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Karmawibangga: The story of Buddha circling the Temple Borobudur in Jawa



Karmawibangga is an intriguing aspect of the Borobudur Buddhist monument in Indonesia. Let me share some fascinating details about it:


Museum Karmawibhangga:

Also known as the Borobudur Museum, it is an archaeology museum situated just a few hundred meters north of the 8th-century Borobudur. The Borobudur is a Buddhist monument dating back to the 8th century CE and is located within the Borobudur Archaeological Park in Magelang Regency, Central Java, Indonesia.


The museum showcases the Karmawibhangga relief, which is intricately carved on the lower walls of the Borobudur. This relief consists of 160 panels and is only partially visible on the southeast side of the monument.


The Karmawibhangga relief vividly portrays human life, behaviour, and interactions with their environment. It delves into both positive and negative actions, emphasizing the consequences of deeds in the cycle of karma. Crimes such as theft, murder, rape, and torture are depicted as immoral actions, leading to suffering in subsequent lives. Conversely, virtuous acts like charity and pilgrimage are rewarded with corresponding merits.


The relief also reveals a terrifying vision of hell, where punishments include dismemberment, burning, and being bound by scorching chains. Additionally, the museum provides insights into the architectural structure of Borobudur and documents the extensive restoration project carried out between 1975 and 1982, with assistance from UNESCO.


Relief Karmawibhangga:

The Karmawibhangga relief is carved into the base of the Borobudur, representing the first realm of human spiritual consciousness according to Buddhist concepts.

This series of reliefs narrates the Mahakarmawibhangga (or simply Karmawibhangga), symbolizing humanity still bound by desires and subject to the law of karma.

Each of the 160 panels doesn’t form a continuous story but rather depicts complete cause-and-effect relationships. While the relief portrays negative actions and their consequences, it also highlights virtuous deeds and harmonious behaviours, such as cooperation, farming, and family unity.

In summary, the Karmawibangga relief at the Borobudur Museum offers a captivating glimpse into the intricate interplay of human actions, karma, and the eternal cycle of existence.


Borobudur, the magnificent Buddhist monument in Indonesia, boasts an extensive collection of intricate relief panels that adorn its walls. Let’s delve into some of the remarkable reliefs found at this awe-inspiring temple:


Narrative Relief Panels:

Borobudur is adorned with a staggering 2,672 relief panels that encircle the monument. These panels can be categorized into two types:


Narrative Panels (1,460): These panels tell captivating stories and depict various scenes. One notable narrative is that of Sudhana and Manohara. Each sculpted scene is a work of extraordinary value.


Decorative Panels (1,212): These panels serve an ornamental purpose and contribute to the temple’s overall artistic beauty.


The narrative panels reveal tales of karma, passion, robbery, murder, torture, and humiliation. However, not all narratives are negative; some also depict the cause and effect of good deeds. Additionally, they provide insights into Javanese society, covering aspects such as religion, livelihood, social structure, fashion, and even flora and fauna.

Ultimately, these panels trace the human life cycle: Birth – Life – Death.


The panels on the temple walls are read from left to right, while those on the balustrade are read from right to left, aligning with the pradaksina ritual performed by pilgrims who move clockwise around the sanctuary while keeping it to their right. The story begins and ends at the eastern side of the gate on each level, emphasizing the importance of ascending from the eastern stairs.


Kamadhatu (Realm of Lust):

Kamadhatu represents a highly populated world still dominated by kama (lust).

It is located at the bottom level of Borobudur but is not fully visible due to additional construction. Some speculate that these structures were added to conceal the potentially obscene content of the reliefs. Visitors interested in viewing these reliefs can explore the Karmawibhangga Museum, which displays pictures of Kamadhatu.


Reliefs Depicting Buddha’s History (Lalitawistara):

A series of beautifully sculpted reliefs narrates the history of Buddha Gautama:

His descent from heaven. Enlightenment under the bodhi tree. First teachings in the city of Banaras.



Bhadracari consists of 460 neatly carved reliefs along the walls and balustrades. These reliefs are scattered across various levels of the temple. They depict the journey of Sudhana, the son of a wealthy merchant, who embarks on a quest for ultimate knowledge or truth.


In summary, Borobudur’s reliefs offer a rich tapestry of stories, cultural insights, and spiritual symbolism, making it a treasure trove of human experience and artistic expression.


Lalitavistara is a Buddhist scripture written in Sanskrit. This text contains the life story and teachings of Lord Buddha Gautama (the founder of Buddhism), starting from his descent from the heavenly realm of Tusita until the moment he delivered his first sermon in Deer Park near Benares. In Sanskrit, Lalitavistara means a detailed narrative of the deeds or ‘lila’ of Lord Buddha Gautama, signifying his divinity. The text portrays events in the life of Lord Buddha Gautama, beginning with his descent from the Tusita heaven in the form of a white elephant and culminating in his attainment of enlightenment and delivery of the first sermon.


Lalitavistara, an elaborate Buddhist scripture written in Sanskrit, beautifully narrates the life and teachings of Lord Buddha Gautama. Let’s embark on this sacred journey:


Descent from Tusita Heaven:

The story begins with the descent of Lord Buddha from the celestial realm of Tusita. He takes the form of a white elephant and enters the womb of Queen Maya.

Queen Maya dreams of a white elephant entering her right side, symbolizing the divine conception.

Birth and Early Life:

Lord Buddha is born in Lumbini, under the Sal Tree, with miraculous signs such as standing and walking immediately after birth. The young prince, named Siddhartha, grows up in luxury and comfort within the palace walls.


The Four Sights: Siddhartha ventures outside the palace and encounters four sights:

Old Age: A feeble old man.

Sickness: A suffering person.

Death: A funeral procession.

Ascetic: A wandering monk seeking enlightenment.


Renunciation and Quest for Truth:

Siddhartha renounces his princely life, leaves the palace, and becomes an ascetic.

He practices severe austerities but realizes that extreme self-mortification does not lead to enlightenment.


The Enlightenment:

Siddhartha sits under the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya and meditates deeply.

On the full moon night of Vesak, he attains supreme enlightenment, becoming the Buddha (the awakened one). He comprehends the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.


First Sermon at Sarnath:

The Buddha travels to Sarnath (near Varanasi). There, he delivers his first sermon to five ascetics, revealing the Middle Way and the path to liberation. This sermon is known as the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Setting the Wheel of Dharma in Motion).


Teachings and Miracles:

The Buddha continues to teach, perform miracles, and gather disciples. His teachings cover compassion, impermanence, non-self, and the cessation of suffering. He performs miracles to inspire faith and understanding.



The Buddha reaches old age and falls ill. He enters Parinirvana (final passing away) in Kushinagar. His last words emphasize the impermanence of all things.


Legacy and Spread of Buddhism:

The Buddha’s teachings are preserved by his disciples. Buddhism spreads across India, Asia, and beyond. Lalitavistara captures these pivotal moments, revealing the profound wisdom and compassion of Lord Buddha.

Reliefs of Borobudur temple


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