(2nd century CE – 1136)
Also known as Kadaram and Kataha Nagara by ancient Indians, Kedah is highly regarded as the birthplace of Malay civilization.
Kedahan Malay is one of the largest Malay sub ethnic group and they are among the earliest settlers in Malay Peninsular. This group comprised at least 15% of the total ethnic Malay population in the world inhabiting the Kedah valley that covered the modern day Satun province of Thailand, Taninthayi division of Myanmar and the three northern states of Malaysia (Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang), with at least an area of 25,908 km square.
The historical past of Kedah civilization and its royalty is gradually being unveiled in the Lembah Bujang (Bujang Valley) where the remains of ancient shrines bear testimony to the importance of Hindu and Buddhist cultures in the past. Bujang Valley which sometimes referred to as the Ancient Wonder of Kedah, is a rich historical site covering an area of about 400 Km2 in the Merbok basin, bounded by Bukit Coras (Choras Hill) and Gunung Jerai (Mount Jerai). To the west is the Malacca (Melaka) Strait and south is the Sungai Muda (Muda River).
Candi Bukit Batu Pahat, Lembah Bujang
Artefacts and relics found at various sites in Bujang valley, dating back to the 4th century, includes pottery shards, stone statues of Hindu icons, inscribed stone tablets, metal tools, Song and Ming Dynasties ceramic wares, ornaments, beads and semi precious stones.
Among the artefacts found are fragments of a Sanskrit inscription of the 4th century A.D. written in the oldest Pallava alphabet as well as a slab found in the estuary of the Muda River bearing a Sanskrit prayer in 5th century Pallava script for the success of a voyage about to be undertaken by a sailing-master (mahdndvika), indicating the estuary was a home port for Indian traders during the 5th century A.D. Later excavations in the Bujang valley uncovered candis (temples), various sanctuaries, palace halls of audience, stupas, forts, as well as a number of other unidentified buildings.
Unlike temples found in Java and Sumatra, Kedahan temples were constructed with less masonry. Most structures are believed to be of wooden pillars, thus the remains found here are mainly foundations of the candi structures. Physical evidence of Hinduism and Buddhism were also partly destroyed in the 12th century CE when the last Hindu king of Kedah converted to Islam.
A Bas-relief discovered in Bujang Valley
Ancient traders, who plied the East-West trade route, used Kedah as a stopover point while waiting for the monsoon winds. The traders used mount Jerai, Kedah's highest peak, as a navigational point to guide them into Kuala Muda, which was Kedah's famous trading port at that time. The settlement, at first a mere village, had grew to become a collection point for the forest products of surrounding hinterland, aided also by its strategic location at the western end of a trans-peninsular route to the east. By the 5th century Buddhism had established itself, thus giving Indian merchants the attractions of commerce with a familiar cultural environment.
During the ensuing three centuries, the cultural ties between this settlement and India were strengthened, but fashions changed and Buddhism was superseded very largely by Hindu Saivism. Now the merchant landed on the northern shore of the Merbok estuary and looked northwards towards mount Jerai - doubtless an added attraction to devotees of the linga cult. Built on foundations of rounded boulders from the upper reaches of the Bujang valley, their shrines were oriented so that their entrances faced the east in the fashion of South Indian linga shrines.
In the later 8th and 9th centuries, the pendulum of religious orthodoxy swung back and Buddhist Mahiyinist shrines emerged. In this period, too, it seems that commercial contacts were established with China, for Tang Dynasty porcelain is encountered in the excavations. In about the tenth century, a new settlement develops further south on the Muda River. Various Chinese and Arab artefacts found on the Merbok and Muda estuaries indicate that both these settlements continued their trade well into the period of the coming of Islam into the region.
According to AI-Tarikh Salasilah Negeri Kedah (written in 1928), Kedah was founded by Maharaja Durbaraja of Gemeron, Persia, around 630 A.D. However, earlier accounts like Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (Malay oral traditions recorded in stages between the late 17th to 18th centuries) and the 2nd century Tamil poem Pattinapalai , push Kedah history further into antiquity.
According to Kedah Annals, Langkasuka was founded at Kedah, before it was shifted to Patani
· Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa claims that Kedah and Langkasuka (2nd – 14th century) were founded by Raja Merong Mahawangsa.
· Pattinapalai describes goods from Kadaram heaped in the broad streets of the Chola capital.
· A 7th century Sanskrit drama, Kaumudhimahotsva, refers to Kedah as Kataha-nagari.
· The Agnipurana (between 8th and the 11th centuries) also mentions a territory known as Anda-Kataha with one of its boundaries delineated by a peak, which scholars believe is mount Jerai.
· Stories from the Katasaritasagaram (11th century collection of Indian legends, fairy tales and folk tales as retold by a Saivite Brahmin named Somadeva.) describe the elegance of life in Kataha.
· The Samaraiccakaha written about the middle of the 8th century, relating voyages to Kataha-Dvipa.
· Stories from the Kathasaritsagara described the elegance of life in Kataha, calling it the ‘the seat of all felicities’.
Although Kedah is believed to have evolved earlier than Srivijaya Empire (centred at Palembang), it came under the influence of the Malay Empire in the 7th century. In 685, the Chinese pilgrim Yiqing reported that Kedah had "become Srivijaya", which suggests that Srivijaya conquered Kedah. At the same time, other Chinese accounts referred to Srivijaya as a "double kingdom" with a capital in the north (identified as Kedah) and a capital in the south (Palembang). Local legend also stated that after the death of Maharaja Sri Jayanaga around 692 A.D, during an expedition in Java, Srivijaya seems to have been divided into two states. The eldest son, Maharaja Dipang ruled over Amdan Negara, that is, the Malay Isthmus. The second son, Maharaja Dhiraja, ruled the islands (Sumatera and other islands of the Malay Archipelago), based at Palembang. It was during this period, Kedah attained its height of greatness as the seat of power for the Srivijaya Empire. It was clearly the chief power on the peninsular and in many ways surpassed Palembang in terms of trade and its strategic links with India and the rest of the region.
Kedah fortunes, however, began to wane after the great raid of Rajendra Chola on the Srivijaya Empire in 1025 AD. Kedah was a primary military objective and despite what Cholas described as the “fierce strength” of the defenders, it fell to the raiders and its king losed a “large heap of treasures” to the conquerors. Kedah later tried to assert its independence from Srivijaya Empire and another Chola King Vira Rajendra, raided Kedah in 1068 AD to aid its king.
Precisely when this decline set in is difficult to say but it may well date from the great raid of Rajendra 1, when Kedah, as one of the twin foci of the empire, was selected as a major objective. Srivijaya apparently recovered from this reverse after a few years, but Kedah never seems to have recovered its lost prestige.
(Paul Wheatley, Historian)
The description of this great raid of Rajendra I, is well preserved in an inscription on the south wall of the Rajarajesvara temple in Tanjore:
“Rajandra despatched many ships in the midst of the rolling sea and caught Sangrama - Vijayottungavarman, the king of Kadaram (Kedah). Together with the elephants in his glorious army, he took the large heap of treasures which that king had accumulated and captured the arch called Vidyadharatorana at the war-gate of his extensive capital; Sri Vijaya (Palembang) with the jewelled wicket-gate adorned with great splendour and the gate of large jewels; Pannai (the east coast of Sumatra) with water in its bathing ghats; the ancient Malaiyur (Jambi) with the strong mountain for its rampart; Mayirudingam (on the Isthmus of Kra), surrounded by the deep sea as by a moat; Ilangasoka (Langkasuka/Patani), undaunted in fierce battles; Mappappalam having abundant deep water as a defence; Mevilimbangam guarded by beautiful walls; Valaippanduru, possessed of cultivated land and jungle; Talaittakkolam (Trang), praised by great men versed in the sciences; Madamalingam (Ligor), capable of strong action in dangerous battles; Ilamuri-desam (northern Sumatra), whose fierce strength rose in war; the great Nakkavaram (Nicobar islands) ...; and Kadaram of fierce strength, which was protected by the deep sea."
Mural depiction of the siege of Kedah, fought between Beemasenan's Chola naval infantry and the defenders of Kedah fort.
The Hindu kingdom of Kedah was succeeded by Kedah Sultanate when the last Hindu king, Phra Ong Mahawangsa renounced Hinduism and converted to Islam in 1136, nearly a century after the great raid of Chola Empire. The Kedah royal dynasty continues to rule until today, making it the world’s second oldest continuous line of monarchy after Japan.
Below are some rulers of Kedah which were mentioned in 2 most important text of Kedah’s history.
Al-Tarikh Salasilah Negeri Kedah.
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Durbaraja – A fleeing Persian prince from Gameron (modern day Bandar Abbas, Iran) that founded the kingdom of Kedah at 630 A.D. He ordered the building of Langkasuka fortress in 634 A.D.
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Diraja Putra
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Mahadewa
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Karnadiraja
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Karma
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Mahadewa
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Dharmaraja I
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Mahajiwa
· Sri Paduka Maharaja Durbaraja II – Renounced Hinduism and converted to Islam in 1136, changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Syah after conversion.
Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.
· Raja Merong Mahawangsa – First Raja of Kedah and founder of Langkasuka.
· Raja Merong Mahapudisat
· Raja Seri Mahawangsa
· Raja Seri Maha Inderawangsa
· Raja Ong Maha Perita Deria – Also known as “The King with fangs” (Raja Bersiong)
· Raja Phra Ong Mahaputisat
· Raja Phra Ong Mahawangsa - Renounced Hinduism and converted to Islam in 1136, changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Syah after conversion.
**Thanks to Mr. Ong Kiat Hoe for his great photos of Lembah Bujang.
**Thanks also to Mr. Sabrizain (www.sabrizain.org/malaya) for his great writings on the history of Malay peninsular that became a very wonderful source of information for this article.