May 19th, 2007 by Hafiz Noor Shams
Srivijaya was great but it was not the only empires or kingdoms that impacted Malay or Malaysian history. Despite the perception that nothing important occurred before the coming of Islam to Southeast Asia and the Sultanate of Malacca, there were a number of kingdoms that flourished thanks to trade. We know this through Malay, Chinese, Indian, Arab and sometimes even European records. One of the kingdoms, as a reader shared his thought with me earlier through email, was a kingdom founded by Adityavarman.
By the 13th century, Srivijaya succumbed to various external and internal threats and changes. All was left in the 14th century were disparated Malay states, each claiming to be the successor of Srivijaya. In Malaysia, places such Subang Jaya, Petaling Jaya, Nusajaya and Putrajaya remind me of the radiant victory, which is what Srivijaya means in Malay, and auspicious victory in Sanskrit.
The Hindu kingdom of Singhasari, the predecessor of Majapahit, conquered the last vestige of Srivijaya, Jambi or the Malayu (Malayu-Jambi; I am unsure if the spelling is Malayu or Melayu but the difference is superficial for both refer to the same entity) in the 13th century, ending a Malay golden age that was only to be reignited in form of Malacca two centuries later. Singhasari fell to the Mongol along with its holding of southern Sumatra at the end of the 13th century. The Mongol was then defeated by Raden Wijaya, the founder of the most celebrated Javanese empire in history, Majapahit, not too long later. That is the last time Mongol forces ever set foot in Southeast Asia.
During that era, southern Sumatra under the leadership of Malayu-Jambi experienced short period of independence though the dream of reliving the story of Srivijaya was beyond its means. Matters of survival received greater attention than matters of glory. The Javanese Majapahit, after getting its house in order, finally asserted proper control over Malayu and the rest of southern Sumatra in 1347.
Under Srivijaya, the Javanese, did not like to live under the Malays. Under Majapahit, the Malays likewise. After the conquest, Gajah Mada, the designer of the conquest, the prime minister of Majapahit under the reign of Hayam Wuruk, needed somebody that could be accepted by the people of southern Sumatra. And thus, Gajah Mada sent Adityavarman, a half-Malay, half-Javanese prince as a sort of governor of Malayu Jambi.
Gajah Mada however misplaced his trust. Indeed, the Malays accepted Adityavarman except that the acceptance was beyond what the Javanese prime minister had imagined. After successfully gaining the support of the Malays, Adityavarman revoked this allegience to Majapahit and established an independent state of Jambi. Fearing Majapahit reprisal, he transferred his capital from Jambi near the mouth of Batang Hari river to upstream at a place Malayupura in the Tanah Datar. Tanah Datar is located in the modern day Indonesian province of West Sumatra, home of the Minangkabau. Malayupura (probably means city of the Malay in Sanskrit, if Singapura means city of lions) was located close to Pagar Ruyung, the center of Minangkabau culture. To make it clear, Adityavarman founded the kingdom of Pagar Ruyung.
A statue of Adityavarman at the National Museum of Indonesia. Photo by Thomas Lehmkuhl. Public domain.
Despite finding the kingdom, Adityavarman’s Buddhist belief clashed with local practice. Further, the difference between the local egalitarian governance and the Malay aristocratic model enhanced the conflict. Before the century came to past, the kingdom varnished from history record due to the differences. The culture however remains to this day.
Pagar Ruyung is of course, is closely related to the Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan, where culture is remarkable different from other modern Malay states of Malaysia. I am interested in its history at the moment, not culture. So, I shall not digress.
In the 15th century when the part of former Srivijayan holding of Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula came under the control of Islamic Malay Malacca, Minangkabaus started to migrate to modern day Negeri Sembilan. Islam rose to prominence under Malacca and the Minangkabaus, linked to Adityavarman, became Muslims along with other Malays. In the 18th century, the area came to the rightful successor of Malacca, the Sultanate of Johor-Riau Empire. The Malay of Johor however was busy holding the Bugis influence at bay and so, the Minangkabaus had to rely to someone instead of Johor. Who is our leader now, I would presume they had asked. They looked around and turned their attention to their ancestral origin, Pagar Ruyung.
While knowing full well that their origin was unislamic, they knew that history is above petty differences that religious conservatives nowadays harp on. The Minangkabaus of that time were not afraid of history. Those that fear history are only those that have something to hide: “berani kerana benar, takut kerana salah.”
From Pagar Ruyung, Raja Melewar was appointed as the the first Yamtuan Besar (basically, king) of the Minangkabaus with consent of the sultan of Johor in 1773. With that, home of the new ruler, Seri Menanti, replaced Pagar Ruyung as the center of Minangkabau culture on the Malay Peninsula. And the unique Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan was born. I was there at the palace ground earlier this year, celebrating history, knowing full well, Adityavarman had a hand on that particular night, knowing full well, short of going to Pagar Ruyung, that night was possibly the closest I would ever be to the half-Malay, half-Javanese prince that defied Gajah Mada and Hayam Wuruk.
This proves that Malaysian history, at minimum, the history of Negeri Sembilan, goes beyond the Sultanate of Malacca. And thus, this further strengthens the truth that Malaysian history, and Malay history, goes beyond Malacca.
How many Malaysians know this? How many of us tried to suppress part of our history?