Early history of Kedah

Early history of Kedah

Kedah is one of many early Malay Peninsula trade centres that have been found, many have yet to be identified. Its location at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, on the same latitude as south India provided a natural sailing route between the two points, ships could sail due east or due west on the Bay of Bengal without danger of becoming lost. Early west coast trade centres are few in number as they were overshadowed by Kedah. After the 7th century, Kedah was subjugated by Srivijaya but due to its well known, the Indian sources continue to depict Kedah. Early Kedah supplied the most in tin and jungle products such as rattan, resin, honey, beeswax, elephants, ivory, areca nuts, sepang wood and black woods, and profited from tax collections.

The early transpeninsular routeway is part of the Spice Route (Sea trade route from Arab, Persia, India to China) that occurred in the Malay Peninsula, as the route through the Straits of Malacca does not seem to have been in general use. Early sea traders reached the coast of the peninsula, they let the local porters transport their goods, using rafts, elephants and manpowers. The porters propelled along the rivers (Kelantan River, Pattani River, Pahang River, Muda River, Bernam River, Muar River, and others) to the opposite coast of the peninsula. The Sungai Muda in particular favoured the development of Kedah.

The early history of Kedah can be traced from various sources. From the prehistoric period to the archeological site of Bujang Valley, the early Maritime trade of India, Persia, Arabs to the written works of early Chinese pilgrims and early Chinese records, the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (known as Kedah Annals) to Al-Tarikh Salasilah Negeri Kedah. In the early days, Kedah was known by the Indians as Kedaram, Kidaram, Kalagam and Kataha, and Kalah or Kalaha by the Persians.


Prehistoric Malay peoples began colonizing the coastal areas and remote islands of the Malay Archipelago approximately 5'000 to 10'000 years ago. Their previous homeland isn't known for sure; one theory has them migrating from Yunnan along the Mekong River [Unknown reference, please add!] , while another theory has the Malays originating in Taiwan and traveling by sea to the Philippines and Borneo [Unknown reference, please add!] .

Ancient History

Whatever their origins, the Malays became great seafarers, colonizing as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Madagascar. In some regions they intermarried with the local inhabitants (Orang Asli, India, the Persian Empire, Arabs, Han Chinese, etc.), becoming the Deutero-Malays.

Trade connections between the Malays and Tamilakkam (Southern India) were close during the reign of the Pallavas, from the 4th to 9th centuries CE. These relations helped spread Indian culture and religion to the Malays, and also lead to the emergence of Indianized kingdoms like Old Kedah (Kadaram), Langkasuka,cite book | last = International Tamil Language Foundation| first = |title = The Handbook of Tamil Culture and Heritage| year = 2000| publisher = International Tamil Language Foundation| location = Chicago| pages = p. 877] Funan, and Champacite book | last = Sastri| first = K.A. Nilakanta|title = South Indian Influences in the Far East| year = 1949| publisher = Hind Kitab Ltd.| location = Bombay| pages = pp. 28 & 48] .

Some Greco-Roman merchants in the 1st century CE described huge non-Indian ships coming from the east with rich cargoes, possibly from the Malay Archipelago. This would indicate that the Malays participated actively in the Indian Ocean trade and likely handled much of the traffic between Southeast Asia and India.

Three kinds of craft are described by the author of the "Periplus": light coasting boats for local traffic, larger vessels of a more complicated structure and greater carrying capacity, and lastly the big ocean-going vessels that made the voyages to Malaya, Sumatra, and the Ganges.cite book | last = Sastri| first = K.A. Nilakanta|title = Cholas| origyear = 1935 | edition = fifth printing | year = 2000| publisher = University of Madras| location = Chennai| pages = pp. 86 & 318]

Medieval History

Early in the Medieval era, Kedah became part of Srivijaya (the dominant Malay state and a major power in the Indian Ocean trade). This led to rivalries with the Indian states, especially the Cholas from the 9th to 13th centuries CE. The Cholas had a powerful merchant and naval fleet in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. In the early 11th century, Chola King Rajendra Chola I sent an expedition to invade Kadaram (Sri Vijaya) on behalf of one of its rulers who sought his assistance to gain the throne. Chola dominance was brief, but effectively crippled the power of Srivijaya.

In ancient Kedah there is an important and unmistakably Hindu settlement which has been known for about a century now from the discoveries reported 1840s by Col. James Low and has recently been subjected to a fairly exhaustive investigation by Dr. Quaritch Wales. Dr. Wales investigated no fewer than thirty sites round about Kedah. The results attained show that this site was in continuous occupation by people who came under strong South Indian influences, Buddhist and Hindu, for centuries.cite book | last = Sastri| first = K.A. Nilakanta|title = South Indian Influences in the Far East| year = 1949| publisher = Hind Kitabs Ltd.| location = Bombay| pages = p. 82 & 84]

An inscribed stone bar, rectangular in shape, bears the ye-dharmma formula in South Indian characters of the fourth century A.D., thus proclaiming the Budhist character of the shrine near the find-spot (site I) of which only the basement survives. It is inscribed on three faces in "Pallava script", or Vatteluttu rounded writing of the sixth century A.D., possibly earlier. One of the early inscription stones discovered by James Low, at Bukit Meriam and in Muda River, mention of "Raktamrrtika". The word "Raktamrrtika" means ‘Red Earth’ (Tanah Merah).

Inscriptions, both in Tamil and Sanskrit, relate to the activities of the people and rulers of the Tamil country of South India. The Tamil inscriptions are at least 4 centuries posterior to the Sanskrit inscriptions, from which the early Tamils themselves were patronizers of the Sanskrit language.cite book | last = Arokiaswamy| first = Celine W.M.| title = Tamil Influences in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines| year = 2000| publisher = | location = Manila s.n.| pages = p. 41]

In Kedah an inscription in Sanskrit dated 1086 A.D. has been found. This was left by Kulothunka Cholan I (of the Chola empire, Tamil country). This too shows the commercial contacts the Chola Empire had with Malaya.cite book | last = Arokiaswamy| first = Celine W.M.| title = Tamil Influences in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines| year = 2000| publisher = | location = Manila s.n.| pages = p. 41]

An Indigenous style develops

The Tamils coming from Southern India and the local Malays were already using the rounded script, or Vatteluttu writing styles which differed from the Devanagiri script of Northern India. Vatteluttu was also commonly known as the "Pallava script" by scholars of Southeast Asian studies such as George Coedes and D.G.E. Hall. The Tamil script of Vatteluttu later evolved into Old Kawi script which was used in Java and Bali as well.

There are stone inscriptions which indicate that the Kedah region at 400 CE or before was already an established trade centre. One of the early Malay texts include the karma verses refers to a king named Ramaunibha, he may be the first local ruler whose name is recorded in history. The history of this period showed the influence of Indian cultures on the region while the locals in return, influenced the Indians in their living skills on the sea and in the hills.


ee also

* Red Earth Kingdom / Chi Tu
* Sultanate of Kedah
* Trade route
* Cities along the Silk Road


* The ENCYCLOPEDIA of Malaysia: Early History, Volume 4 / edited by Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman (ISBN 981-3018-42-9)

External links

* http://www.ianblanchard.com/Golden_Khersonese/text-9.PDF
* [http://www.mykedah.com/e_10heritage/e102_1.html#sub1 Kedah State Public Library Corporation, supported by Kedah State Government] .
* [http://www.atributetohinduism.com/Seafaring_in_Ancient_India.htm Seafaring of India.]

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