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The Development of Kedah's Early History Based on Archeological Finds


Bujang Valley's History Based On Archeological Finds

Another site of a shrine at Bendang, Bujang Valley.

Shrine at Site 11, Bujang Valley, Merbok.

Based on archeological studies made in over a hundred year, a few conclusions could be derived on tshe history of Bujang Valley. Wales (1940) forwarded a hypothesis on the development and stages of Indian colonization in this region. The four stages were:

  1. The first stage involved a time scale of between the first and the third century A.D. This was based on Roman beads a few pieces of pottery found in Johor Lama. Not much evidence of this era could be found in Bujang Valley.

  2. The second stage began around 300 A.D. to 500 A.D. based on stone writings and sites 1 to 3, which indicated the first stage in Bujang Valley. It community was a Hindu one, and its government was under the influence of Funan. Other similar sites were found in Kinta Valley.

  3. The third stage pointed to a cultural change which occurred around 550 A.D. to 750 A.D. and Kedah came under the domination of Pallava Hindus and its influence spread to the east coast of the Peninsular. All this is indicated by the finds in site 4 to 9, considered to be a temple site dedicated to Shiva.

  4. The fourth stage was between 750 A.D. to 900 A.D. and it showed the influence of Pala Mahayana Buddhism from South India.

The above concept forwarded by Quaritch-Wales was said to have been made without sound archeological base. Studies carried by Lamb on the Batu Pahat Hill temple made it clear that there were similarities between the temple and the site of Hindu temples uncovered in Indonesia, especially those found at Biarosi in Pdang Lawas, Sumatera (Lamb 1961:1-9). Lamb also proved that the stone container found buried under the Batu Pahat temple was characteristically South East Asian, in the sense that it showed that the type of prayers being carried out was of the tantrik type and not of one involving the Shiva sect as believed by Quaritch-Wales.

Besides Wales, Wheatley also put forward his own periodization in relation to the development of the history of Bujang Valley (wheatley 1961: 275-278). According to him, the history of Kedah began when Jerai Mountain, Penjara Hill and Batu Lintang Hill were still islands where Indian traders made contact with the locals. Buddhism was already entrenched in Bujang Valley by the fifth century A.D., and Kedah had a firm relationship with India. However, three centuries later, Buddhism was influenced by Saivism and settlements began to be concentrated in areas towards the centre of Bujang Valley. The shape of its temples and the easterly direction it faced, pointed to the practice of Linga among Kedah Hindus. In the period between the eighth and ninth century Mahayana influence made a comeback in Kedah. Arab and Chinese traders began to be actively involved in trades in the region. By the tenth century, the people of Bujang Valley returned to Hinduism, and new settlements in Sungai Muda were opened. According to Wheatley, Kedah was paralysed after facing several raids by the King of Chola, Rajendra 1, between 1025 to 1030. He wrote:

'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.' Wheatley 1961 - 281).

Lamb forwarded a more concrete and acceptable alternative based on archeological finds. He divided the populating of Kedah into four phases:

  1. The earliest phase was Buddhism, proven by Low and Quartich-Wales based on three inscriptions they had found indicating ye dharma ways said to have been made by the order of Buddhagupta to ensure the safety of all ships. All three inscriptions bore the same text and was dated on the fourth and the fifth century A.D.

  2. This was the Srivijaya phase, proven by the such finds as bronze sculptures similar to those found in Sambas, Kalimatan, Indonesia and those finds on site 16 and 16a. Trade activites was still concentrated in Takuapa, Thailand, which practiced Mahyana Buddhism, interspersed with tantrik practices. This sort of religious practice were also evident in settlements found in Perak. This phase was dated between the seventh and the ninth century A.D.

  3. The Bujang Valley phase could not have taken place earlier than the eleventh A.D., as its rise was an indication of the decline of Takuapa as a trading centre. This phase also indicated the expansion of settlements around Sungai Bujang and Merbok, and Batu Lintang and Tikam Batu. The decline of trade in Bujang Valley could not have taken place later than the fourteenth century because of the absence of blue and white ceramics find. Artifacts found in this phase rejected Wheatley's conclusion on the date of Bujang Valley's decline. According to Lamb, Bujang Valley started to prosper after the raids launched by the King of Chola. This phase also indicated its role as a centre of communication; connecting the interior to the outside world.

  4. The Kuala Muda phase developed after Bujang Valley reached its zenith, characterized by finds of white and blue ceramics. It was at his time, it is believed, that the Muda River changed its course as this development was mentioned in the 'Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa'.

Of the three opinions mentioned above, we found that the one expressed by Lamb was more logical because it was based on clear archeological evidence, even if it sometimes clashed with historical facts as found in Chinese chronicles and Indian literary work.

The question in everyone's mind was, when did the area declined in its importance? According to Lamb, the decline was caused by changes to the river system in the Valley. The Bujang and the Merbok Rivers had become shallow and much further inland. In any case, traders had begun to exploit areas to the south of the Peninsula such as Malacca and Singapore. The clearest evidence on the end of Lembah Bujang was the grave of Sultan Muzaffar Shah who became a Muslim around 1474 (Winstedt 1920:30)

Archeological Finds Outside Bujang Valley

There was no planned archeological study made in Kedah. This does not mean that early history other that that of Bujang Valley is less important. We have heard of the kingdom of Siputeh where once upon a time lived Princess Lindungan Bulan whose beauty became the source of competition and fights between kingdoms. The only evidence of the legend was a tombstone with Achinese characteristics. However, in 1957 a treasure trove containing twenty- three pieces of ceramic objects, glass instruments, coins and pottery were found. By looking at the quantity of the materials found, there is a great possiblity that other similar finds would be uncovered in the future. Based on the ceramic found in Siputeh village, the date was placed around late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.


Other than the studies made in Bujang Valley and sites of pre-historic archeology, no study has been made on other possible sites. One of the reasons for the situation is the lack of qualified personnel that would make it possible for excavations to be made in order to find the information that would never be found recorded in local history. The second problem is the proper identification of sites of certain settlements. This problem is more evident when studies of sites are made in flat areas. As Kedah is the rice bowl of the nation, such area are usually converted into rice fields and are always inundated. This would of course, make the work of early research more difficult.

As a conclusion, we found that Kedah's early history began around the fourth or the fifth century A.D. in Lembah Bujang. The area developed briskly, reaching its zenith in the fourteenth century, and after that the centre for commerce moved to Sungai Muda. At that time, the Malays were either Hindus or Buddhists and only converted to Islam in1474 in the footstep of their king.


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