influenced by the Gupta art from India (I painted a thangka of one of the 21 Taras in Gupta style).

Borobudur’s main stupa is located on the top platform, right in the center. It is surrounded by 72 smaller bell-shaped stupas that are divided on three terrace levels. Each stupa bell used to have a seated Buddha statue inside, that is partly visible through the perforated stonework. Unfortunately most of the Buddhas have their heads cut off.

How to enter
stone-relief-borobudurTraditionally visitors follow ‘pradaksina’, meaning they enter through the eastern gate starting at the lowest level and walk clockwise around the temple, upto all following levels until the highest level -that of the nirwana- is reached. On the way one enjoys the life stories of the Buddha that are told on the  beautiful reliefs.

A total of 2,672 bas-relief panels are carved into the stone walls, creating together a length of more than 6 kilometres. It is valued as the most complete and largest ensemble of Buddha reliefs in the world and it shows incredible artistry.
The hills and mountains that surround the Borobudur serve as temple guards of the temple.

Neighbouring villages
The nature of the area is full of palm trees and bright green rice fields, it’s breathtaking.
So the best way to visit the Borobudur is not on a day trip from Jogyakarta but to also visit the beautiful villages that surround the Borobudur and to stay there for a few nights (best in Manohara Hotel, that’s the only hotel on the temple grounds). This way you can also support and visit the people in the neighboring villages, who are are specialized in pottery and stone carving as well as tofu and tempeh making. 

Guide Atik
If you want to visit the Borobudur I suggest you to contact and hire Atik, a strong and independent woman (which unfortunately is very difficult to find nowadays in orthodox muslim dominated Indonesia). She was born next to the Borobudur, writes books and has her own little company called kaleidoscopeofjavatour.com.

All the money she earns goes to her project in helping and educating young people from these neighboring villages, so they can get a proper job instead of begging the tourists to buy the few Borobudur souvenirs they hold in their hands (which is what most of the villagers end up doing). This way they can also support their family and send their children to school.

The most special way to visit the Borobudur is during sunrise.
The daily sunrise tour starts at 4.30am from Manohara hotel, while the usual opening hours of the temple start at 6am.
We wanted to climb up the temple and meditate while the sun rises. Unfortunately it’s not possible at all to enjoy the silence on the Borobudur this early in the morning as everywhere on Java big loudspeakers are blasting the muslim call to prayer, starting in the middle of the night at 4am, forcing everybody to wake up – even at this sacred Buddhist place.

Destruction of Javanese Hindu-Buddhist art
When on Java -and especially coming from Bali- it’s sad to see that there’s hardly anything left of the authentic Javanese Hindu-Buddhist culture and art, as most is destroyed or suppressed by the fundamentalist islam in Indonesia.
If you want to experience (part of the) real Javanese culture that’s still in practice it’s best to go to Bali, where many of the Javanese people fled to the past centuries, because of the islamic suppression.

Inspiration from the ancient stone reliefs

The Borobudur reliefs inspired me to make detailed drawings of them:

Stone relief of a flying Goddess
One of the gorgeous reliefs of the Borobudur.
It has a lot of detail -which is very hard to accomplish in the hard stones, and with the materials they had in the 8th Century. It shows a lot of delicacy, dedication and love for the subject, a goddess flying and dancing in the air.
Carmen’s drawing of it
Because I fell in love with these ancient stone reliefs, I started drawing some of them in detail, and gave a weekend course on drawing Flying Mystics in May 2015 in the Netherlands.