The destruction of a candi in Kedah showed how little we care for the nation’s history. And the wanton sale of artefacts from other local ancient kingdoms only adds to the growing problem.
SUNGAI Batu Estate is very much a village of the past. It’s almost like the clocks stopped ticking here decades ago.
The road is narrow. Children, carefree and shirtless, cycle about and there is nary a car on the road. The houses are tiny. Some of them have been refurbished and repainted; others lie abandoned. Yet others are still stuck in a design of decades ago, with wire mesh as windows panes.
Everyone knows everyone else and they have no security fears.
Even the washrooms are from days of yore. It’s an outhouse, away from the main living area. The toilet is a hole in the floor, and there is no real sewage system; it’s pour flush.
Life is old here. Very, very old.
Sg Batu Estate, after all, sits smack in the peninsula’s cradle of civilisation, Bujang Valley.
Some 2,500 years ago, long before the estates cropped up, this was a thriving port. And there was a Sungai Batu, a wide river that flowed through the area. The river is now no more; what’s left of it is a tiny stream.
Close to the estate (no, I will not say a stone’s throw away) is the site of the now demolished candi 11, a stone structure that was bulldozed by a developer who later pleaded ignorance. It’s a plea that’s hard to accept.
Just a couple of kilometres down the road from the estate, there is a turnoff. A narrower road leads into the now cleared estate and abruptly stops – in the middle of nowhere.
That point, says historian Datuk V. Nadarajah – the man behind the hue and cry that has since been created about the candis – is where site No. 11 stood.
“Why would anyone have a road to nowhere in the middle of an estate?” he asked. “The local council knew of the candi, they even built the road for tourists to visit. Yet, they gave approval for the developer to build his housing estate. And the developer’s representative claims they did not know it was a candi.”
He does not believe a word the developer’s spokesman says. And rightly so. The area is teeming with candis. Everyone knows.
It makes one proud to walk among them. The candis may not be as grand as the Acropolis or Mt Olympus or even the temples of Angkor Wat, but they are our history.
And guess what, they are older than Angkor Wat.
Meanwhile, not far from Sg Batu estate, excited archaelogists have set up camp. They have found new structures that may be older than the others.
There are furnaces for making iron implements, like swords. Some of the oldest writings in the world speak of the great sword makers of Swarnabumhi – the golden land – which we now call peninsular Malaysia.
There are several jetties there, too, signs of a bustling port in 500 BC. Traders came from India (maybe at a time when it was called Jambuvidpa) and China to the port.
A more intriguing find is a sundial-like structure – a huge square on a circle – that has archaelogists baffled. Some say it is from animist practices but Nadarajah insists the surprisingly well-preserved structure has its roots in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Whatever their roots, these structures tell of the great history of this land. And it’s not just Bujang Valley.
A descendant of the maharajas of the Bujang Valley kingdom is said to have started the Gangga Negara kingdom around 1025. The area is now known as Beruas, Dinding and Manjung and its history has long been buried.
Further south, there is said to be the fabled Kota Gelanggi, on the upper reaches of the Johor River with a fort made of black stone.
It is said to have existed even before 1025. Although there was some buzz about it being seen in thick Johor jungles in 2005, it has since been out of the news, forgotten and lost to the world.
And now come the stories of the more modern Johor kingdom, Johor Lama, said to have been founded in 1528, by members of the royal house of Malacca who fled the Portuguese invasion of 1511.
Their currency, their pottery and the tools they used are now being openly sold, with foreigners snapping them up.
Sad, isn’t it? While we are willing to sell our heritage, there are those abroad who want to collect and honour the self-same heritage.
What really needs to be done is for us to unearth this rich history and put it all on show, like the Cambodians, the Indonesians and the Greeks (and never mind if a constituency or two is lost to any political party), so we will know how it all began for our nation.
To paraphrase Confucious: “Knowing our past, we can chart our future.”
For now, it’s good that the developer who demolished site 11 is willing to rebuild it. Let’s just hope he gets it right, considering that he claimed he did not even know it was a candi in the first place.
> With history being made a must-pass in our school system soon, it would be wonderful if our children could walk in places of great heritage to experience them and learn of our past. But then again, is our own ancient history being taught in our schools?
Dorairaj Nadason is The Star’s Executive Editor.
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