Friday, July 12, 2013

Ancient Ruins of the Bujang Valley

It is a well-known fact that Malaysia has had ties with the Indian subcontinent from time immemorial. Various diverse findings have indicated this fact and the discovery of the remains of forts, cities and temples in the Bujang Valley of Kedah, since the 1840’s, only serves to reinforce this information.
The ancient ruins found at the Bujang Valley (Lembah Bujang) situated near Mount Jerai in Mukim Merbok, Kedah indicate that the area was once a part of the busiest trading centre in Southeast Asia and the locale of an Old Malay Kingdom. The ruins found here further indicate that this prosperous ancient Malay Kingdom featured a mix of diverse peoples.  Malays, Chinese, Indians and Buddhists, were believed to have lived here.
This kingdom was also known by various different names, while an ancient Indian poet from the 2nd Century AD referred to it as Kalagam or Kadaram, Middle Eastern traders called it as Qalha or Kalah. The famous 7th century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim 1-Tsing who chronicled his travels to India, referred to this Bujan Valley kingdom as Chieh-Cha.  References to this kingdom have also been found in various ancient literary works like the ancient Malay tome Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa which makes a reference to this kingdom and calls it Langkasuka.
Size of the site
The Bujang Valley spans a total area of 450 square kilometers. The region was believed to have been an important center for the trade which passed through the Straits of Melaka down the ages. The area served an important stop on the Spice Route, a trading route that linked the East and West and provided an alternative to the ancient Silk Road. The valley was believed to have prospered for centuries until the rise of the Sultanate of Malacca in the 15th Century.
The ancient temples of the Bujang Valley
 In the mid-nineteen century, two surveyors chanced upon the discovery of the ruins of a candi(temple) atop Mount Jerai. Since this first discovery, more than 50 such temple ruins have been found in the region. The temples found at the site indicate strong Hindu and Buddhists influences.  It said that Hindu and Buddhist traders constructed these temples as they made a rest stop in the Bujang valley during their travels en route to China. The excavated ruins of the temples feature intact Hindu and Buddhist granite sculptures of Buddha, Ganesha, Mahisasuramardini though a number of Shiva Lingams have also been discovered at the site.
Important temple sites
The biggest temple to have been found in the Bujang Valley, is Candi Bukit Batu Pahat. Located to the east of the Batu Pahat River, three km to the north of Sungai Merbok, the temple ruins indicate it was built in the 11th century AD. This temple which was dedicated to Lord Shiva was built of granite and wood. Various artifacts including 66 round bases, jars, beads, ceramic shards and bronze artifacts like the pedestal of a statue and a trident belonging to Lord Shiva have been found at the site.
Other prominent temples which have been discovered at the Bujang Valley include Candi Pendiat(discovered in 1936 and excavated in 1974), Candi Bendang Dalam(discovered in 1969 and excavated between 1974 and 1982) and Candi Pengkalan Bujang(discovered in 1936 and excavated in 1976). The excavations at the temples have thrown up a wealth of   interesting artifacts like inscribed stone caskets and tablets, ornaments, pottery shards, terracotta and bronze statues, metal tools and various Hindu- Buddhist icons. All these various finds have been restored and documented by the authorities and are currently on display at the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum.
The Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum
This museum which is located within close proximity of the Bujang Valley showcases the numerous artifacts that have been discovered at the site over the years. Over 1000 artifacts are currently on display at the museum while more than 2500 artifacts are currently being studied and restored.
The museum additionally is equipped with facilities like a cafeteria, public toilets, a book store, a car park and a recreational area.
History enthusiasts are bound to find an expedition to the ancient ruins of the Bujang Valley extremely interesting. For those visitors who are not too keen on history and are easily bored with ruins, the site also offers recreational activities like a hike on the Mount Jerai Heritage Trail.
This five hour hike up to the peak of Mount Jerai, leads hikers through lush rainforest terrain where they have a chance to view much exotic flora and fauna.  Hikers also have the option to spend the night at the camping grounds of the Forestry Museum or then opt for more luxe surroundings at the Jerai Hill Resort.

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