Sunday, December 1, 2013

MALAYSIA: 1200 year old temple ruins in Bujang Valley furtively destroyed by land developer

Chandi Batu Pahat at the Bujang Valley Archeological Meseum in Merbok.
Lembah Bujang in the Merbok district of Kedah has more than 50 ruins of candi or temples with Hindu or Buddhist influences like this one. — Pictures by K.E. Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Dec 1 — Prehistoric ruins at an archaeological site in Bujang Valley some 1,200 years old were secretly demolished by a land developer, a Penang lawmaker said yesterday, even as Badan Warisan Malaysia seeks to list the historical spot as a Unesco world heritage site.
Confirming the matter with The Malay Mail Online, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II Prof Dr P. Ramasamy said he was shocked to discover the ruins of candi (tomb temple) site number 11 dug up from its spot near Sungai Batu and cast aside in a pile of debris.
“The candi was located at Sungai Batu and it was demolished by the developer, who is clearing the land for development, more than a month back,” he told The Malay Mail Online after he visited the site yesterday.
According to the Penang lawmaker, he received reports of the demolition last week and decided to visit the site to verify if they were true.
“This particular candi is hidden from sight behind an old oil palm estate so the developer probably demolished it first before clearing the oil palm trees,” he said.
Lembah Bujang, in the Merbok district of Kedah, is well-known as the richest archaeological site in Malaysia, with more than 50 ancient candi at the site.
Most of the candi are in ruins, and some have been reconstructed and moved to a site near the Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum. Others, including candi number 11, were rebuilt at their original sites.
The ruins of these candi and other archaeological discoveries unearthed in this area date back more than 2,000 years. The destroyed example, candi number 11, is believed to have been built between the 11th and 13th century, according to research by historian Dr Mohd Supian Sabtu.
Outraged that such an ancient and significant archaeological site was not only unprotected but also allowed to be dug up to make way for development, Ramasamy said he will be writing to Badan Warisan Malaysia to seek action against the developer and the authorities complicit in the destruction.
“I learnt that the Merbok land office had given the developer the go-ahead to clear the land because ‘there were no historical sites’, so the land office should also be held accountable for this,” he said.
Lembah Bujang is the richest archaeological site in Malaysia.
Ramasamy also said the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum officials he spoke to appeared to have their “hands are tied” as they had no authority to stop the developer.
“Only Badan Warisan can do something and the Kedah state government should also do something as we are talking about an important historical site that should be preserved and protected,” he said.
The destruction of candi number 11, rebuilt on its original site back in the 1970s by an archaeological team, was chanced upon by a scholar who happened to be investigating the historical valley.
“A researcher, Datuk V. Nadarajan, who is conducting a study on the Lembah Bujang site, is the one to discover that the candi was demolished and had lodged a police report to stop the developers but nothing happened,” the Perai state assemblyman said.
I learnt that the Merbok land office had given the developer the go-ahead to clear the land because ‘there were no historical sites’, so the land office should also be held accountable for this. — Dr P. Ramasamy
Pointing out that Badan Warisan Malaysia was planning to apply to Unesco for Bujang Valley to be listed as a heritage site, Ramasamy said it only made sense that it should be doing everything to protect the site instead of ignoring this.
“In Penang, we do everything in our power to protect our heritage sites because George Town is a Unesco world heritage site, so how could the Kedah state government allow this to happen to the oldest archaeological site in the country?” he asked.
Bujang Valley is home to the oldest man-made structure recorded in Southeast Asia — a clay brick monument nearly two millennia old.
Excavations on the site have also uncovered jetty remains, iron smelting sites and relics with Hindu and Buddhist influences that point towards a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that traces as far back as 110 CE.
The site has been at the centre of research by various historians, archaeologists and university students in the past two decades.

Lembah Bujang is the richest archaeological site in Malaysia.
Lembah Bujang is the richest archaeological site in Malaysia
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