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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
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
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.