Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Sailendra Dynasty, the temple's design in Gupta architecture reflects India's influence on the region. It also depicts the gupta style from India and shows influence of Buddhism as well as Hinduism. The monument is both a shrine to the Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument and follows a path around the monument and ascends to the top through three levels symbolic of Buddhist cosmology: Kāmadhātu (the world of desire), Rupadhatu (the world of forms) and Arupadhatu (the world of formlessness). The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors with 1,460 narrative relief panels on the walls and the balustrades.
According to the 2000 national census, roughly 0.8% of the total citizens of Indonesia were Buddhists and numbered around 1.7 million. Most Buddhists are concentrated in Jakarta, although other provinces such as Riau, North Sumatra and West Kalimantan also have a significant number of practitioners. However, these totals are likely high, because practitioners of Confucianism and Taoism, which are not considered official religions of Indonesia, referred to themselves as Buddhists on the census. Today, most Buddhists in Indonesia are Chinese, however small numbers of native (such as Javanese) Buddhists are also present.