Former caretakers wash hands of Lembah Bujang temple destruction

Purported debris of candi number 11 on the site where it once stood after it was demolished in Lembah Bujang, Kedah December 2, 2013. — Pictures by K.E. Ooi
Purported debris of candi number 11 on the site where it once stood after it was demolished in Lembah Bujang, Kedah December 2, 2013. — Pictures by K.E. Ooi

LEMBAH BUJANG, Dec 3 — Once the guardians of the ancient temple ruins that is now a pile of rubble, the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum did no more to raise the alarm about its shocking destruction than inform the National Heritage Department.

Instead, one of its officials said the villagers near the site of the now-destroyed candi number 11 should have been the ones to try and prevent a land developer from demolishing the archaeological relic that was over 1,200 years old

The museum official said they learnt of the reconstructed 8th century temple ruins’ demolition by a developer, who was clearing the land for a residential project, as far back as September.

“Since it is not under our purview anymore, but under the purview of the National Heritage Department, we could not do anything but only to inform them about it,” he said.

Up until eight years ago, the archaeological sites and the 10 candi that were excavated and reconstructed at the valley were under the museum’s purview.

“In 2006, the National Heritage Department took over responsibility of the candi outside of museum grounds and we are only responsible to take care of the four candi within our museum grounds,” he said.

The official added that while the department may have assumed responsibility for the historical sites, it has yet to send its officials to examine any of the candi now under its care or those at museum grounds.

“When it was under our purview, we made sure the six other candi that were reconstructed at their original sites were preserved and protected, but now it is under them, we can’t do anything,” he said.

But when pressed on why the museum otherwise kept silent over the demolition of such a significant historical monument, one that was documented and reconstructed by the then Museum Department in 1974, he suggested that villagers staying near the candi did even less to rescue it, despite likely having witnessed its impending destruction.

“They were staying right next to the candi, don’t tell me they didn’t know that the candi was demolished when the developer went in to clear the land two months ago?

“But they didn’t say anything, and now everyone creates a huge uproar over it when there’s nothing left,” he said.

Local residents G. Sugunavelli (right) and Teresa Morri (left) digging out the base of candi number 11 after the structure was demolished in Lembah Bujang, Kedah December 2, 2013.
Local residents G. Sugunavelli (right) and Teresa Morri (left) digging out the base of candi number 11 after the structure was demolished in Lembah Bujang, Kedah December 2, 2013.

Torn down in September, the demolition of the ancient temple ruins only came to light days ago after Bujang Valley Study Circle chairman Datuk V. Nadarajan went to check the site last week and found the land flattened and bare.

After Nadarajan lodged a police report, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Prof Dr P. Ramasamy visited the site two days ago and confirmed that the candi was no longer there.

The disclosure of the demolition has now caused uproar among Malaysians and local historians, with Nadarajan warning that such total disregard for historical sites like this will continue if the government does nothing to safeguard such treasures.

According to Nadarajan, the author of a detailed book on Bujang Valley and another upcoming tome on the same subject, candi number 11 was a large reconstructed temple ruin that had measured 150 feet wide and 250 feet long located at Sungai Batu area.

The temple ruins, with Hindu influences, was reconstructed back in 1974 after it was excavated.

It is learnt that the developer started clearing the land in September, first by demolishing the prehistoric temple ruins before clearing the old oil palm trees surrounding the site.

But its location meant this act was obscured from view by the rubber estate-turned-oil palm plantation.

The Malay Mail Online visited the site to discover little left on the now-barren plot of land, save piles of rubble and stacks of palm trees that were cut down.

Some of the stones in the debris piles are believed to be remnants of the demolished candi.

Scant evidence remains of the ancient tomb temple beyond the river rocks used to form its foundation, still peeking through the red earth.

The Kedah state government has since asked the developer to stop the land clearing pending investigations into the issue, which it has complied.

Lembah Bujang is the richest archaeological site in Malaysia and the home of the oldest man-made structure recorded in Southeast Asia — a clay brick monument dating back to 110AD.

Excavations on the site have also uncovered jetty remains, iron smelting sites and relics with Hindu and Buddhist influences that point towards a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom there as early as 110 CE.

British colonists first discovered the ancient ruins in the 1840s and ever since, archaeologists from the world over had visited the site to conduct extensive research.

In 1974, the then Museum Department commissioned a team of archaeologists to reconstruct 10 of the candi where four were relocated to the current museum grounds while the rest were left in situ.

Since then, researchers and archaeologists have found more candi located all over the Lembah Bujang and a recent study by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) revealed that there are 127 archaeological sites in Kedah with over 90 candi in Lembah Bujang.

Many sites are still in the midst of being excavated and a team from the USM Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR) also has a base there excavating and researching some of the sites in the valley.

CGAR director Professor Dr Mokhtar Saidin had confirmed that he would be meeting with the Kedah state government officials to discuss the issue and also to propose for similar areas to be preserved for heritage and tourism.

A candi located within private land at Sungai Batu that was left untouched and preserved by the landowner.
A candi located within private land at Sungai Batu that was left untouched and preserved by the landowner.

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