Bujang Valley

The Bujang Valley (Malay: Lembah Bujang) is a sprawling historical complex and has an area of approximately 224 square kilometres (86 sq mi) situated near Merbok, Kedah, between Gunung Jerai in the north and Muda River in the south. It is the richest archaeological area in Malaysia.[1]

A seated Bodhisattva carved in terracotta, from site 21/22

These archaeological remains show that there was a Buddhist polity here. In Sanskrit the term bhujanga refer to serpent, thus the name itself is roughly translated into "Serpent Valley".[2] The area consists of ruins that may date more than 2,535 years old. More than fifty ancient pagoda temples, called candi (pronounced as "chandi"), have also been unearthed. The most impressive and well-preserved of these is located in Pengkalan Bujang, Merbok.[3] The Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum is also located that known as Sungai Batu,[4][5] excavations have revealed jetty remains, iron-smelting sites, and a clay brick monument dating back to AD 110, making it the oldest man-made structure to be recorded in Southeast Asia.[6][7]

The local rulers adopted Hindu-Buddhist Indian cultural and political models earlier than those of Kutai in eastern Borneo, in southern Celebes or Tarumanegara in western Java, where remains showing Indian influence have been found dating from the early 5th century. Relics found in the Bujang Valley are now on display at the archaeological museum. Items include inscribed stone caskets and tablets, metal tools and ornaments, ceramics, pottery, and Hindu icons.[8]

For the past two decades, students from universities around Malaysia have been invited for research and have done their graduate works at the Valley.[9][10] Much of the historical links is still vague considering not many of the scriptures and writings survive. Even the temples did not survive the onslaught of age because their wooden roofing has rotted and withered over the past 1,200 years. The museum itself is inadequate and not organised, much of the findings are elsewhere scattered from Museum Negara to Singapore (which once formed a part of Malaysia). Folk stories and oral history also provide place for a magnificent kingdom of jewels and gold. Outside peninsular and insular Southeast Asia, oral history in India suggests the presence of golden chariots and jewels in hidden caves at Bujang Valley and Mount Jerai. Some visitors to the antiquity department at Muzium Negara has eyewitness accounts of magnificent objects such as a 10-feet-tall Raja Bersiung Throne and various idols and items from the Valley.[8]

In 2013, it was reported that, a 1,200-year-old Hindu Temple at the site, identified as Candi No. 11, had been demolished by a land developer.[11] Candi 11 was one of the most ancient of the Old Kedah kingdom and was amongst 17 registered candi.[12] In the face of public criticism, the Kedah State Government sought to deflect blame by claiming that it was powerless to do anything because the land was privately owned and further, that the site had not been gazetted as a historical site.[13] After the controversy, the Tourism and Heritage Ministry has agreed to consider gazetting the Bujang Valley as heritage site [14]

Before the 1970s, the research in Bujang Valley was done by western archaeologists, the most prominent ones include H.G. Quaritch Wales, Dorothy Wales, and Alastair Lamb.[15][16] After the 1970s, local archaeologists were trained to continue the research, excavations and reconstructions of sites were done by National University of Malaysia and University of Malaya in collaboration with National Museum. The most prominent local archaeologist who did research in the Bujang Valley was Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman who wrote and publish countless books and articles on this topic.[17] He introduced a periodisation of the history of Bujang Valley as well as a theory which explains about the process of indigenisation of the Indian Culture which formed the socio-economic make up of the polity.[18][19] Other earlier local archaeologist who significantly contributed to the research of Bujang Valley include from Leong Sau Heng, Mohd Supian Sabtu, Kamarudin Zakaria, and Zulkifli Jaafar. After 2008, The Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR) from University Sains Malaysia, led by Mohd Mokhtar Saidin explored a new archaeological complex which reveals dozens of new sites, said to be dated from 2nd CE.[20][21]

The Bujang Valley is currently in the process of being nominated by Malaysia into the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2013. In 2017, the government announced that they will make more research and conservation efforts in the valley to preserve its outstanding universal value. The site's inclusion to the world heritage list is backed by diplomats from India, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Bangladesh, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.[22][23][24]


Built in 6th century A.D, Candi Bukit Batu Pahat is the most well-known ancient Hindu temple found in Bujang Valley, Kedah, Malaysia.

Claudius Ptolemaeus (Greek: Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος; c. 90 – c. 168), known in English as Ptolemy, was a Greek geographer, astronomer, and astrologer who had written about Golden Chersonese, which indicates trade with India and China has existed since the 1st century AD.[25]

As early as the 1st century AD, Southeast Asia was the place of a network of coastal city-states, the centre of which was the ancient Khmer Funan kingdom in the south of what is now Vietnam.[26] This network encompassed the southern part of the Indochinese peninsula and the western part of the Indonesian archipelago. These coastal cities had a continuous trade as well as tributary relation with China from very early period, at the same time being in constant contact with Indian traders.

The rulers of the western part of Indonesia adopted Indian cultural and political models e.g. proof of such Indian influence on Indonesian art in the 5th century, i. e. an Amaravati Buddha statue found in southern Sulawesi and a Sanskrit inscription found east of Jakarta.[27] Three inscriptions found in Palembang (South Sumatra) and on Bangka Island, written in a form of Malay and in an alphabet derived from the Pallava script, are proof that these "Indonesians" had definitely adopted Indian models while maintaining their indigenous language and social system.[28] These inscriptions reveal the existence of a Dapunta Hyang (lord) of Srivijaya who led an expedition against his enemies and who curses those who will not obey his law.[29]

Being on the maritime route between China and South India, the Malay peninsula was involved in this trade The Bujang Valley, being strategically located at the northwest entrance of the Strait of Malacca as well as facing the Bay of Bengal, was continuously frequented by Chinese and south Indian traders. Such was proven by the discovery of trade ceramics, sculptures, inscriptions and monuments dated from the 5th to 14th century CE.[30][31] The Bujang Valley was continuously administered by different thalassocratical powers including Funan, Srivijaya and Majapahit before the trade declined.[32]

Kedah inscriptions

Figure of a dancer carved in high relief found at Batu Lintang, south of Kedah
Head of Nandi found in the vicinity of site 4 near the Bujang Valley
One of the six stone boxes, which were found buried beneath Candi Bukit Batu Pahat

In Kedah there are remains showing Buddhist and Hindu influences which has been known for about a century now from the discoveries reported by Col. Low and has recently been subjected to a fairly exhaustive investigation by Dr. Quaritch Wales.[33]

An inscribed stone bar, rectangular in shape, bears the ye-dharma hetu formula in Pallava script of the 7th century, thus proclaiming the Buddhist character of the shrine near the find-spot (site I) of which only the basement survives. It is inscribed on three faces in 6th century, possibly earlier.[34] Except for the Cherok To'kun Inscription which was engraved on a large boulder, other inscriptions discovered in Bujang Valley are comparatively small in size and probably were brought in by Buddhist pilgrimage or traders.[35]

UNESCO Proposal

UNESCO made a report in 1987 endorsing the site.[36] In 2014, some ruins of candi (temples) in Bujang were destroyed by an urban developer, causing an international outcry against attacks on cultural heritage.[37] In 2017, the government of Malaysia announced that more research on the site is still needed, thus excluding it from the Malaysian tentative list. The government also said that Bujang's Merbok Museum and Pengkalan Bujang held historical significance to the site.[38]


  • Michel Jacq-Hergoualc'h, The Malay Peninsula, Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road, 2002, Brill, Leiden, ISBN 90-04-119736
  • Wolters, O. W., Early Indonesian Commerce : a Study of the Origins, 2001, 1597401870
  • Wolters, O. W., Early Southeast Asia : selected essays, Cornell University, 2008, ISBN 978-0-87727-773-6 / 0-87727-773-7
  • Wolters, O. W., The Fall of Srivijaya in Malay History, Cornell University Press, 1970, ISBN 0-8014-0595-5, ISBN 0-8014-0595-5

See also


  1. "Bujang Valley impetus to tourism, By Subhadra Devan, 2010/09/19".
  2. "Bhujanga". Sanskrit Dictionary.
  3. Wahab, Mohd Rohaizat Abdul; Zakaria, Ros Mahwati Ahmad; Hadrawi, Muhlis; Ramli, Zuliskandar (7 March 2018). Selected Topics on Archaeology, History and Culture in the Malay World. Springer. ISBN 978-981-10-5669-7.
  4. Kathirithamby-Wells, J. (1990). The Southeast Asian Port and Polity: Rise and Demise. Singapore University Press, National University of Singapore. ISBN 978-9971-69-141-7.
  5. Malaysia, Persatuan Sejarah (1980). Bujang Valley. Persatuan Sejarah Malaysia.
  6. Mok, Opalyn (9 June 2017). "Archaeologists search for a king in Sungai Batu | Malay Mail". www.malaymail.com. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  7. "New interest in an older Lembah Bujang, 2010/07/25". Archived from the original on 29 June 2011.
  8. "Bujang Valley Museum". www.photodharma.net. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  9. Chia, Stephen (2017), "A History of Archaeology in Malaysia", Handbook of East and Southeast Asian Archaeology, New York, NY: Springer New York, pp. 125–141, doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-6521-2_12, ISBN 978-1-4939-6519-9, retrieved 20 January 2021
  10. "Lembah Bujang". www.trekearth.com. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  11. "Centuries-old temple ruins in Bujang Valley furtively destroyed". 1 December 2013.
  12. Murad, Dina. "Candi controversy: Bulldozing 1,000 years of history - Nation - The Star Online".
  13. "After uproar, Kedah scrambles bid to salvage Lembah Bujang ruins". 1 December 2013.
  14. "Candi controversy: Ministry has agreed to consider gazetting Lembah Bujang as heritage site, says Mukhriz - Nation - The Star Online".
  15. Murphy, Stephen A. (April 2018). "Revisiting the Bujang Valley: A Southeast Asian entrepôt complex on the maritime trade route". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 28 (2): 355–389. doi:10.1017/S1356186317000505. ISSN 1356-1863. S2CID 165881443.
  16. "Revisiting the Bujang Valley: A Southeast Asian entrepôt complex on the maritime trade route". ResearchGate. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  17. "Prof. Emeritus Dato' Dr. Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abd. Rahman | INSTITUTE OF THE MALAY WORLD AND CIVILIZATION". www.ukm.my. 6 July 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  18. "Research Journal of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology 6(16): 3027-3033,... ISSN: 2040-7459; e-ISSN: 2040-7467". studylib.net. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  19. "Lembah Bujang : dari perspektif arkeologi dan pelancongan / penyunting, Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman". National Library Board. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  20. Subramanian, T. s (19 August 2010). "Remnants of a relationship". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  21. Zanina, Putri (23 May 2016). "Ancient seaport of Sg Batu | New Straits Times". NST Online. Archived from the original on 24 May 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2017.
  22. Ancient temple ruins destroyed. YouTube. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021.
  23. Abdullah, A (6 August 2017). "Ministry: More studies before Unesco push for Bujang Valley". Free Malaysia Today.
  24. "Bujang Valley should be recognised as Unesco World Heritage Site". The Malaysian Times. 28 November 2016. Archived from the original on 24 March 2019.
  25. Wheatley, P. (1 January 1955). "The Golden Chersonese". Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) (21): 61–78. doi:10.2307/621273. JSTOR 621273. S2CID 188062111.
  26. "Funan | ancient state, Indochina". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  27. infid (13 November 2017). "Indianization of Indonesia". infid.be. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  28. Griffiths, Arlo (2011). "Inscriptions of Sumatra: Further Data on the Epigraphy of the Musi and Batang Hari Rivers Basins". Archipel. 81 (1): 139–175. doi:10.3406/arch.2011.4273.
  29. Kulke, Hermann (1993). ""Kadātuan Śrīvijaya" - Empire or kraton of Śrīvijaya ? A Reassessment of the Epigraphical Evidence". Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. 80 (1): 159–180. doi:10.3406/befeo.1993.2193.
  30. Leong, S.H., 1973. A study of ceramic deposits from Pengkalan Bujang, Kedah (Doctoral dissertation, University of Malaya).
  31. "State formation and the evolution of naval strategies in the Melaka Straits, c. 500–1500 CE". ResearchGate. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  32. "Who guards the treasures of Bujang Valley?". The Edge Markets. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  33. Wales, H. G. Quaritch (1970). "Malayan Archaeology of the "Hindu period": some reconsiderations". Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. 43 (1 (217)): 1–34. ISSN 0126-7353. JSTOR 41492012.
  34. Kern, H. (1907). "Concerning some old Sanskrit Inscriptions in the Malay Peninsula". Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (49): 95–101. ISSN 2304-7534. JSTOR 41561175.
  35. "BM 04. The mysterious relic of Cherok To'kun". butterworthguide.com.my. Retrieved 20 January 2021.
  36. Sanday, John (1987). "Bujang Valley and Kuala Kedah Fort: proposals for a masterplan: Malaysia". Paris: UNESCO. FMR/CC/CH/87/131, RP/1986-1987/XI.I.3/Technical report.
  37. "Prehistoric temple ruin site that applied for UNESCO heritage status furtively destroyed". 2 December 2013. Archived from the original on 5 December 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  38. Abdullah, A. (6 August 2017). "Ministry: More studies before Unesco push for Bujang Valley". Free Malaysia Today (FMT). Retrieved 20 January 2021.

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