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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Melaka (Malaysia) 3

Continued from previous Post
Authored by: 
PN Sampath Kumar,
Cochin Shipyard,

The best way to feel  Melaka is to undertake a river cruise. We reached the river mouth near the sea which is the point of embarkation. We set go our journey at around 6 PM. It is a ten kilometres to and fro ride in the same river taking about 1 hour. The buildings on both sides of the river are facing the river, some of them have been modified into restaurants with a touch of heritage in it, eying the tourists. The buildings are well lit and painted artistically, without losing the ethnicity. It is the reply of the east to the great boat cruises of Venice.

Melaka attains her full charm in the evenings and night. Well lit, with shops and restaurants open with fragrance of spices cooked, in the air, Melaka welcomes her guests till midnight.

On the other side of the river, Jonker Walk is a much sought after activity among the tourists. It is the weekend evening market. Spices, Chinese medicines, Chinese Tea, Malaysian Coffee, Malay food, Chinese food, handicrafts, furniture, fruits, flowers….everything. They say that the market place is the reflection of the culture of the land and one should visit the market atlest if nothing else is possible. We tried some street food and bought few souvenirs.

Melaka in daylight has its charm too, if you are ready to walk through the pricking heat. Melaka has no specific season. It rains whenever it felt like. But it did not rain all the three days when we were there.

After a quick breakfast, we were ready wearing shorts and T-shirts to explore the other side of the river Melaka.

This is used to be the commercial hub those days. The buildings stood as a testimony of that. We were proceeding to the Harmony Street (what a beautiful name), where the three major places of worship of yester years stood. The one that we visited first was a Buddhist temple.

The “Chen Hoon Teng Temple” is said to be originally built in 1645 using the Chinese materials, in conformity with the principles of Feng Shui, by some Kapitan (Kapitans were the community heads those days in Malaysia). Here we had a different experience contrary to the one that we had in Indian and Srilankan Buddhist temples, possibly they are practicing something called Taoism. There were no chanting by the priests. Disciples bring along incense sticks to be burnt in front of the deities. We prostrated before the son of the King Suddhodhana, in our own style.

The deity next room was an interesting one. He liked smoke of Cigarettes not incense sticks. Even liquor bottles were seen offered before him.The temples are cultural centres too. Buddhism is no exception. They have opera theatre built in traditional style.

The next temple we visited was a Ganesh temple, named Poiyatha Vinayagar Temple. This temple is said to be built in 1781 with the help of Dutch? and is the oldest Hindu temple in service in the whole of Malaysia. The exteriors and interiors differed from the traditional Tamil Style of temple architecture.
Built at the site provided by Kapitan Thaivanayagam Pillai, this temple is the presiding deity of the Chetties of Melaka in particular and the tamils in general of Malaysia and other Malaysian Tamils migrated all over the world. Many of the visitors to the temple are from Singapore who migrated in the past, in search of greener pastures.

We spent some time in the serene atmosphere and left after offering prayers to Ganesha, only after having the “Prasad” offered by the priests (tasty pongal having ingredients like rice, grated coconut and ginger in it).

The next monument, located at the end of the harmony street is Sasjit Kampong Kling. Again built in the Dutch era, and explained to be in the Sumatran Style, this is again considered to be the oldest mosques in Malaysia, having lot of interesting art objects inside.

Unluckily for us, this monument was under some repair and was not open to tourists. We had to satisfy ourselves with the magnificent views from the outside.

There are a number of places of worship throughout Melaka with contemporary construction. The floating mosque is one among them. There are other few other churches, many number of Buddhist temples with different faiths and practices , few other Hindu temples and even a Gurudwara, that are built at different periods.

We came across a (Shirdi) Saibaba Temple which is the meeting place for all he Indians in Melaka, who have kindly offered us lunch on one of the days of our stay in Melaka.

The Dutch are blamed for disturbing the commercial system prevaiing till the Portuguese ruled. They were not keen to maintain the Melaka Harbour as a commercial centre. The disturbance caused to the trading community would have aggravated the situations. They simply maintained the place as a military point and the fall of Melaka as a commercial port began.

The other theory is that the British who took possession of Melaka as part of a treaty, in the process of gaining importance to their own port city of Penang, demolished the Fortress of Melaka. They even shifted the Melakan trading population of around 15000 to Penang and made the Melaka Port City look deserted. Almost at the same time, development of Singapore by the British also caused  the fall of Melaka.

To be continued ....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Melaka (Malaysia) 2

Authored by

P.N. Sampath Kumar
Cochin Shipyard, Kochi
Emal: sapath_63@redffmal.com

We proceeded to Melaka on a two day trip last summer from Kuala Lumpur in mid March. 

Melaka could only be reached by road.  Its location is about 200 km south West of Kuala Lumpur and located in between KL and Singapore almost midway, though one need not touch Melaka to go to Singapore.

The inter city bus stations in Kuala Lumpur are no less than an international airport in design systems and facilities.   One has to report 15 minutes in advance and wait at the air conditioned boarding area.  Buses could be boarded through assigned gates only upon arrival of the bus; very professional.

The journey was comfortable and took about 3 hours.  Malaysian landscape is full of oil palms and rubber trees and occasional patches of forest.

We landed at Melaka Central (Malaya language has no script of their own; they use English alphabets to write) at around 2.00 noon.  We hired a taxi, paid 20 Ringgits and safely landed in the ‘Old Melaka Guest House’, located in the heart of the city.    

After a quick shower we left on foot, in search of some food to begin with, with a city map gifted by our friend Mr Chua, the owner of the Guest House.

Melaka is famous for its food but it was not the right time to experiment.  So we tried the first Indian restaurant we found on our way.   The food was predominantly non vegetarian which is not to our liking.  We got satisfied with the limited options available.
The streets had shops on both sides varying from grocery shops, hardware shops, flour mills, restaurants, etc.etc., owned either by Chinese or Tamils.  Most of them proudly displayed in their shops portraits of their grand / great grand parents.  The footpaths of most of the roads were seen floored with the then famous decorative Chinese ceramic tiles.

This town is spread over either sides of the river flowing east-west, connected by bridge (only one bridge those days) which could be covered in two days time on foot.  (Subsequent land reclamation of course changed the course of the river and flows southwards towards the end) Northern side included the sultanate, which was later converted into a fort by the invaders.  Southern side of the river had the warehouses and trading / business / public establishments.

Walking towards the north we reached the famous bridge which played a major role during the Portuguese strike. (This bridge was knocked down by the Sultans to block passage of Portuguese warriors but was rebuilt by the attackers with the help of trading community, crossed the bridge and surrounded the palace.  The sultan had by then vacated the palace and fled to Johor on the back of his elephant)

We decided not to cross the bridge and turned to our left and walked through the banks of the river, guided by our son, who was holding the city map.  We ventured into the first monument sighted, a church.   Oh, this is the on seen in the Melakan tourism literature. My son exclaimed.  This (“Christ Church”) built by the Dutch, is said to be the oldest functioning protestant church in Malaysia.  Originally built by the Dutch in 1753, and subsequently taken over by the British and consecrated by the Archbishop from Calcutta. This Church, has in its front a beautiful fountain built commemorating the visit of British Queen in the early 20th Century.

Walking further up, following other tourists, we arrived at the hill top from where the sea and the surroundings are visible.  Here stands the historic St Paul’s church, built by Portuguese in 1521.    When the Dutch took over, they demolished it and created their own place of worship for some time.  When the British came subsequently, they used this monument as their gunnery and a strategic vantage point.


The church seems to have had a prayer hall, an altar, etc. but the major visible proofs of its past history are the graves.  Here is the European priest St Francis  Xavier lived for a long period and converted few thousand locals to Christianity.  He died, on his journey to China and was cremated in some island from where his body was brought back to Melaka and later to India.  The five hundred year old dead body is now preserved and kept on display in the Church at Panaji, Goa.

The Portuguese constructed a huge Fort, after demolishing the Sultan’s palace, around the Malaka hill, facing the river.  One of the monuments that withstood the test of time is ‘AFAMOSA’ (meaning the famous), the gate of the fortress, leading to the hill top, located on the foothills of the St Paul’s Church.  This claims to be one of the oldest surviving European constructions in Asia.

Excavations around Melaka are still on.   In some places, even the excavation sites are showcased with creative lighting and adequate safety measures where wall constructions of different period are identified.

Traditionally, Malaka has a unique architectural method.   Wood is used abundantly to construct buildings.

The Royal Palace of Parameswara and his successors is reproduced in its full size to the left of Afamosa.  It would have been a huge challenge before the archaeological architects.    Made of wood in traditional style, it is claimed that the palace has been assembled without using a single Nail. The mere sight of it from a distance itself is mind-boggling.    The palace acting as a museum is open to public, wherein the whole history of Melaka is displayed with great imagination and creativity.  The landscape surrounding the palace is recreated to suit the period.  Interestingly the forbidden gardens meant for the queens are reproduced (though not known exactly what type of plants and trees were grown), with rare species trees and plants.

Walking towards the river, a giant wheel was seen at a distance on the bank of the river.  We went closer.  It was a wooden water wheel, reproduced and erected, based on the information available.  This system was employed to keep the water at navigable level by drawing sea water to the river.

Thanks to the innovative work of the archaeological engineers to reproduce such structures.  Another such structure is the replica of a famous Portuguese ship which sank in the coast of Melaka.  This is now a maritime museum covering exhibits of various periods.

To be continued.....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Melaka (Malaysia) 1

Authored by 

PN Sampath Kumar
Cochin Shiptard, Kochi

The Port city of Melaka was ruled by one Parameswara, a Hindu King, who  is said to have embraced Islam and established the Melaka Sultanate.  His successors were defeated by Portuguese led by “Alfonso de Albuquerque” of Goa.  The Dutch followed, them and then British and later the nationalist movement culminating in independence.

The chronology of events recorded in the annals of history of most of the port cities in the east, as made known to us by the Westerners are very similar.  And this commonness they shared with Cochin, my current home town,  
attracted me to such heritage cities in the east. 

The picture portrayed in my mind about Malaysia has a lot to do with the readings in my younger days.    Cities of Penang and Melaka had already been there in my childhood mind and I wanted to visit these places as a wanderer when I grew up.

Places like Perek, are even more historically important as far as Indian connections are concerned.  The “Chola” kings have either conquered or had treaties with most of the states throughout the east.    Interestingly there is mention of one ‘Gangai Nagara’ that existed in the Perek State of Northern Malaysia.  It is possible that King Rajendra Chola had been honoured with the title of ‘Gangai Konda Chola’ after his conquering Gangai Nagara a very rich kingdom in Malaysia, which was under the rule of the Sri Vijayan Dynasty.

Due to time constraint, when I had to choose one among the three, I opted “Melaka” for its proximity to Singapore.

Legend is that after he was made to flee from Singapura, his earlier base, Parameswara a Sri Vijayan King, landed on the banks of the small river mouth (Bertam River) sometime in the year 1405.  While resting, he witnessed the interesting scene of his hunter dogs being chased by a mouse deer, forcing them towards the river.  He considered this to be a good omen and decided to establish a port City in Melaka.  To deal with the initial opposition raised by Ayuthaya, the Thai kingdom, he approached the Chinese kings for support and took the local pirates (Orang Lauts) along.   For centuries, Melaca was a strategic trade point.    The sailors had to rely on the trade winds before setting sail to the next point and had ample time to trade and accumulate goods till the winds changed direction.  

Hundreds of languages were spoken in that city.  Hundreds of ships called on the port each month.  Traders from the west, Arabia, Java, South India, Gujarat, Bengal, China and Thailand traded their commodities like spices, sandalwood, camphor, tin, etc…

As this fetched good revenue, the rulers employed professional services of Wharf masters, repairers, hydrology experts, etc, who maintained the river navigable and provided security.    The strong trading community provided sufficient warehousing, transport and banking facilities. 

But all these are history book stuff.  We wanted to witness and feel it.   I had slight fear of getting disappointed as this place never figured in any so called “conducted tour operator’s” programs promoted in India.   Initial surfing in the internet also did not suggest much more than this. However, it turnedf out to be something to cherish.  

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Elephants returning home

At Thrissur (Kerala - India) the famous Vadakunathan temple arranges an annual feast for the temple Elephants. This year it was held somewhere  on the 17th July. Although we could not witness the event as such but we were fortunate to be there to see the guests off.

Finally ready to start the return journey.