Semarang, the capital of Central Java was one of the busiest ports in Java’s northern coast during colonial era. Many Chinese immigrants came to settle in this city. Today, Semarang has biggest Chinese population in Indonesia after Surabaya city in East Java. Chinese community built numerous places of worship, from small shrines scattered throughout the densely populated area to grand pagodas such as Cheng Ho Monument and Avalokitesvara.
Where is it?
Pagoda Avalokitesvara stands on a hill around two kilometers from downtown Semarang. You can take an hour flight from Jakarta and continue the journey to the Buddhagaya Watugong compound where the Pagoda is located using taxi or chartered vehicle.
Road to the Pagoda. Image from author.
The main entrance. Image from author.
Pagoda’s front view. Image from author.
It is believed that hundreds of years ago, Kyai Pandanaran, the founder of Semarang city, meditated on this considered-sacred hill. In 1957, Joyo Suprapto, a Buddhist monk from Ambarawa, a small city near Semarang, meditated on the same spot. During his meditation, he had a vision that a place of worship should be built on the hill. A small Vihara, was then erected in 1965.
In 2005, there was a need to build bigger worship place to unify all Buddhist sects in Indonesia. Thus the Vihara was renovated and became Pagoda Avalokitesvara.
Architecture & Philosophy
Soaring almost 50m above the ground on a 2,25 ha land, Pagoda Avalokitesvara with its saddle-shaped roof is hard to miss, particularly at night when it is fully illuminated. As one of biggest pagodas in South East Asia and the tallest in Indonesia, Avalokitesvara also act as the centre of Buddhism education.
Another shot of the Pagoda. Image from author.
Avalokitesvara was also built to honor Kwan Im, the goddess of mercy, the most respected Goddess for the Chinese. The pagoda’s other name is Metakaruna. Meta means love and karuna means kindness. Thus, it is a pagoda of loving kindness.
The pagoda has seven levels as seven is believed to be the highest level of holiness that can be attained by human. On each level, there are four statues of Goddess Kwan Im facing four different directions: west, east, north and south. It is so that the Goddess can always spread love in all directions and maintains peace among the residents of Semarang. The biggest Kwan Im statue is the one placed in front of the pagoda, facing Semarang city.
Biggest Kwan Im Statue in the compound facing Semarang City. Image from author.
Buddha statue under the tree. Image from author.
On first level, the statues are not identical. One statue carries lotus flower. Those who wish for a life partner can pray in front of this statue. Another statue carries a baby girl and another one, a baby boy. These are for those who wish to have baby girl or boy. The last statue is for those wishing to have long life.
Entering this octagonal building, visitors can find dragon ornaments almost everywhere, on the staircase, as lamps decoration, on the roof, in the fountain, etc. Besides dragon, there are several statues of phoenix and lion-liked animals.
Entrance to the main chamber. Image from author.
Staircase to the main chamber. Image from author
Dragon-ornamented pillar. Image from author.
The roof is dominated with red colour. Image from author.
The Door. Pictures of imaginary animals from Chinese mythology are drawn on the lower part of the door. Image from author.
In the main chamber, stands a giant Buddha statue. Surrounding the chamber are numerous statues of Chinese Gods and Goddesses of lesser important such as the statue of Commander We Do, the guardian of the pagoda and the protector of the people.
A giant Buddha Statue in the main chamber. Image from author.
There are at least four Buddhist holy celebrations held in this pagoda every year along with several Chinese festivities.
The first Buddhist holy ceremony is Maghapuja, which is observed in March where thousand of Monks will pray to Buddha. The second is the Vaisak, the birthday of Buddha, which is held in May’s full moon. The third is Ashada, held in July; this is the day when Buddha first taught his five disciples. The fourth ceremony is the Khatina, which is observed in October. This is the month when the monks live, perform meditation and study Buddhist teaching in the temple.
One of many pavillions in the compound where the monk carried out their activities. Image from author.
Chinese festivities held in the pagoda according to Chinese lunar calendar are: the birthday of Goddess of Mercy, the day when she achieved enlightenment and the day when she went to nirvana which are observe every 19th of the second, sixth and ninth month.