Borobudur Temple Monuments dating back to the ancient period of Indonesian history are commonly called chandi, irrespective of what they were originally meant for. They thus include not only temple buildings, but such things as gates and bathing-places. In the case of most chandis the original name is not known. Often people of nearby villages do not even know of their existence. Much of this cultural heritage had to be rediscovered. No wonder that chandis are simply called after the nearest village. A few, however, have preserved their names; in such cases the village is named after the chandi.
It is very difficult to find out whether Chandi Borobudur is called after the village of the other way about. In Javanese chronicles of the eighteenth century mention is made of a hill called Borobudur. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles ‘discoverer’ of the monument’ - is said to have been told in 1814 about the existence of a monument called Borobudur in the village of Bumisegoro. Borobudur would therefore seem, in any case, to be the original name. But no ancient document yet found contains this name. An Old Javanese manuscript of 1365 A.D., called Nagarakrtagama and composed by Mpu Prapancha, mentions ‘Budur’ as a Buddhist sanctuary of the Vajradhara sect. It is not impossible that this ‘Budur’ is to be associated with Borobudur, but the lack of any further information makes a definite identification difficult.
A village in the immediate vicinity still bears the name ‘Bore’ - preserving perhaps the first part of the original name of the monument. The compound ‘Boro-Budur’ is hard to explain. To take it as meaning ‘the Budur sanctuary in the village Boro’ would contradict the rules of the Javanese language, which require that the words be the other way round (Budur Boro instead of Boro Budur). Raffles suggested that ‘Budur’ might correspond to the modern Javanese word ‘Buda’ (ancient); Borobudur would thus mean ‘ancient Boro’.
He also put forward another hypothesis: Boro means ‘great’, and Budur stands for ‘Buddha’, i.e. the monument was simply called after The Great Buddha. In fact, ‘boro’ should rather mean ‘honourable’, being derived from the Old Javanese ‘bhara’, an honorific prefix, so that ‘the sanctuary of the honourable Buddha’ would be more correct. However, ‘boro’ may also represent the Old Javanese word ‘bhara’, meaning ‘many’ (cf. the modern Javanese word ‘para’, denoting a plural), so the interpretation of ‘Borobudur’ as the sanctuary of ‘The many Buddhas has an equal claim.
The main objection to the above interpretations is that ‘Ancient Boro’ is not relevant, and ‘The Great Buddha’, ‘The honourable Buddha’ and ‘The many Buddhas’ offer no explanation of the change of ‘Buddha’ into ‘Budur’. Indeed, there is no way to justify it. A more plausible interpretation was proposed by the late Poerbatjaraka. He assumed that the word ‘boro’ stands for ‘biara’, which means ‘monastery’. Borobudur would then mean ‘The monastery of Budur’. Indeed, foundations of a monastery were unearthed during archaeological excavations carried out on the plateau west of the monument in 1952. As the name ‘Budur’ is
mentioned in the Nagarakrtagama, Poerbatjaraka’s interpretation might be right. But if so, how could the monastery stand for the monument in the people’s mind?
All the above explanations are based on interpretations of the composing words ‘Boro’ and ‘Budur’. De Casparis tried tracing both words back to their probabie origin. He pointed out that a name ‘Bhumisam -bharabhudhara’, denoting a sanctuary for ancestor worship, was found on two stone inscriptions dating from 842 A.D. After a thorough analysis of the religious aspects and a detailed reconstruction of the geography of the area in which historical events took place, he concluded that the sanctuary of Bhumisambhlrabhtidhara could not be other than our Borobudur, and that the change to the present name occurred through the normal simplification that takes place in a spoken language.
Although many scholars object to De Casparis’ explanation, no more plausible solution has yet been put forward. Moens suggested that - on the analogy of the South-Indian Bharasiwa, denoting the ardent adherents of the Hindu God Siva - our monument was associated with the ‘Bharabuddha’ or zealous upholders of the Buddha. The name ‘Borobudur’ would then be a contraction of ‘Bharabuddha’ with the Tamil word ur for ‘city’ added on, thus meaning ‘The City of the upholders of the Buddha’. However, ‘Bharabuddha’ is a mere hypothetical reconstruction, with no documentary backing or evidence, and Moens’ theory has not been generally accepted.