Mystical Tales from the Kingdom of Singapura

The kingdom thrived. 

On the northern banks of the river, traders from the distant lands of China and Portugal haggle. A deal for silk seemed imminent – that is until the Chinese abruptly left, telling the Portuguese off for lowballing. Local traders also adorned the banks, selling tin, hornbills beaks and cotton. They tried their best to sell to the foreigners, even though most inevitably fail. The traders knew that the goods from the tiny Kingdom are low-quality.

Visible from the port was the Parit Singapura, a three meter tall wall that straddled the Forbidden Hill. Since Singapura had a strong navy, the moat’s only object was to stop any army silly enough to attempt a land invasion. In fact, when 70 boats worth of Siamese soldiers tried to subjugate the island in the 1330s, it was the wall that managed to hold them off for more than a month.

The Forbidden Hill (later renamed Fort Canning) was the political and social capital of Singapura. Large stone and brick structures adorned the top of the hill – with the Raja’s palace being the largest. Behind the extravagant residence, there was a sprawling manicured garden filled with Durians, Rambutans and Pomelo trees. On the west side of the hill was the Pancur Laranagan (Forbidden Spring) which as an area where the wives and consorts of the Raja took their baths. The bathing place was luxuriously decorated, with statues and ornamental water spouts. There were also temples for the living and burial grounds for dead, horse stables for the cavalrymen and soldiers for the Raja’s protection. While most of Singapura’s trading and economic activity happened at the port, the hill also contained large workshops and factories. Finely-crafted gold jewelry assembled on the hill not only satisfied the needs of Singaporean royalty, but also the needs of the region.

Or at least that’s what we believe. 

There is a general consensus among historians that a Kingdom of Singapura existed in the 14th Century, and that it was relatively prosperous. But apart from that, specifics about the entity still remains scarce and come from either archaeological finds or from texts like the Malay Annals. The Annals in particular were one of the oldest records of the Malayan peninsula. Though primarily concerned with the establishment and subsequent success of Melaka, its earliest chapters are the basis behind many of the fables and stories in the Kingdom of Singapura, including its founding by Sang Nila Utama, the naming of Bukit Merah and the legend of Badang. The stories are fascinating, incredible and worthy of attention. Considering that they also provide contextual and historical knowledge about our nation, it’s a shame that not many people know about them. So, in this piece, we decided to look at three of these stories as told by the Annals.

It should be noted that these Annals, while mainly a historical account, also mix in a fair bit of fantasy and fable with these accounts, and while these stories are an integral part to the formation of Singapore, their believability should be taken with a grain of salt. Additionally, the only publicly-available translation into English of the Annals dates back to 1821 by John Leyden with a foreword from Sir Stamford Raffles himself. Thus, there may be plenty of details either omitted or lost-in-translation, as other translations have a fair bit more detail.

Badang v Bandrang

The news of strongman Badang vaulting a huge stone across the river spread had not only entered the lore of the Kingdom of Singapura, but had also spread across many Southeast Asian Kingdoms as well. One of these kingdoms was the Sultanate of Perlak, located on the northern edge of Sumatra.

Once the news of Badang’s superhuman strength reached Perlak, the locals were in awe. Not only because of the incredible feats of Badang in the story, but because they had a contender. You see, in Perlak, they had their own strongman. One capable of unbelievable feats of strength. One with a widespread reputation throughout Southeast Asia. One who was undefeated. Much like Badang, both in name and in reputation.

His name was Bandrang.

When Bandrang heard about Badang, it grabbed his attention in an instant. Maybe because his reputation as the strongest man in Southeast Asia was under threat. Or he thought Badang’s tale was too unbelievable. Whatever it was, he saw Badang as a worthy competitor. After some negotiating with his raja, Bandrang and an ambassador of Perlak, Tun Parapith Pendek, made their way to Singapura to battle with Badang.

Upon arrival, they announced their intention to Sri Rana Wikrama, the third Sultan of Singapore, to announce their intention to compete with Badang. No competition could be held without a prize, and the prize on the line this time was a full warehouse worth of each kingdom’s goods. A big prize in those days, but Sri Rana accepted the offer. After the defining victory in his last test of strength, Sri Rana had all his confidence behind Badang.

That is, until Badang said he wasn’t sure if he could beat Bandrang.

He was hesitant to compete. Bandrang’s reputation was well known in the Kingdom of Singapura, and being wary of this, Badang assured Sri Rana to not be disheartened if Badang lost. He felt he was no match for someone of Bandrang’s reputation. However, he had yet to see Bandrang in action, so in a spark of brilliance, Badang asked Sri Rana to invite Bandrang and his ambassador to a dinner party later that day before the upcoming competition the following day. He wanted to gauge how strong Bandrang truly was.

Bandrang and Tun Parapith Pendek were invited into the palace for dinner, and just in luck for Badang, he and Bandrang were seated next to each other, cross-legged on the floor for the party. Everyone else from both Singapura and Perlak had a splendid time at the party, but for the two strongmen, there was no partying.

As Badang moved nearer to Bandrang at one stage of the party, Bandrang suddenly used his knee to pin Badang’s to the ground. Sitting cross-legged under the table, this was an impromptu, unorthodox yet practical way of judging Badang’s strength. Badang, however, was quickly able to escape from this pin and retaliated, using his own knee to pin Bandrang’s to the ground.

Unlike Badang, Bandrang could not escape.

With the party going on wildly around them, not a single person noticed the knee-skirmish between the two main men. But nevertheless, Bandrang suddenly panicked. He knew Badang was stronger than him. No question. Which made him panic when Sri Rana and the rest of the party, recorded in the Annals as ‘intoxicated’, suggested that the test of strength between the two happen right then and there. Mercifully, Badang suggested to hold the competition the next day, and both contingents from Perlak and Singapura retired for the night.

Upon returning to their vessel, Bandrang approached Tun Parapith, his ambassador, to try and pull out of the upcoming competition, revealing the secret test-of-strength at the party. With his land’s reputation and warehouse full of goods on the line, Tun Parapith approached Sri Rana to call off the competition, instead approaching for diplomatic ties. Sri Rana was gracious enough to accept Parapith’s offer, and in a show of friendship, both Badang and Bandrang were called upon to lay a heavy metal chain across a strait to prevent any further passage of boats along the strait.

Through humility and a test-of-strength, both Badang and Bandrang were able to avoid competition, and instead were able to form one of the few diplomatic ties made by the Kingdom of Singapura in that period, with the Sultanate of Perlak, which would soon be absorbed into the Sultanate of Pasai. And it was one man from this Sultanate that would spark chaos in Singapura.

Tun Jana Khateb

Tun Jana Khateb was a distant relative of the royal family in Pasai that moved to the kingdom of Singapura to find a way to start a business as a merchant. Being a nobleman in the royal family, he had also supposedly dabbled in practicing magic as another method of income on the side. His connection to the royal family was lucky for him, not just in terms of prestige, but also for his illusions, otherwise most people would be quick to brand him as the devil.

He was taking a stroll around Singapore one day walking by the Sultan’s palace, now home to the fourth Sultan of Singapore, Paduka Seri Maharaja. The Sultan’s wife took note of this man walking around their compound, looking at him from afar. It was that moment where Tun Jana opted to practice some of his magic, seemingly for his own entertainment and practicing his skills rather than to attract a crowd

He intensely stared at a betel tree, and through the power of Tun Jana’s sight alone, the tree split in half and toppled to the ground. A miraculous act, indeed. It was just practice for Tun Jana, and the sole witness was the Sultan’s wife. At least, she was the sole witness for just a short while.

Sultan Paduka saw his wife stare with excitement out of the window, and upon inspection, also caught sight of Tun Jana’s incredible feat of magic. This enraged the Sultan, as he assumed that Tun Jana had split the tree to impress his wife, and ordered his guards to arrest and execute the magician for fear of losing his wife.

Tun Jana Khateb had no idea what he’d done wrong when he was taken by the guards. As he was taken to the market in present-day Kampong Glam, only then did he realise he was sentenced to death. As he was tied to a pole in a field near a bakery, he started cursing at the guards and, with his dying words, cursed the entire island of Singapore before being stabbed to death by the keris.

Almost immediately after his death, his body disappeared. It just vanished in front of the eyes of both the executioners and witnesses. According to fable, his body seemingly ended up on the island of Langkawi, as a seemingly unmarked, unidentified body showed up on the beach at that precise moment in time. It’s rumoured that this body was Tun Jana’s, and it seems his body is buried in an unmarked grave near a mosque on the island.

Additionally, the owner of the nearby bakery lent his bakery tins to clean up the blood left in the post-execution mess. When he checked his tins later, the blood turned completely solid. And it wasn’t like the blood had coagulated like normal. Instead, it turned into a pristine, shining, red stone. And finally, let’s not forget his curse on Singapura, which brought on a wave of multiple, savage storms that decimated the islands for a few years and introduced swordfish to Singapura that would pierce fishermen’s legs and cause chaos for a while.

This won’t be the only time a Singaporean raja would regret executing someone out of lust, though.

Parameswara 

The Parameswara, also known as Iskandar Shah, became the fifth king of Singapura following the death of the previous king, and despite a birth defect where he had a notable dent in his forehead, he still had many, many mistresses. One particular mistress that he was enamoured with was the daughter of one of his officials, Sang Ranjuna Tapa.

However, gossip started to spread among his other mistresses, who got jealous of all the attention received by this one particular mistress. Together, they teamed up to spread a rumour accusing the official’s daughter of infidelity. As the rumour reached the Parameswara, he became outraged and had her sentenced to execution. And not just any execution, but a public one, in the middle of what is now Kampong Glam, as he had her impaled in public view.

Anger welled in Sang Ranjuna. His daughter had no dignity in death for a crime she didn’t commit. He was ready to enact revenge. Given how Singapura had successfully fended off the Javanese in a war not too long ago, Sang Ranjuna knew that the Majapahit Empire still thought about invading Singapura. So he sent a letter off to the Majapahit telling them that Singapore was ripe for invasion, and the sooner, the better.

With what was essentially an open invitation, the Majapahit sent forth a massive force to Singapura. An army 200,000 strong, to be exact. Naturally, it wasn’t long before Singapura’s soldiers began to run out of supplies, most notably rice. Parameswara enquired his officials if there was any more rice to be found in warehouses or in their leftover supplies. Sang Ranjuna, sensing yet another opportunity to exact revenge, hinted that there was little rice left to be found within the city’s walls, and would have to risk going outside the walls of the kingdom to get more. Parameswara, becoming desperate in war time, went ahead and approved the plan.

The next morning, Sang Ranjuna Tapa opened the gates of the city under the disguise of getting rice, and just left the gates wide open. This allowed Javanese forces to rush in unhindered. This led to “indiscriminate carnage” as the battle ensued within the kingdom’s walls, with the blood painting the soil of Bukit Larangan (now Fort Canning) red. Being heavily overpowered, Parameswara fled north, and eventually established a new trading port. He named his new kingdom after the tree he was leaning on when he saw a wild mouse-deer outwit his hunting dong.

That tree was a Melaka tree.

As for Sang Ranjuna Tapa, it seems he was ‘struck by God Almighty’ according to the Malay Annals, with his house collapsing, crops dying, and he and his wife being turned into stone.

These are some of the stories of the Malay Annals. Again, given the mixing of history and fable, some of these stories are not to be taken as straight historical fact, given how it’s highly unlikely for people to turn into stone or dead bodies to teleport.

And even for some historical facts presented by the Annals, they have been disputed. The final story about the Parameswara is heavily disputed by Portuguese colonisers of Melaka in the 16th century, where they suggest the Parameswara wasn’t the son of the previous king, Paduka, or that the invasion was by the Majapahit Empire. Instead, they insist Parameswara himself was a Javanese prince who invaded Singapura and killed Paduka, but fled after just three years on the throne after an invasion from the Siamese.

Whatever the truth is, whatever portion of the Annals may be plain old fairy-tale, these were the stories that defined early Singapore.


Art by Angelia Gan.

In a world that is bubbling with clickbait, sensationalism and oversimplifications, Kopi aims to bring long-form journalism back to South-East Asia.

Through deeply analysed articles, we uncover and explain the complex and multifaceted issues facing our societies. Through engaging narratives, we tell stories that are bold and unique.

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