New temple offers hope amidst loss in Bujang Valley
By: Dr. Amir Rashad Mustaffa
In a bittersweet twist of fate, Malaysia’s archaeological landscape has witnessed both loss and discovery. Amidst the sorrow brought upon the destruction of the ancient Bujang Valley temple in Kedah, a beacon of hope emerges with the recent unearthing of a new temple in Bukit Choras by a team of researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) headed by Dr. Nasha Rodziadi Khaw.
The newfound temple in Bukit Choras, Kedah, stands as a testament to our rich history and a symbol of resilience, offering a chance for redemption and renewed commitment to preserving Malaysia’s cultural heritage. Believed to be contemporary with the now-damaged Bujang Valley complex, this discovery provides an opportunity to unlock further mysteries of our ancient civilisations.
What adds even more significance to the Bukit Choras temple is the stone inscription written in the Pallava script. This discovery is immensely important, allowing linguists to delve into the linguistic nuances of the past and unravel the stories etched in stone. As someone who is personally involved in the study of inscriptions in Sanskrit and Old Malay in the Nusantara region, I am particularly excited about the potential insights this discovery holds. It opens a unique gateway for researchers to understand the language and communication of our ancestors, which illuminates us on the linguistic trajectory followed by the current state of the Malay language.
Although Malaysia is by and large a Muslim-majority country, we cannot deny the massive influence of Sanskrit on the Malay language, culture, and identity. My recent presentation at the Malaysia-India Heritage International Conference in Kuala Lumpur on the 19th of August 2023 highlighted this influence via the examination of other stone inscriptions such as the Muarakaman inscriptions, the Kedukan Bukit inscription, and even the Terengganu inscription. Without the discovery, examination, and subsequent preservation of these ancient artefacts, there would be no opportunity for us to delve deeper into our past to learn about the ancient origins of our beloved language, culture, and traditions.
Obviously, these efforts are not just important to the Malays but all the races that make up our multiracial country because Malaysia was built on, by, and with the cooperation amongst all the peoples of our nation. For example, we are well cognisant from various inscriptions that the Malay language flourished from extreme language contact with Sanskrit brought by the Brahmins and merchants from India and that admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) and merchants from China played a pivotal role in the success of the empire by the Malacca sultanate. Therefore, we all should embrace our colourful history and promote mutual understanding by reflecting on and learning from the wisdom of our ancestors with the help of advances in archaeology.
As custodians of our heritage, we are called to prioritise the conservation of archaeological sites. The tragedy in Bujang Valley, which has deeply saddened archaeologists and linguists alike, amplifies the urgency of safeguarding these treasures. Our archaeological sites are not just relics; they are vistas into our past, revealing the diversity and richness that define Malaysia.
The call to action is clear! Let us rally behind efforts to protect our heritage. The Malaysian government, local communities, and international organisations must collaborate to ensure the preservation of these sites. Through education and awareness, we can instil a sense of responsibility among Malaysians to cherish and protect their cultural legacy.
As we bid farewell to the Bujang Valley temple, let its loss be a catalyst for change. The discovery in Bukit Choras beckons us to celebrate our heritage, ensuring that future generations can marvel at the wonders of their ancestors. Together, let us write a new chapter in the story of Malaysia’s history, one where the echoes of the past resonate through the ages.
The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Malaysian Languages and Applied Linguistics, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]