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Malay Culture

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa

Kuala Lumpur: Yayasan Karyawan dan Penerbit Universiti Malaya
Source: Document of BKPBM, taken from Siti Hawa Haji Salleh, 1998

A. Prologue

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (HMM) or The Story of King Merong Mawangsa tells about the origin of a dynasty who ruled Kedah. As a written document, the work might very likely be created only by the end of 18th century. However, it is believed that the oral version of the story had been told long before. Since its content is related to Kedah history, the work is often referred to as The Kedah Annals or The History of Kedah, for example by R. O. Winstedt in an edition published by JMBRAS Vol. XVI, pt. 2, (1938), page 31 (Liaw Yock Fang, 1975: 226).

HMM constitutes three sections. The first tells about the first Kedah king, i.e. King Merong Mahawangsa, whose name is also the title of the work. The second section is about one of the successors of King Mahawangsa, i.e. King Bersiung, who was a tyrant. The third contains a story of Kedah conversion to Islam.

One among other things that have been often discussed by researchers is its depiction of Kedah’s close relationship with Siam, Perak, Pattani, China, and the Middle East. Kedah is illustrated as a kingdom that had many connections. In fact, the work depicts Kedah as greater than three other kingdoms from the northern part of Malay Peninsula, namely Perak, Pattani, and Ayyutthaya. HMM claims that the founder of the three kingdoms were princes from Kedah (Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian, 2003: 207).

For Malays, HMM is evidence for their people accomplishment, in a certain period in history, of producing historical knowledge in a unique way. And due to its being a traditional Malay writing, its composition does not necessarily comply with the modern scientific requirements of historiography—even the least detail. It is understandable, then, that the work—as well as other works of historic literature genre—is often not recognized by Western experts.

B. Manuscripts and Publications

Various versions of HMM manuscripts and publications have been searched and listed by Siti Hawa Haji Salleh (1998: xx-xxxiv). Based on her list, the manuscripts and publication of HMM are as follows.

  1. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa in a collection of W. Maxwell, labeled as Ms. Maxwell 16. The original manuscript is kept in the library of Royal Asiatic Society in London. The copying was completed possibly by September 2, 1889 in Pinang Island by Muhammad Nuruddin bin Ahmad Rajti.
  2. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa or Ms. Maxwell 21, also a collection of W. Maxwell, kept by the Royal Asiatic Society, London. There is Maxwell’s autograph and a note entitled Singapore, 1884 in the manuscript.
  3. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa or Sejarah Negeri Kedah (The History of Kedah Kingdom). The manuscript copy was made in Sungai Kallang Kampong, Singapore. There is written a year mark 1876 on the last page (possibly the year of the copying). The manuscript is kept in Bodleian Library, Oxford University, England and labeled as Malay c.5 in the display.
  4. A version of the story is labeled von de Wall no. 201. Beside Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, the manuscript is also called Sedjarah Negeri Kedah (the history of Kedah Kingdom). Von de Wall collected a big bundle of manuscripts when he was in Riau and this Kedah manuscript was one of them. This version used to be kept in the National Museum, Jakarta, Indonesia but it has been lost and untraceable.
  5. The Wilkinson version of Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. The version printing is in stone-stamped Jawi scripts in quarto-sized paper by Kim Sik Hian Press, Number 78, Penang Street. The rewriting of this version was completed by Muhammad Yusuf Nasruddin on Rejab 2, 1316 or November 16, 1889, for R.J. Wilkinson.
  6. An English translation of some sections of the story is believed to have been published in JIAEA, Volume 3, in 1849, based on the research and translation by James Low (?).
  7. @Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, A. J. Sturrock version. The manuscript was published by Sturrock in JRASSB [JMBRAS?] Number 72, May 1916 (page 37 – 123) in Rumi (Latin) script. There is no information in the manuscript as to where it was from, who copied it, or when it was copied.
  8. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, Logan version. One of the J. R. Logan collections that is kept in the National Library of Singapore with a label number qMR 8999, 2302 HR. The manuscript was written with black ink on English laid papers that measure 29 x 18 cm. The Jawi script is neatly and beautifully written, might be by a single copier, although in some parts of it suggest that the copier got exhausted and thus the writing became rough as if he was very reluctant. The manuscript does not mention any information of the copier, place of copying, who it was copied for and when it was copied. The story is started from the center of the first page and above it, on the upper part of the page, there is written the name of J. R. Logan, the owner of the manuscript.
  9. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, a collection of Thomson. J. T. Thomson himself states in his paper that he got this manuscript probably in Pinang Island. The manuscript has been known to exist since 1934 as one of Thomson’s collections kept by his great grand child in London. There is no confirmation as to the version existence as the collections are yet to be displayed publicly.
  10. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa “school edition” or “non-scientific edition” published by Abdullah bin Haji Lubis in 1965. This edition was written based on Wilkinson version and supplemented with an informative and scientific introduction by Arena Wati. This edition is labeled “school edition”/”non-scientific edition” because the publication basically aimed at motivating people to read Malay traditional works.
  11. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa of 1969 publication. According to Fang (1975: 226), this version was created by Dzulkifli bin Mohd. Salleh and published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in photocopied prints.
  12. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa transliteration version edited by Siti Hawa Haji Salleh. The manuscript was published by Yayasan Karyawan dan Penerbit Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1998. This edition is prefaced with an introduction by Siti Hawa Haji Salleh and encloses a facsimile print-out of Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa of R. J. Wilkinson version.

C. Discourses on Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa

1. Negative View

HMM has been widely known by European researchers. It has become the object of a series of scientific researches after some parts of it were translated by James Low and published in 1849 in the JIAEA, Volume 3. James Low admitted that he was impressed by HMM and he himself went from one place to another in Kedah State to seek for places mentioned in the work: “… I am happy to add that my observations have verified pretty closely our author’s accounts of localities, and not only in the above instance, but in those which he brings forward in the subsequent parts of his work” (Salleh, 1998: xvi).

Winstedt referred to HMM when discussing the history of Kedah, his view was negative though. In his writing published in 1920, Winstedt states that the story of King Bersiung in HMM gives an indication that the ancestor of Malay dynasty was not a Malay (Salleh, 1998: xvi). In 1938, Winstedt published another writing that denied the positive views of other European researchers by revealing five results of his analysis, namely:

  1. The story of King Buluh Betung is a local myth
  2. The story of King Bersiung is an Indian myth
  3. Sheik Abdullah’s journey with the Satan King was written by a Javanese [sic]
  4. The mentioning of Sri Rama and Hanuman is a result of Thai leather-puppet story influence
  5. The mentioning of Allah’s Prophet Solomon is a result of Islam influence (Salleh, 1998: xviii)

Winstedt’s view on HMM never altered. In his writing published in the JRASMB in 1940, which was re-published in the same journal in 1958 and as a book by Oxford University Press in 1966, Winstedt states that since HMM does not mention the genealogy of Kedah rulers, the work will never be considered as “Kedah Annals” or scientifically accepted as a serious historical text (Fang, 1975: 226, Salleh, 1998:xviii). In 1961, Winstedt reiterated his negative view: “The work is full of omissions, gross anachronism and errors” (Salleh, 1998: xix).

J. C. Bottoms, in a paper entitled “Malay Historical Works”, was very likely to refer to HMM when saying that history for Malay people is not a knowledge or art, it is for fun (Salleh, 1998: xvii). In 1963, C. Hooykas states in Perintis Sastra that HMM is not a knowledge source of history but instead, an anthology of make-believe stories (Salleh, 1998: xvii).

2. Positive View

Modern researchers, either from the West or Malay people themselves, in later years took a fairer position in viewing HMM. There were then some Western scholars who had positive thoughts on the work. Aside from James Low, among the other scholars were C. O. Blagden (1899) and van Ronkel (1909).

In a paper published in the JRAS, C. O. Blagden (1899) mentions about two different manuscripts of HMM in the Malay text collection of W. Maxwell. Bladgen also paid attention on the figure of King Bersiung. He used sources from Indian literature and Jataka stories to prove that the king was a mere fictional character (Blagden in Salleh, 1998: xvii). The other researcher, van Ronkel, came up with a version of the manuscript kept in the Bataviaasch Genootschap in Batavia that was known as Sjadjarah Negeri Kedah (Salleh, 1998: xvii).

In 1940, H. G. Q. Wales, an archaeologist, conducted a research in several places in Kedah State and found that the archaeological remnants James Low spoke of actually dated much older than those mentioned in the HMM. However, about the figure of King Merong Mahawangsa himself, Wales was of the same opinion with Winstedt: “… evidently merely a legendary adventure (possibly a memory of the Maharaja, King of the Mountain), from whom the Kedah kings are supposed ultimately to have derived their origin” (Salleh, 1998: xvi).

In between 1964-1966, Siti Hawa Haji Salleh completed a thesis for her Sarjana degree in literature entitled “Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa: Sebuah Kajian Kritikan Teks” in the Department of Malay Research, Malaya University, that employs a philological approach. The research was published in 1970 and re-published in 1991 by Penerbit Universiti Malaya. The research uses a blend of various existing versions of HMM, namely the versions of Wilkinson, Sturrock and Ms. Maxwell 21. In the introduction chapter, Salleh defends the work position as a Malay historical text written through certain Malay traditional history-writing methods. Salleh also proves that Winstedt’s conclusion is false. It was the first time a publication of the Hikayat manuscripts to be scientifically accountable (Salleh, 1998: xxi).

In 1985, H. M. J. Maier using Foucaultian approach investigated on the layers of interpretation of the text, how a text is constructed upon layers and elements of culture that affect an author when writing. Without directly alluding to the text, Maier discusses about social, political, and economical developments during the years of the writing of HMM (Salleh, 1998: xxi).

Maier’s research publication drew reactions from scholars of Malay traditional literature, especially those of the school of conventional philology. Umar Junus abridged the gap between the research and Malay literature readers in Malaysia, including Malay philology experts. The result was a paper entitled “Henk Maier and Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa” (Salleh, 1998: xxi).

3. Contents

Behind the writing of every historical Malay traditional literary work, there was king’s command. A Malay traditional king always wanted to show people his own grandeur through many ways. Among other usual ways is by asking his men of letters to write a literary work whose contents followed his request (Harun Mat Piah et al. 2000, Salleh, 1998).

It was sure that a Malay traditional king would stand in a political context that was not always in favor of his authority claim. This is apparent in HMM. The king who commanded the writing of HMM was being faced with tension and pressure from other kingdoms from the northern part of Malay Peninsula. For that reason, in HMM, there is an effort of presenting a picture of Kedah as if it was bigger than other kingdoms in the region.

The image of Malay traditional kings’ grandness was also created in Malay historical literary works by enclosing a narration related to the concept of “daulat (state)” and “durhaka/derhaka (rebellion)”. Daulat says that king is the highest authority in a kingdom while durhaka posits that disaster will befall people who rebel against their king. In historical Malay traditional works, king’s authority is emphasized whilst the result of people’s rebellion is also illustrated badly so as to arouse readers’ fear to rebel.

HMM does in fact take another pattern. This is apparent in the narration when four chief ministers initiate to overthrow King Bersiung. The king is a Kedah ruler who savors eating human flesh. Everyday he commands the people to provide one person for him to devour. According to the concepts of daulat and durhaka, the command must be obeyed by all Kedah people. However, the author of HMM gives an exception for the case of King Bersiung by justifying the coup of the ministers who were also backed by the queen. Apparently the author of HMM upholds an opinion that a king’s authority is not absolute, it is conditional. When a king is being a dictator, people are right to overthrow him.

As a Malay traditional historical literary work, HMM follows a different pattern compared to that of modern scientific text. According to Piah et al. (2002) and Salleh (1998), Malay historiography always contains five elements, namely a) the ancestral origin of kings, b) the clearing of a land, c) the kings’ lineage from the first to the latest, d) the process of Islamization of kings and the entire kingdom, e) the situation when the writing or latest rewriting was carried out. Almost all elements, excluding the latest, are based on myths, legends, symbolizations, etc (Salleh, 1998: xi).

The origin of Kedah Kings as contained in the HMM derives from the King of Rome. Rome at that time was a huge state so famous of its grandness among Malay people. By claiming that the King of Rome was their ancestor, the rulers of Kedah had a popular legitimacy of their authority.

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa

Kuala Lumpur: Yayasan Karyawan dan Penerbit University Malaya
Source: Document of BKPBM, taken from Siti Hawa Haji Salleh, 1998

In HMM, King Merong Mahawangsa calls the kingdom where he stays for a while in his way to China by the name “Langkasuka”. The name is later changed into Kedah Zamin Turan. Mentioning the full name at the beginning, the author of HMM wrote only “Kedah” to refer to the state later on. Salleh (1998:xii) asserted that history has proven that Langkasuka is not Kedah. Kedah was the west harbor or entrance gate to Langkasuka at the height of its glory.

The author of HMM employed a unique method to tell the story of Islam arrival in Kedah. In other historical works, for instance in the Hikayat Raja Pasai and Sulalat-us-Salatin, the process begins with a dream. In his dream, King Pasai and Malacca meets Prophet Muhammad SAW in the night before his ship arrives at Mekah. In HMM, the process of Islamization starts with the desire of Sheik Abdullah Yamani to study under the King of Satan. With the help of his teacher, he can meet the King of Satan and travels with him around the world before finally stopping at Kedah.

For many times Sheik Yamani has protested against the Satan King’s deeds which he thinks are wrong. The Satan King does not quit his wrongdoings and instead, gives the Sheik some other chances to stay being his pupil. However in King Phra Ong Mahawangsa’s bed room, the ruler of Kedah, Sheik Yamani can no longer stand it anymore when seeing the Satan King urinating a cup of arrack King Mahawangsa is about to drink. This time, Satan King is very angry and leaves Sheik Yamani. No longer wearing Satan King’s coat, Sheik Yamani turns to be visible to King Phra Ong Mahawangsa.

The narrative of the meeting of Sheik Yamani and King Phra Ong Mahwangsa is a symbolization that is closely related to Islamic teachings. Arrack in the story is compared to Satan’s urine that it is considered to be dirty and proscribed by Islamic law.

HMM clearly explains the kings’ lineage from King Merong Mahawangsa until the seventh descendant, King Phra Ong Mahawangsa or Sultan Muzalfal Syah. Sultam Muzalfal Syah enthroned his eldest son to be his heir entitled Sultan Muazzam Syah in Palas. Whe Sultan Muzalfal Syah died, he was succeeded by Sultan Muazzam Syah. The last appendix of HMM is a brief note explaining the kings ruling Kedah since Sultan Muazzam Syah until Sultan Ahmad Tajudin Halim Syah. Salleh (1998: xiv) thinks that the last appendix was added into and edited when the manuscript was being copied during the reign of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin Halim Syah (1797 – 1843).

D. Prologue

HMM as a historical literary work can actually be approached using scientific method. However, to be so, it has first to be put on its proper place within the literature system and the readers community in which the work will be re-written, read, and preserved.

Salleh (1998: xiv) asserts that the author of HMM did follow the literary convention and comply with the principles of Malay history writing at his time. Later on, the writing of this work became one among other constituents that formed the concept of Malay traditional history that was accepted unanimously by all Malay people.

There is an aspect that demands understanding, that HMM—at least the narrative—is a very popular work among Malay people, especially Kedah people, and has now become a kind of legend. So well-liked the work is that in 2009-2010 KRU Movie, a Malaysian production house, made a movie based on HMM narration (


  • Harun Mat Piah, 2002. Traditional Malay literature. 2nd edition. Translated from the original book Kesusastraan Melayu tradisional to English by Harry Aveling. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
  • Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian, 2003. “Dialog of two Pasts: ‘historical facts’ in traditional Thai and Malay historiography”. In Abu Talib Ahmad & Liok Ee Tan (eds.), 2003. New terrains in Southeast Asian history. Athens: Ohio University Press. P. 1999-218.
  • Liaw Yock Fang, 1975. Sejarah kesusastraan Melayu klasik. Singapore: Pustaka Nasional.
  • Nur Aqidah Azisi, 2009. “Merong Mahawangsa: epic movie with a twist”. The Malay Mail [internet] June 10, 2009, available on [accessed on February 15, 2010].
  • Siti Hawa Haji Salleh, 1998. Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa. Kuala Lumpur: Yayasan Karyawan dan Penerbit Universiti Malaya.

(An. Ismanto/sas/19/02-2010)

Translation by Reza Daffi (terj/01/04-2010)

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