Buddhas to be reunited with their heads

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The Federal Republic of Germany has provided a grant of ¤100,000 through UNESCO and the Culture and Elementary and Secondary Education Ministry to finance a project to reattach the heads of 56 Buddha statues at Borobudur temple in Magelang, Central Java.

Buddhas to be reunited with their heads
Stone cold: Researcher Esther Von Plehwe Leisen demonstrates how to measure
 the temperature of a relief carving on Borobudur Temple in Magelang
 Central Java [Credit: JP/Bambang Muryanto]

The project is part of the long-term Borobudur conservation project for third-stage restoration and conservation work and capacity building at the Borobudur temple compound.

“The generous support of the government of Germany over this four-year period has created a critical mass of young heritage professionals in the Borobudur Conservation Office [BCO] who are now better equipped with tools and the latest conservation methods and knowledge to implement best conservation practices at this world heritage site,” UNESCO Jakarta office’s cultural unit head Bernards Allens Zako told the media at Borobudur on Monday.

He explained that the German government had been providing aid for the conservation of Borobudur since 2011.

Zako said this year’s grant amounting to ¤100,000 would be used to train BCO staffers this month in Ayutthaya, Thailand. The money would also be used for scientific research, advanced training and temple conservation led by German experts Hans Leisen and Esther von Plehwe Leisen.

“The German experts in stone conservation will support the development of a methodology for identification through macroscopical and ultrasound techniques, matching through the surveying of fragment forms and modeling of fragments and reattachment of the Buddha heads by using the best conservation methods,” said Zako.

BCO head Marsis Sutopo said there were currently 250 sitting Buddha statues at the temple missing their heads, but the BCO only had 56 statue heads.

“Many Buddha statue heads are still missing after the major restoration of Borobudur in 1973. We are currently trying to restore them to their original condition,” said Marsis.

He added that all the Buddha statue heads had the same facial expression. What differentiates the statues is the position of their hands.

Meanwhile, German expert Leisen said refitting the heads to the original statues would be a challenging task and required thorough research. The necks of the Buddha heads have been leveled so the former cuts do not match those of the bodies.

“It is not easy to work out but we will use technology to make it easier. We will use photography to look at the structure and minerals in the stone and we will use ultrasound testing to gauge the quality and structure of the stone,” said Leisen, who has 20 years of experience in the conservation of the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.

It will take a long time to match all of the Buddha statue heads to their original bodies. Leisen expressed hope that BCO employees would continue the efforts.

PT Taman Wisata Candi Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko director Laily Prihatiningtyas expressed her support for the conservation efforts. She said the temple reliefs were full of moral lessons important for the future.

“The conservation of Borobudur is vital, as it is part of the nation’s pride and can stimulate the local economy,” said Laily.

Author: Bambang Muryanto | Source: The Jakarta Post [November 20, 2014]

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