Vesak 2556 and Pilgrimage

For every devoted and pious persons, religious pilgrimage is one step that help to measure one’s commitment in faith. As a muslim, I have been longing to visit Ka’bah for its historical, religiousity and, most importantly, to fulfill the fifth commandment in Islam that is performing haj. However, this is not the story of me making the pilgrimage in Mecca and Medina though hopefully it will happen in the near future. The following is about the pilgrimage of Buddhists in Borobudur temple in Magelang, Central Java.

Since I have been living in Yogyakarta (40 minutes southeast of Magelang) in the past five years, visiting Borobudur Temple is nothing special to me. But this year, there is growing impulse to visit the world’s largest Buddhist temple during the ceremony of Vesak. The reason is probably simple. One, I want to feel the ambience of Borobudur during its most special day. Two, the publication about people coming to enjoy the process of meditation and releasing the lampions onto the Borobudur sky is a tempting beauty for amateur and professional photographers.

For those who don’t know what Vesak is, this is some useful information you can get in wikipedia:

Vesak is a holy day observed traditionally by Buddhists in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the South East Asian countries of Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, and Indonesia. The exact date of Vesākha varies according to the various lunar calendars used in different traditions. In Theravada countries following the Buddhist calendar, it falls on a full moon Uposatha day, typically in the 5th or 6th lunar month. Vesākha Day in China is on the eighth of the fourth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The date varies from year to year in the Western Gregorian calendar, but usually falls in April or May. In leap years Vesākha is celebrated in June.

In the past years, I have always been in the sideline of such celebaration for quite a simple reason: avoiding the en masse crowd. But it seems that deciding to go is worth the sacrifice.

The journey started with friends waiting for each other to experience the event together. As history recorded, we always end up fall several hours behind the plan though it seem not to be an issue when you travel with your buddies.

As we may have failed predicted, the main path we usually take to go to Borobudur is closed. The first road block is just outside of Mendut Temple. Alternatively, we were turning right into smaller roads hoping we are not lost. If we do lost, “At least we lost together!” said Andrew.

Thus, the small convoy of four Japanese-brand motorbikes infiltrating the paddyfield often adorn the side of the village roads.

After several minutes of increasing doubt whether we were in the right path and the need of a comrade to stop for gas, we did stop at smal kiosk distributing gasoline in 1-2 liter containers. Contributing to his daily earnings has added the happiness of the merchant in showing us the direction to the main road despite the fact that if we stop just for direction, he might still help.

Few minutes jammed in the crowded market traffic alongside horsecart, we ventured the road entering Magelang Regency in Mungkid town near Borobudur.

Just before we made it to the second road block—it’s actually bottleneck-ing—the group split into three. The first one, one Suxxxx Shogun and Hoxxx Supra belong to Andrew, Dedek, Monica and Nina who already penetrating the massive crowd. The second was the USIPP (US Indonesia Partnership Program for Study Aborad Capacity) group consist of alumnae, Fira, and 2012 participant, Cindhi, who previously separated from the convoy due to their sense of direction. The last one is not a group. It’s me who was trying to make sure that we’re in a group but turned out to be the lone wolf and the actual missing person but with, thankfully, good sense of direction.

As Robert Frost once said “take the road less traveled”, I made the u-turn to the other alternative road to reach Borobudur from the north and become the last to join the group after few stops earlier.

We decided it was time to feed our belly after the ride and rest before entering the site with, perhaps, thousands of others.


One interesting trait of Vesak at Borobudur is it’s multi-purposes.  For the believers, it’s their sacred pilgrimage to pray to Buddha in the magnanimous stage for conveying their prayers. For the people nearby, Vesak is all about free medical services provided by several Buddhist communities involved with partnership with others like Pabelan Pesantren. For the merchant, it’s the day of the year with promising return of benefits. For tourists, it’s the experience beyond “average” especially about the luminous lampions enlightening the dark night sky above the temple which is also what the photographers were after.

When the general picture was taken, the event is what an interfaith event is all about. Despite their differ religious background and purpose of visit, people were pouring in the site as rain poured as well during that afternoon.

Consequently, what makes the Vesak, or Waisak in Indonesian, as grandois as it is, is the multicafeted and cross-cultural dimension of the event which is open for everybody as long as you pay the entrance fee at the gate.

For those with various appoinments as our group reflected, grasping the ambience was enough though we are looking forward to the luminous sky. Those whose sole purpose was to light the lampion in the evening, waiting in drizzling rains was not an obsruction at all. As it turned out, the supermoon watched how bright Borobudur sky yesterday night as thousand of lampions were lit and released to the sky using the same physics principle as the helium balloon.

For others who went through the rain in one hour traffic back to Yogyakarta, a warm chocolate and the Big Bang theory series were enough to seal the day. (HPY)


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