Last week, I featured the reconstructed temples (‘candi’) that populate Kedah’s Bujang Valley in Malaysia, an area rich in archaeological finds dating as far back as the 5th century. Today, we’ll explore the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum, which sits at the entrance of the archaeological park.
To be honest, I was a little apprehensive about visiting the museum. I had heard reports that due to the growing influence of Islam in the country, the Bujang Valley Archaeological Archaeological Museum was somewhat muted in mentioning that the port settlement that once resided in Bujang Valley was Buddhist and Hindu (see comments to this post). Fortunately, I can gladly say that there was no such attempt to gloss the past, and the museum was very frank to point out the ancient Buddhist and Hindu influences on the civilisation that once flourished here.
The museum itself showcases the highlights of the finds from the approximately 50 candi that were discovered in the area in surveys held during the 1930s and 1960s. It makes sense to consolidate everything under one roof as the candi are spread out over a wide area; plus the number of small finds like the ones highlighted in this post need a display platform. The museum houses architectural models and blueprints of each candi:
I feel something needs to be said about the reconstructions here, which I left out in my last post. There is some discussion among archaeology theorists about the validity of such attempts at reconstructions, since we have no way of actually verifying the accuracy of such reconstructions. From a lot of the photos that were taken during the excavation of the candi -and you can see them when you visit the museum – you’ll see that many of these candis, when originally found were little more than mounds of collapsed brick.
That’s not to say that the reconstructed models that you see are entirely inaccurate, rather, they need to be looked at with a degree of caution. To the archaeologists’ credit, they’ve made a number a reasonable assumptions, such as basing the structures on Hindu architectural models and kept to just reconstructing the base rather than the entire structure, which was likely to have been made of wood and would not have survived the test of time.
So far, I’ve only mentioned the Hindu influences rather than the Buddhist. While the former is recognisable from the architectural remains, the latter can be seen from the various artefacts that have been excavated from the candi. These two Buddha statues were recovered from Candi Pengkalan Bujang:
I don’t recognise the style of the art. Does anybody have an idea? This bronze Bodhisattva was also associated with the same site:
A number of small artefacts – precious material such as gems, bronze statues and stamped sheets of gold such as these were found in reliquaries that were placed into the foundation of the candi:
This inscription, called the Buddhagupta inscription is one of the older inscriptions found in the region, in nearby Seberang Perai, which is on the mainland side of Penang. Dated to the 5th century, the inscription was made by a ship captain named Buddhagupta in thanksgiving to Buddha for a successful voyage. Buddhagupta hails from a land called Raktamrttika, identified as Rajbadidanga in the Bay of Bengal, hinting the kind of international maritime connection that Bujang Valley must have played in the ancient maritime trade. Also note the stupa image inscribed:
Does this statue look familiar to you? It’s a statue of Ganesha, a popular god in the Hindu pantheon. But he’s a frequent guest on SEAArch – just scroll up! That’s right, Ganesha is the orange tile on this site’s header!
I couldn’t resist including this picture which must have been the archaeological team that excavated the valley in the 1960s – you can tell it’s the 60s from the fashion! We seldom get to see the archaeologists and the crew who did the back-breaking work to unearth these artefacts. This picture, hanging in one of the walls of the museum, doesn’t even carry a caption – but it stands in quiet testimony to these men.
I’ve said it before: the Bujang Valley is one of the most underrated archaeological sites in Malaysia and is well worth the visit. I haven’t even touched on many of the other exhibits in the museum and in the site – it’s worth the half-day trip from Penang, so come over if you have the chance.
The Bujang Valley Archaeological Site is about an hourâ€™s drive away from Penang, which is about four hours away from Kuala Lumpur. To get there, take the North-South Highway and exit via the Sungei Patani (North) turnoff. The GPS coordinates for the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum is 5Â°44â€²15.51â€³N 100Â°24â€²49.68â€³E.
– 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)