GEORGE TOWN, Dec 5 — Much has been said about the recent destruction of a reconstructed candi number 11 at Sungai Batu in Lembah Bujang but many missed its significance as proof Southeast Asia’s oldest civilisation was Malay and Hindu, archaeologist Prof Dr Mokhtar Saidin said.
Though candi number 11 was only reconstructed in 1974, it was reconstructed on the original site of a Hindu temple ruins in Sungai Batu that dates back to between the 8th and 11th century.
“There is a misconception that this was an Indian temple because of its Hindu influence but in actuality, Lembah Bujang is the site of the oldest Malay kingdom in Southeast Asia but the ancient civilsation then were Hindus not Muslims,” he told The Malay Mail Online in an interview yesterday.
He noted that it is very important to preserve Lembah Bujang’s ancient civilisation sites as these are national heritage monuments that have evidence of an early Malay kingdom more than 2,400 years ago.
The director of the Centre for Global Archaeological Research Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) said recent excavation works by his team had revealed that the Malay kingdom in Lembah Bujang is in fact the oldest civilisation in Southeast Asia that goes all the way back to the 5th century BC (400s BC).
“This latest findings mean that the ancient Malay civilisation in Lembah Bujang are [sic] older than the civilsation of Angkor Wat in Cambodia,” he said.
Mokhtar, who leads the ongoing excavation work in Lembah Bujang at the Merbok district in Kedah, also refuted reports by some media likening the candi in Lembah Bujang to actual Hindu temples built by Indians of ancient times.
“We are talking about an ancient Malay civilisation at a time when they were Hindus before Islamisation so this is very much a Malay kingdom and some of these candi may not even be temple ruins but could be tombs, places of rituals, even homes,” he said.
As for the demolished candi number 11, Mokhtar said it was a reconstructed Hindu temple that dated back to the 8th to 11th century based on the structure and design.
“The then Museum Department hired a team of archaeologists to reconstruct the structure using similar materials found near the original site and built it on the foundation that was excavated back in 1974,” he said.
Currently, the Centre for Global Archaeological Research Malaysia is still conducting excavation works on the 97 identified archaeological sites at Sungai Batu, near the demolished candi number 11.
“We have completed excavating 46 sites and so far, we have found many ritual sites, a river jetty, iron smelting sites, an administrative centre and we believe that the kingdom had exported iron at that period,” Mokhtar said.
Mokhtar revealed that when his team did a mapping of Lembah Bujang in 2007, they found only 17 candi were intact, including candi number 11, while the remaining 33 candi recorded by early British explorers were gone due to natural elements.
He said some were completedly washed away, especially those by the riverside, while others fell into ruins or disappeared as these were not protected from the ravages of weather and time in the past century.
British explorers had discovered evidence of a rich ancient civilisation in Lembah Bujang about 160 years ago and had recorded 50 candi at that time.
“Candi, though loosely means temple, could actually mean historical monuments that used to be either religious places of worship, tombs or places of religious rituals or even recreational spaces,” Mokhtar explained in an interview with the Malay Mail Online recently.
On the recent furore over the destruction of candi number 11, Mokhtar said he had met with the Kedah state government over the destruction of the reconstructed candi and said his team will be able to assist in reconstructing the candi, again, if there is any such request.
“We believe the museum would still have plans used to reconstruct the candi in 1974 so we can probably reconstruct it using the plans,” he said.
His said it was best to reconstruct it at its original site and they will use the same materials found near the site to keep it as original as possible.
There was a huge furore over the destruction of candi number 11 by a developer clearing the land for a residential development project which was highlighted on Sunday.
The Kedah state government and the Tourism and Culture Ministry had since ordered the developer to temporarily stop clearing works pending investigations into the whole issue.