Singapore may be 1,000 years old


  • AseanPlus News
  • Monday, 23 Dec 2019

Ancient artefact: Sinclair suggested that the Singapore Stone could have been created at the beginning of the 11th century. — The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE: Singapore is 700 years old – that has been the general consensus up till now and this has even been commemorated in the bicentennial showcase at Fort Canning Centre.

However, a new study dates its history to 300 years before that – that the city is 1,000 years old.

The discovery was made by Australian researcher Iain Sinclair, whose findings feature in a new publication launched this month by the Indian Heritage Centre and the Institute of Policy Studies.

Sinclair, a former visiting fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, has been studying the enigmatic Singapore Stone – a fragment of an ancient sandstone slab – over the past half a year and spoke to The Sunday Times about his milestone research.

He identified the phrase kesariva in the inscriptions on the stone – which he suggests could be a part of the word parakesarivarman – a title used by several kings of the Tamil Chola dynasty in south India, one of the longest-ruling dynasties in world history.

It suggests Tamil connections with the Strait of Singapore as far back as 1,000 years ago, thus redefining the island’s historical timeline.

In looking at the inscription in conjunction with literary and other epigraphic records, Sinclair suggested the stone could have been created at the beginning of the 11th century.

Historians have generally agreed on the 700-year timeline based on the mythologised historical text Sejarah Melayu, which describes Palembang prince Sang Nila Utama’s decision to build a city on the island in 1299.

Chinese records also describe settlements here in the 1330s.

Originally a boulder, the Singapore Stone stood at the mouth of the Singapore River – near the Fullerton Hotel today – for centuries until the British blew it up in 1843 to clear and widen a passage by the river mouth.

What remains today is one of three fragments.

The whereabouts of the other two parts are unknown.

The stone had puzzled scholars, academics and historians, including Sir Stamford Raffles and Dutch linguist Hendrik Kern.

No one could successfully and precisely decipher and identify its inscribed text.

The remnant Singapore Stone now sits in a prime spot at the National Museum of Singapore.

While in poor condition since the 19th century, the inscriptions on it are clearly recognisable as Kawi – a script used in the pre-Islamic Malay Archipelago.

Kawi was used to write regional languages such as Sanskrit, Malay and Javanese.

Sinclair said this provided a solid basis for checking any previous readings of the stone, with the additional challenge that the script itself varied over time.

Nalina Gopal, a curator at the Indian Heritage Centre, described the fresh perspective as enlightening.

She said: “As Singaporeans, standing at the 200-year mark of British arrival in Singapore, the fact that Singapore’s history dates far back to 1,000 years, as suggested by Dr Sinclair, reminds us that as a post-colonial nation, aspects of history and heritage could be revisited for fresh interpretations.” — The Straits Times/ANN

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