Archaeology expert: Still hope for razed Lembah Bujang temple

(MM) – Armed with blueprints from historical texts and research papers, an archaeological expert believes it possible to rebuild the millennia-old temple in Lembah Bujang, Kedah that was torn down by a housing developer.

According to director of the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR) Professor Dr Mokhtar Saidin, who leads a team that has excavated 46 sites in the area, there exists sufficient information to allow the prehistoric structure to be reconstructed, hopefully, where it once stood.

“We can reconstruct it again because I saw some of the publication before and there is a plan, so we can reconstruct again, the best is to construct on the original site,” Mokhtar said, referring to plans of the ancient temple contained in published works.

The candi in question had been restored once in 1974. The archaeology expert said the restoration commissioned by the then-Museum Department had been minor as the candi was only “naturally disturbed”, but it would require a complete reconstruction this time around.

“The developer should help because it’s just a small area and I think Jabatan Warisan should too and if they want USM to help, no problem,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.

Yesterday, Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Mukhiz Mahathir also spoke of the possibility to rebuilding the demolished candi number 11.

“The ruins can be reconstructed on its original site with the agreement of the company or near the Universiti Sains Malaysia excavation site at Sungai Batu,” he was quoted as saying by national news agency Bernama last night.

The recent discovery of the demolition of the 1,200-year-old candi number 11 at Sungai Batu triggered national outrage over the callous treatment of the country’s historical monuments.

A candi, short for candigarh, has been described as a place of worship with elements of either Hinduism or Buddhism; about 50 are peppered across the Kedah valley and believed to date back to between the 8th and 13th centuries.

Lembah Bujang is also thought to be the foundation for the rise of the Malay kingdom in Southeast Asia, and the region’s foremost entrepot and trading centre in ancient times.

Earlier yesterday, Mukhriz said the state government has appealed to the Tourism and Culture Ministry to gazette over 100 archaeological sites as national heritage sites.

“The state places the utmost importance in preserving all heritage sites in Kedah so we are saddened over the recent destruction of candi number 11,” he said.

However, Mokhtar said even if the historical sites are not gazetted as such, future development plans in the Merbok area should be referred to the local authorities and the National Heritage Department to prevent the destruction of other historical locations.

Recounting a previous visit in 2007 to what was then an oil palm estate, the professor said the candi had still been intact. He added that had the land status not been changed from agricultural to residential, the tragedy might not have taken place.

“Before this, as far as I know, all candis are in private land, usually in plantation area, the owners know the sites shouldn’t be disturbed, but for site 11, they want to develop housing, so they bulldoze all the trees and everything there.

“It is very sad; it serves as a lesson for us ― for all of us ― to be responsible [and] to take care of such historical sites.”

According to Mukhriz, the developer had obtained planning permission to develop the land back in 1993 but only started clearing works this August.

On Monday, the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum — the candi’s former caretakers — said it informed National Heritage Department of the destruction in September.

It is unclear if the department did anything to stop the developer, as its director-general, Datin Paduka Prof Siti Zuraina Abdul Majid could not be reached as she is currently abroad for the month.

Lembah Bujang is the richest archaeological site in Malaysia and the home of the oldest man-made structure recorded in Southeast Asia — a clay brick monument nearly 1,900 years 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 there as early as 110 CE.