The Life of the Buddha at Borobudur on Photo Dharma

In 2009 I was on a Malaysian Visit Pass and needed to leave the country in order to renew my visa. Rather than go somewhere and just hang out for a few days or weeks and then re-enter, I had a look at where nearby would be interesting to go.

I had always wanted to see Borobudur in Java, and now there was an opportunity. I spoke to my good friend and supporter Leslie Shaw and we agreed on the trip.

While looking for information to make the trip more meaningful I came across a book of photographs of the site.

It cost something like USD 175 in those days (nearer USD 300 now), which was clearly out of my range, and also obviously out of the range of most people in Java or SE Asia too.

I decided to photograph the site and publish the photos for free. That, in reality, was the beginning of my Photo Dharma website.

Borobudur was the first large-scale project I worked on, and it was therefore a learning exercise. I went back again in June that year, with Colin Low, and we covered some more areas I had missed first time round.

All-in all from those two trips I published 1,200 photographs of the Borobudur site itself, and 1,600 from Java in all.

Later I traveled all over SE Asia photographing other sites, and building up Photo Dharma to what it is today, with nearly 8,000 high-definition photographs published in 170 albums from six different countries.

Of course I have learned a lot about photography as I went along, and also improved my equipment too. So this year I determined to return to Java once again, and improve on some important sections from Borobudur, and get some new material also.

The first of these has just been published on Photo Dharma, which is a new set of photographs of The Life of the Buddha from the 1st level at the monument. There is a decided improvement in the quality of the new photographs, but for now at least I have left the original set from 2009 on the site also.

The sculptures follow quite closely the story as told in Lalitavistara, with a few panels near the end inspired by the Mahāvastu story.

Eventually I am thinking of making translations from the texts to add to the photographs, but for the moment the outline is there and all the scenes are identified.

Besides photographing the whole of each of the 120 panels, I also took numerous close up photographs of various characters and scenes on the panels, and these are linked to via mapping on the main panel photo.

Altogether there are more than 350 photographs of this one sequence of panels, but they are divided into five groups depicting the Conception, Birth and Youth, Renunciation, Striving and Awakening to make viewing easier.

My purpose with the site from the beginning has been not only to make these great Buddhist works better known and available, but also to provide freely available photographs for people to make other works with at no extra cost.

I hope you will enjoy the photographs and also feel free to pass on to others and make use of them in whatever way will be useful.


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