Bujang Valley Archeological Site

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The Museum at the Bujang Valley Archeological Site was opened in 1980 and contains artefacts discovered in excavations starting in 1840. These show that the communities in this area were Hindu-Buddhist, and that this was a trading centre since at least the 3rd century. But this was a museum for visitors who already knew something about the history of the region. In the photo below, you can see why Gunung Jerai was useful as a beacon for sailors. The location of the museum is marked by the yellow label, in the area of Merbok. When South Indians and Arabs sailed east, this would be the first safe land mass they would reach on the Malayan peninsula, with safe anchor at the top of the Melakan Straits. And goods could be transported across the isthmus to the east coast, cutting sailing time by four months.

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The trading activity of this part of Kedah was significant, only rivalled centuries later by Melaka, by which time it had lost its prominence. In the museum shop we found an excellent history book ‘Buyang Valley - the Wonder that was Ancient Kedah’, written by V. Nadarajan. It is rare to find a book shop in a Malaysian museum, let alone a history book written in English. Now that I have read his book, I feel I should go back to Kedah to see it in a new light. Besides, we only touched on the major historical sites, but there was much more we could have explored but did not know about at the time.

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The main archeological discoveries here are candi, Hindu or Buddhist temples. Four of these temple remains were transported to the museum site for preservation, and artefacts from these ruins are on display here.

This is a Kala head, found at Site 50 (there are presently 172 sites discovered in the Bujang Valley). Kala is a God of death in Hindu mythology, and protects the candi from evil spirits.

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And on the right is an image of Dvarapala, the door and gate guardian, carved on rough granite. It was found at Batu Lintang (Site 35/36) in 1957. And below is some jewellery from Site 21, often cited as evidence for the trading activity in the region.

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As you walk out behind the museum building, you get to see larger stone artefacts and of course the much larger candi which have been reconstructed on this site.

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These larger round objects are actually modern 19th century sugar cane presses, displayed next to much more ancient objects. Buffalo energy was needed to turn these sugar cane juicers.

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The sign over the entrance says, Welcome to Bujang Valley. You are now venturing into the civilisation of the 2nd - 14th century AD. 

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Candi Pendiat (Site 16)

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The remains of this 9th century temple structure were discovered in 1936 at Kampung Pendiat. It was moved and reconstructed at the museum site in 1974. It is a Hindu influenced temple made of laterite. The inclusion of drains to collect the sacred water and a spout outside the Vimana, built on a foundation of river pebbles, and would have had wooden columns and a tiled roof.

Candi Bukit Batu Pahat (Site 8)

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This is considered as the master temple of Bujang Valley, also discoverd in 1936. This candi was built from cut granite stones from the nearby Sungai Merbok Kecil waterfall, and reconstructed in 1959. The flat Madapa and the raised Vimana are common in South Indian temples, and other structures define this as a Hindu temple.

Candi Pengkalan Bujang (Site 21)

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Also discovered in 1936 on the eastern side of the Bujang River. It was moved and reconstructed at the museum site in 1976. Site 21 has an eight sided stupa structure, facing the east coast. Based on the early excavations, the brick structure supported iron rails and a superstructure made of wood. The staircase you can see does not actually lead one into the temple. The evidence collected within this structure suggests that the Pengkalan Bujang temple is a Buddhist temple of the 11th to 12th century, A.D.

Candi Bendang Dadam (Site 50)

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This candi was found in 1969, and excavated in 1974 and 1982, and brought to the museum in 1983. It is built of laterite blocks, bricks, and river stone, and has both a Vimana and Mandapa structure. This was a Hindu candi believed to have been built in the 12th century A.D.

Aside from the strategic location, it is easy to see why people lived in this area. and at a time when transportation relied on the seas and rivers, this valley had it all. These boats are the Prahu Sagor, traditional boats of the Kedah Malays made from hollowed-out logs. Boats such as these were used right up until the 20th century.

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Just next to the museum is this river (Sungai Merbok Kecil), but despite the recent rain there was little water flowing today. The bedrock shown in the photos is a unique geological feature resulting from solidification of magma to produce pegmatite.

In the larger photo blow, left hand side, you can see a roped-off area. This is where bricks of stone were taken  for the construction of Candi Bukit Batu Pahat in the 11th century A.D.

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We were the only visitors to the museum at this time, which seemed such a shame as this place gives a glimpse of a fascinating era in Malaysian history. There are plenty of information boards near to the candi to help explain what you are looking at, but the extreme heat meant we just took photos of the these and moved on as there isn’t a lot of shade here. We have seen candi before in Indonesia so already had some idea of what these might have looked like in their original form.

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The museum has a huge carpark, and toilets; all that was missing was a cafe! European museums make quite a bit of their revenue from their cafes, but Malaysian museums do not often feature these. In fact there was no entrance fee for this museum, so it is a real treasure!

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Click here to return to Day 8 - Jeria Hill to Alor Setar, via Bujang Valley.

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© Helen Gray 2020