The Princess of Gunung Ledang

on Thursday, June 05, 2008


The Malay culture has many interesting stories that have been handed down over the centuries. Some of them are based on historical events and others are more in the form of legends. Sadly, many of these tales are not well known to the average modern city dwelling Malaysian and are perhaps today found only in the libraries of academicians and in the memories of some elders in the remote villages.

However, there are still several enduring legends which are still relatively well known. One of them is the legend of the Princess of Mount Ophir or as she is known in Malay, "Puteri Gunung Ledang". Puteri means "princess" and Gunung Ledang is the Malay name for Mount Ophir. The legend was recently made into a movie and a musical which has greatly helped to keep its magic alive in the people's consciousness.

The legend dates back to the 15th Century at the height of power and prosperity of the Kingdom of Melaka. The Kingdom had grown rich and strong by being an important port of call for trading vessels plying the profitable marine trade route between India and China. In recognition of the power and importance of the kingdom, Sultan Mansur Shah received from China a princess bride and he had another princess bride too from a nearby Kingdom in what is now the island of Java.

Yet this did not satisfy the growing ego of the Sultan and his desire for recognition. Since he considered himself superior to the surrounding kings and sultans, he wanted a queen that no other ordinary king or sultan could possess. To the horror of his advisors, he declared that he wanted to marry the Princess of Mount Ophir.

Now there are many stories about the origin of this Princess and many of them ascribe to her mystical powers and claim her to be more than a mortal being. She lived on the top of the tallest mountain (Mount Ophir) in the south of the Malay Peninsula. It is said that her court consisted only of women that could appear and disappear with the mists on the mountain top and that could become pregnant by the power of the wind that blows there. It is also said that she was protected by tigers which were actually jungle peoples with the power of transformation. The Sultan believed that he had been chosen by God to be the sultan and having the Princess of Mount Ophir as his queen would give legitimacy to his claim of divine appointment.

He called on his most trusted warrior, Hang Tuah, who is a legendary warrior in his own right, and sent him on the mission to secure the princess' hand in marriage for the Sultan. Hang Tuah and his men went up the mysterious mountain and after some adventure, found the Princess and her court and conveyed the Sultan's desire for marriage.

The legend tells of how the Princess really does not want to marry Sultan Mansur but in recognition of his power decided not to embarrass him by saying no. Instead, she tells Hang Tuah and his men to tell the Sultan that he must first provide a suitable dowry. She requested the following; a bridge of gold and silver from the foothills of Melaka to the top of Mount Ophir, seven trays full of the hearts of mosquitoes, seven trays full of the hearts of mites, a bowl of water wrung from dried areca nuts, a bowl of tears from virgins, a cup of the Sultan's blood and a bowl of the blood of the Sultan's baby son.

When Hang Tuah heard this, he knew immediately that these conditions would never be fulfilled and felt that he had failed the Sultan. Rather than face the Sultan in disgrace, he threw his magical keris (curved dagger) Taming Sari into the Duyung River and vowed never to return to Melaka unless the keris floated to the surface. With that, some stories say that the mighty warrior that had kept Melaka safe from her enemies, faded into the mists of time.

Nevertheless, the Princess' dowry demands are delivered to the Sultan. The legend says that the Sultan was so driven with his desire to claim the Princess' hand, he actually sets about fulfilling the dowry conditions. He actually builds the golden bridge and collects all those wonderful items. However, when it come to collecting a bowl of blood from his infant son, the Sultan realises the baby would die in the process and finally realises that he is not able to make that sacrifice.

The legend tells how this mad endeavour had bankrupted the Kingdom. The Sultan himself was a spent man and withdrew himself more and more from the real world. In this manner, the mighty Kingdom of Melaka was fatally weakened and finally fell when Hang Tuah was not there to defend it when the Portugese fleet attacked in 1511.

Although this legend may sound fantastical to the modern listener, it is actually hard to tell myth from truth as it is so well woven with historical events and actual physical locations. Elements of the story are also found within the texts of serious historical records written by the conquering Portugese and even the Arab and Chinese traders. Believers will tell you that final definitive proof is still available in the form of the remains of the golden bridge now hidden by the jungle and Hang Tuah's keris lying at the bottom of a dark pool of water on the Duyung River. Squirrel's Believe it or Nuts.

18 comments:

kimber the wolfgrrrl said...

I'd never heard the story of Puteri Gunung Ledang before, and it's wonderful! Will you tell us more stories, LGS? More! More!

Claire said...

It is a good story to rationalize how Malaysia got conquered by the Portugese.

mago said...

A unique story. For a moment I had to think of Hagen who also was sent out to bring a bride to his king. Ophir is always used as synonym for a wealthy place, a place of wonders, and ecstasy. Wonder whether someone was searching for the Kriss ... Is there the possibility that it would be found? Will the hero return?

On a limb with Claudia said...

What a wonderful story! I love it - I love that she was unwilling to injure the sultan and that he was unwilling to kill his son. Now that's a great story!

Thanks for sharing it!

It reminds me of Romona and her Alessandro - a story from old California.

Dr.John said...

All legends contain within them a kernal of truth.

MedStudentWife said...

Its a tale that is a wonderful bedtime story (just about mine *yawn*)

But I can also see a past society trying to explain current events, that were meaningful at the time.. but the mist of time has obscured certain facts.

If you have more, LGS, I would love to hear them.

Marja said...

Great story I love legends The The Maori people have many. Inspires me to share one next time.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

kimber,
Thank you for the enthusiasm. I shall try to do more stories.

claire,
I agree. Cause we all know that the Portugese with their muskets and cannons could not hope to beat Hang Tuah and his keris. :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

mago,
The Chinese traders also believed that there was gold on that mountain. I also see a similarity with other legends with mystical swords. Arthur threw Excalibur into a lake.

claudia,
Romona and Alessandro? Perhaps you could share the tale.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

dr. john.
I agree that legends have a kernel of truth......or perhaps sometimes a kernel of excuse?

Msw,
okay, more bedtime stories in the making.

Marja,
I would love to hear(oops, read) some Maori legends.

meggie said...

Fascinating. I love to hear the legends of old. There always seems a small grain of truth hidden in the stories.

Odat said...

Wow...very interesting. I love to hear stories about different cultures. thanks for sharing.
Peace

Sincerity said...

I love legends! How neat! Thank you so much for sharing! And there is a moral to this story. Sometimes the things we want the most are not the best things for us. But when we push for those things anyways a lot of people get hurt in the process.

Sadly I think this type of mindset is common-place in the United States mentality. A lot folks think its okay to push, step on others, and demand your own way. It never works out the way people think it will.

Personally, I think God's way is better. That warrior in the legend had the right attitude. He had a servant's heart and could clearly see what was right to do.

geewits said...

Well it's just a metaphor for how power and greed can bring ruin. I loved it!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

meggie,
Thanks. Truth is somewhere in the story. I agree.

Odat,
Thanks.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Sincerity,
I like your take on the story. But perhaps the best stories leave readers the freedom to come to their own conclusions.

geewits,
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Like your take on the story too.

Molly said...

What a wonderful story. I wonder if they'll show the film here in the States?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Molly,
I am afraid that it is doubtful that the film will be screened in the U.S. I think only a handful of Malaysian films have made it thus far.

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