Exploring ancient Kadaram

3 Comments

There’ll be few updates this week as a leave for Malaysia this evening to visit my MA supervisor as well as make a side trip to Kedah – what used to be called Kadaram or Kataha in ancient times – to take a look at the Bujang Valley.

Of course, I’ll post about it when I return! In the meantime, Wednesday Rojak will be up as scheduled on, of course, Wednesday, and then look forward to Angkor-themed wallpapers that you can download for free on Friday!

Update:
You can see my Bujang Valley posts at
An archaeological region older than Angkor Wat
Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum

Heritage tourism potential in north Malaysia?

No Comments

25 July 2007 (The Edge Daily) – An editorial feature discussing the tourism potential of northern Malaysia in the light of Visit Malaysia Year 2007. It mentions specifically two locations of archaeological interest: the Bujang Valley at Kedah, which was an Indian outpost under the Chola empire in the 11th century, and the Lenggong Archaeological Museum, home of the Perak Man. You can read more about the Perak Man on this site here (exhibition at the Muzium Negara) and here (podcast).

Reinventing and boosting tourism in the northern region

Malaysia will be turning 50 soon with Merdeka Day just around the corner. In celebration of our nation’s five decades of independence, 2007 has been declared as Visit Malaysia Year in a bid to promote Malaysia as a holiday destination of choice.

While the country has a myriad of historical sites and recreational spots that could potentially become major tourist attractions, access to funds for maintenance and conservation has not been sufficient in previous years leading to neglect and poor visitor volume.

Many of the lesser-known sites are difficult to access without proper signboards and they have not been promoted properly, hence most of the visitors to these sites are domestic tourists with lower spending power.

This is disappointing as there are a number of heritage sites in the NCER that meet the listing criteria like the 5th century Lembah Bujang kingdom in Kedah, Suffolk House and Dr Sun Yat Sen’s base in Penang which has not been nominated for consideration.

Sabah and Sarawak have always been the ecotourism hotspots in the country but the NCER has its own off-the-beaten-path treasures. Caving enthusiasts will be able to enjoy walking through the 370-metre Gua Kelam limestone caves in Perlis, while white-water rafting and treetop walking are available at Sungai Sedim in Kedah.

On the other hand, it is little known that Perak has in fact been in existence since the prehistoric age. The discovery of the 11,000-year-old Perak Man in Lenggong Valley in 1991 is still one of the country’s most significant prehistoric find and yet the archaeology museum in the area has fallen into disrepair.

Because of the lack of funds from the poor visitor volume, these potential tourist sites are badly maintained and difficult to find. This has been pointed out by a good number of international visitors who have posted comments of their visit to Malaysia on the Internet.

Read more about tourism potential in Malaysia’ northern corridor.

For more information about the Bujang Valley and the Perak Man, you might want to read:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Monuments of India and the Indianized States: The Plans of Major and Notable Temples, Tombs, Palaces and Pavilions, South-East Asia by F. W. Bunce
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)
Cultural Sites of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia by J. Dumarcay and M. Smithies

Srivijaya: A primer – Part 2

6 Comments

In the first part of Srivijaya: A primer, we learnt about the empire’s role in controlling trade between China and India and as a Buddhist centre of learning. In this segment we learn about the fall of this once-great maritime kingdom.

In the 11th century, the south Indian Tamil kingdom of Chola launched an attack on Srivijaya, systematically plundering the Srivijayan ports along the Straits of Malacca, and even captured the Srivijayan king in Palembang. The reasons for this change in relations between Srivijaya and the Cholas are unknown, although it is theorised that plunder made up an essential part of the Chola political economy. While it seemed that the Cholas only intended to plunder Srivijaya, they left a lasting presence on Kataha, the remains of which are still visible at the Bujang Valley archaeological museum.

The successful sack and plunder of Srivijaya had left it in a severely weakened state that marked the beginning of the end of Srivijaya. Having lost its wealth and prestige from the Chola attack, the port cities of the region started to initiate direct trade with China, shrugging off the exclusive influence Srivijaya once held over them. Towards the end of Srivijaya’s influence, the power centre of Srivijaya began to oscillate between Palembang and neighbouring Jambi, further fragmenting the once-great empire. Other factors included Javanese invasion westwards toward Sumatra in 1275, invading the Malayu kingdoms. Later towards the end of the 13th century, the Thai polities from the north came down the peninsula and conquered the last of the Srivijayan vassals.

Despite its influence and reach, Srivijaya flew very quickly into obscurity, and it was not until the last 90 years that the kingdom’s history was rediscovered, mainly through epigraphical sources. Palembang, determined as the centre of power for Srivijaya poses a special problem for archaeologists, for if the modern settlement followed the ancient settlement pattern, ancient Palembang would have been built over shallow water and any archaeological remains would be buried deep in the mud. As the 19th-century naturalist Alfred Wallace described it, Palembang is a populous city several miles long but only one house wide!

By way of a quick epilogue, the story of Srivijaya ends where the story of the Malacca Sultanate begins. The Sejarah Melayu, or Malay Annals, begins with a story about Raja Chulan – perhaps an allusion to the king (Raja) of the Cholas, whose sack of Srivijaya led to its ultimate downfall. The annals go on to relate the appearance of three princes at Bukit Seguntang in Palembang, one of whom eventually founds a city of Singapura in Temasek before establishing Malacca further north…

Books about Srivijaya (and also the books I referred to):
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds) contains chapters on the classical cultures of Indonesia and the archaeology of the early maritime polities of Southeast Asia.
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed) has several chapters on Srivijaya.
Sriwijaya: History, religion & language of an early Malay polity by G. Coedès and L. Damais

Srivijaya: A primer – Part 1

6 Comments

Victorious is the king of Srivijaya, whose Sri has its seat warmed by the rays emanating from neighbouring kings, and which was diligently created by Brahma, as if this God has in view only the duration of the famous Dharma.

– The Wiang Sa Inscription (Thai Peninsula) dated 775 AD.

With a reach spanning from Sumatra and Java to as far north as the Thai peninsula and a reign of some 600 years, it’s remarkable that what is now known as the Srivijaya empire was only unearthed relatively recently. The first hint of a Sumatran-based polity was first alluded to by the eminent French scholar George Coedes 1918, based on inscriptions found in Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. In this primer, we’ll talk about the Srivijayan empire, the extent of its influence and its eventual fall.

The kingdom of Srivijaya, a name which translates to “shining victory”, was a Malay polity centred in Palembang in south Sumatra. At its height, its area of influence included neighbouring Jambi, to the north the kingdoms of the Malay Peninsula: Chitu, Pan-pan, Langkasuka and Kataha, as well as eastwards in Java, where links with the Sailendra dynasty and Srivijaya are implied. The same Sailendra dynasty was responsible for the construction of the massive Buddhist stupa of Borobudur between 780 and 825 AD.

Indeed, Srivijaya was considered to be one of the major centres of learning for the Buddhist world. In the 7th century, Yijing, a Buddhist monk who travelled between China and India to copy sacred texts mentioned the high quality of Sanskrit education in Palembang, and recommended that anyone who wanted to go to the university at Nalanda (north India) should stay in Palembang for a year or two to learn “how to behave properly”. Srivijaya’s prominent role in the Buddhist world can be found in several inscriptions around Asia: an inscription in Nalanda dated 850-860 AD described how a temple was built in Nalanda at the request of a king of Srivijaya. In the 11th century, a temple in Guangzhou in China received a donation from Srivijaya to help with the upkeep. The Wiang Sa inscription quoted above recounts how a Srivijayan king ordered the construction of three stupas in Chaiya, also in the Thai peninsula.

The Srivijayan empire controlled the important Strait of Melaka (Malacca) which facilitated trade between China and India. With its naval power, the empire managed to suppress piracy along the Malacca strait, making Srivjayan entrepots the port of choice for traders. Despite its apparent hegemony, the empire did not destroy the other non-Srivijayan competitors but used them as secondary sources of maritime trade. Srivijaya’s wide influence in the region was a mixture of diplomacy and conquest, but ultimately operated like a federation of port-city kingdoms. Besides the southern centre of power in Palembang, Arab, Chinese and Indian sources also imply that Srivijaya had a northern power centre, most probably Kataha, what is now known as Kedah on the western side of the Malay peninsula.

Kedah is now known for remains of Indian architecture at the Bujang Valley. This was due to the invasion by the Chola kingdom from South India – an invasion which ultimately led to the fall of Srivijaya. How did this happen? Look out for part 2 of Srivijaya: A primer.

Books about Srivijaya (and also the books I referred to):
Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History by P. S. Bellwood and I. Glover (Eds) contains chapters on the classical cultures of Indonesia and the archaeology of the early maritime polities of Southeast Asia.
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed) has several chapters on Srivijaya.
Sriwijaya: History, religion & language of an early Malay polity by G. Coedès and L. Damais

Corruption of our history books

1 Comment

30 March 2007 (Lim Kit Siang’s blog) – Lim Kiat Siang is a leading opposition figure in Malaysian politics. In this post, he features a write-up on how knowledge of Malaysia’s history is only limited to the founding of the Melaka Sultanate in the 1400s – thus ignoring the rich Hindu-Buddhist influences of the time preceding that, as evidenced by clay moulds to form Buddhist stupas and Hindu architecture in Kedah. Note: the term ‘Savarnadvipa’ might possibly refer to the regions of Burma or Sumatra or Java.

Corruption of our history books

In very recent times, the starting date for the study of Malaysian history in the schools has been conveniently fixed around 1400 C.E. It probably coincides with the founding of the Sultanate of Malacca by Parameswara.

Today, Malaysian school children only learn a little bit about the early Proto Malays and then are conveniently taken on a historical quantum leap to the founding of Malacca.

Early Indian works speak of a fantastically wealthy place called Savarnadvipa, which meant “land of gold”. This mystical place was said to lie far away, and legend holds that this was probably the most valid reason why the first Indians ventured across the Bay of Bengal and arrived in Kedah around 100 B.C.

Apart from trade, the early Indians brought a pervasive culture, with Hinduism and Buddhism sweeping through the Indo-Chinese and Malay archipelago lands bringing temples and Indian cultural traditions. The local chiefs began to refer to themselves as “rajahs” and also integrated what they considered the best of Indian governmental traditions with the existing structure.

I learnt Malayan history in the 1950s and taught it in the 1960s and 1970s in secondary schools. All the history textbooks at the time had the early Indian connection specifically mentioned in them. Teachers of that period taught about the early Indianised kingdoms of Langkasuka, Sri Vijaya and Majapahit that existed from as early as 100 C.E.

Anyone can see that Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, has a clearly give-away name that points to the Indian/Hindu influence. No one can deny this, and all our children need to know about this. They have the fundamental right to learn about this aspect of our history too.


Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology (New Directions in Archaeology) by P. L. Kohl, C. Fawcett (Eds)
The Politics of Archaeology and Identity in a Global Context (Aia Colloquia and Conference Papers) by S. Kane

Kedah’s tourism treasure trove

No Comments

16 June 2006 (New Straits Times) – Bujang Valley in Kedah, Malaysia to be slated for tourism redevelopment, based on its rich heritage value. Thanks to Liz for this link.

Kedah’s tourism treasure trove

Lembah Bujang, home to one of the country’s oldest and richest archaeological sites, is poised to become the latest gem in the State’s tourism treasure trove.

Realising its potential as a major tourist attraction, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid has invited local archaeologists and historians to help design a blueprint for the development of Lembah Bujang. He said the first meeting on this would be held next week.

Ancient landfall

No Comments

4 June 2006 (The Hindu) – A feature story on the archaeology of the Bujang Valley in Malaysia and connections with the South Indian Pallava dynasty.

Ancient landfall

On a trip to Malaysia, we drove into the green Bujang Valley in Kedah, the oldest State in Malaysia. And we learnt that it is recognised as the oldest State because foreign sailors set up an ancient trading settlement there in the Fifth Century A.D. These “foreign sailors” were Tamils, subjects of the Pallavas. But the Bujang Valley had been mentioned in a Tamil poem, “Pattanopolai”, as far back as the Second or Third Century A.D. There, the Bujang Valley is called Kalagan, which philologists claim eventually gave rise to the modern-day Kedah.

All this, and much more, is given in great detail in the well-appointed Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum at Bukit Batu Pahat. The Museum, in thick rain forests, is backed by the Kedah Peak, now known as Gunung Jerai and towering to a height of 2,100 metres above the flat hinterland plains of the Straits of Malacca. According to historian Dato James F. Augustin: “Pallava traders from India’s Coromandel Coast began to explore the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal in search of spices, sandalwood, ivory, gold and tin.”


Related Books:
Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXVIII, Pt. 1
Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic society, Vol. XLIII, Part 1
Early History (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia) by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (Ed)

Cultural and historical treasure trove

1 Comment

3 May 2006 (The Star) – Merbok, Kedah preparing for development as a cultural heritage and eco-tourism centre.

Cultural and historical treasure trove

MERBOK in Kedah with the largest mangrove forest in the country and a river that flows into the Straits of Malacca is a centre of ecological treasure…

Bujang Valley containing ruins of Hindu and Buddhist temples in Merbok lends a historical importance.

It used to be an important trading centre centuries ago.

Related Books
Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. XXVIII, Pt. 1
Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic society, Vol. XLIII, Part 1