Candi controversy: Bulldozing 1,000 years of history

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: LEMBAH BUJANG: This is history destroyed in front of our eyes. History destroyed forever, says an emotional Datuk V. Nadarajan, chairman of the Bujang Valley Study Circle non-governmental organisation.

"What they did to Candi 11 is akin to murder," he added, leaving no doubt as to his passion for this cause.

In August, an ancient Hindu temple or candi believed to be more than 1,000 years old, located in Sungai Batu Estate, Lembah Bujang, was demolished by housing developers who claimed not to have known the historical significance of the stone edifice.

"How could they not have known what it was? It was a huge structure, so big that it could not be relocated to the Bujang Valley Archaeology Museum grounds," explained Nadarajan.

Candi 11 was one of the most ancient of the old Kedah kingdom and was amongst 17 registered candi. Registration, however, did not stop it from being levelled.

Somehow, one of the oldest surviving structures in Malaysia, one of our most concrete links to a distant yet tangible past, is now gone.

Candi 11 before it was demolished.
Candi 11 before it was demolished.

The site where the candi stood is now empty land, bulldozers having razed every bit of stone from the area.

In the 1960s and 1970s, 10 candi were reconstructed and some relocated to the museum where they were preserved. Sadly, not all the structures were as well kept.

"Many are gone, thanks to developers," said Nadarajan.

Originally, studies in the 1970s and 1980s located more than 50 candi within 87 archeological sites, but the number is much fewer now and many are unaccounted for.

The way forward must surely be to cordon off the area and prevent further encroachment.

"All these sites must be gazetted by the National Heritage Department with the help of the Kedah state government," said Nadarayan, who urged for the area to be classified as Unesco heritage sites.

An empty piece of land after candi 11 was destroyed.
An empty piece of land after candi 11 was destroyed.

"We must also introduce an archaeological impact assessment (AIA) to protect places which are heritage-sensitive," he added.

Relics excavated from Lembah Bujang date back to the 1st century AD and ranged from objects made of gold, ceramics and statues carved from various stones and irons. All the findings are further proof of the valley being a vast archaeological treasure trove.

Since research is still being conducted, the size of the archeological complex is inconclusive.

General belief is that the compound ranges 200 sq km. Others argue that it spans 400 sq km but Nadarajan believes it to be much bigger.

"From USM's satellite photography, I suspect it may be as large as 1,000 sq km," he claimed.

Prof Mokhtar Saidin from the USM Centre for Global Archaeological Research also spoke out against the demolishment of the 32 x 68 foot (995.7 x 2067.6 cm) candi.

 An artist's impression of trade activities in Lembah Bujang during ancient times. Picture from the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum.
An artist's impression of trade activities in Lembah Bujang during ancient times. Picture from the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum.

"Evidence and archaeological finds of the ninth century are scarce. The candi represent the heritage of ancient Malaya and serve as priceless archaeological structures. It is important that we preserve these vestiges of antiquity, as the candi are some of the few historical remnants that we have left," Prof Mokhtar said.

The Kingdom of Kadaram
Contrary to popular belief, Lembah Bujang was not a valley teeming with bachelors. Rather, the name derives from the Sanskrit "bujangam", meaning serpant or dragon as a nod to the nearby meandering river.

"The kingdom that flourished within the valley was known in its time as 'Kadaram', Sanskrit for iron," said Nadarayan. His statement is substantiated by a recent Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) finding in the area which unearthed ancient furnaces and evidence of iron smelting activities dating back to the fourth century BC.

Due to its strategic location between China and India, Lembah Bujang served merchants from both the east and west, and had an especially strong Indian connection because of its proximity to India.

At first, the population of the time were animistic but later adopted Hindu and Buddhist religions before the advent of Islam to the peninsular.

"In the first century, Indian traders arrived and introduced their culture, way of life and political systems to the native inhabitants of Malaya," said Nadarajan, who said that ancient Lembah Bujang resembled an Indian polity.

A map of archaeological sites near Lembah Bujang.
A map of archaeological sites near Lembah Bujang.

When Hinduism and Buddhism began to grow, monuments of various sizes called candi (named after Candika, a manifestation of the Hindu goddess Durga) were constructed and used for religious rites.

All that can be seen from the preserved candi now are its large stone bases. Unlike the candi in Angkor Wat and Borabodur which are mainly carved out of rock from nearby mountains, the candi in Lembah Bujang were constructed out of mixed material.

Because of a flatter terrain, the stone bases were hewn out of rock from nearby river beds. Wooden columns were then fastened and clay roofs were erected. As the body, columns and roof of the candi wore out in time, the stone bases still remain as they were a thousand years ago before becoming victims of development.

Now a lawyer, Nadarajan, 68, is still pursuing his life-long fascination of Lembah Bujang and is the author of a book on the valley.

He spent 10 years as a secondary school history teacher, and made it a point to educate his students on Lembah Bujang even though the topic was not included within the school syllabus.

When news came to him of the demolishment of Candi 11, Nadarajan reacted by informing authorities, making a police report and calling on the media to highlight the plight.

"Although I am sad that candi 11 is no more, there is a silver lining to be had. People are now aware about the importance of the area. In a way, the demolition of one candi brought about the preservation of all the other candi that are still standing."

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Environment , Lembah Bujang , candi , Kedah


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