Gangga Negara is believed to be a semi-legendary Malay-Hindu kingdom lost to time. It is mentioned in the Malay Annals (Originally titled the Sulalatus Salatin or the Genealogy of Kings) which were composed during the 15th and 16th centuries. It details a kingdom that would cover modern-day Beruas, Dinding, and Manjung in Perak, on the west coast of the Malay peninsula.
We know where it was. We even know the names of some of the kings, for example Raja Gangga Shah Johan. But was this kingdom ever a real place?
There has been little research committed to the topic but those that have, believe that the kingdom was likely centered at Beruas, a small town in the region, but collapsed after it was attacked by the conquering King Rajendra Chola I. He was from Coromandel in South India.
This attack is estimated to have happened within the 11th century. However, little archaeological evidence has ever presented itself and the written sources are so scant that it can be hard to create a picture of just what the lost kingdom of Gangga Negara was or what people may have lived there.
The only other source that is readily available comes from the Kedah Annals though these were not written until the 18th century. These annals claim that the kingdom may have been founded by Raja Ganji Sarjuna of Kedah who was allegedly a descendant of Alexander the Great after his conquests in the area.
The sources point to this or that they descended from the Khmer royal line no later than the 2nd century. However, with so little rock-solid knowledge it can be hard to grasp a firm picture.
The History of Gangga Negara
Gangga Negara is a name that means “a city on the Ganges” when translated from Sanskrit. Thus the kingdom is thought to be the Hindu-Malay Kingdom that may have been founded naturally by the indigenous people of the area.
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Other possibilities exist due to the well-established trade routes through the area. It is possible that it could have been from traveling Hindu traders or from the Kambuja people who originate from Ganganagar in Northwest India. The Kambuja people were an Indo-Iranian Clan from the Indo-Aryan family that is associated with the areas of Pamirs and Badakshan. Their colonies tended to focus along the Mekon Valley and in certain areas across the Malay Archipelago.
The reason historians believe that the Kambuja people may have had a hand in founding Gangga Negara is that historians have been able to trace their travels from Gujarat across to Sri Lanka before heading to Ligor in the Northern Malay peninsula. It is recorded that traders from the kingdom of Champ, when they were en-route to Aceh, used Pattani as an overland route to cross the Isthmus of Kra. This allowed the kingdoms of Chi Tu and Lembah Bujang, both well attested real places, to thrive.
Uncovering the Lost Kingdom
The first research in this kingdom was originally conducted by Colonel James Low in the 19th century. He spent time researching the kingdom around 1849, publishing numerous papers spanning Thailand and the Malay Peninsula until he died the next year.
His research was furthered a century later by H.G. Quaritch-Wales. Quaritch-Wales served as an adviser to the courts of King Rama VI and King Rama VII in the 20th century and used his experiences and resources to become a published author on Siamese State history and ceremonies. Both researchers concluded that Gangga Negara did exist as a kingdom, but neither could locate it.
Excavations did take place and there was a discovery of artifacts and tombstones that had inscriptions that indicated Beruas may have been the center of power for Gangga Negara. They also suggested that Beruas was a crucial center for the spread of Islam in the Malay Peninsula, although this is less clear.
Later archaeological evidence has suggested that if such a kingdom was to exist, its capital or center may have moved many times over the centuries. Finds at Pengkalan, Kinta Valley, Bidor, and Sungai Siput all show lavish grave goods to suggest that power may have been situated in all these places at one point.
One industry that may have been important and suggests that the kingdom of Gangga Negara may have had extensive trade links is that of glass beads and bead-making tools. The finds in the area suggest that the production of glass beads may have been in operation at the time and that they may have obtained the blue coloring for them from Egypt.
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It is known that the Ban Chiang and Dayaks of Borneo sought this resource as well which suggests a lucrative trade link with Africa. Information on the site however becomes sparse after this period as Islam took hold and renamed the site Beruas.
Beruas and the Sultanate of Perak
By the 15th century, artifacts and inscriptions on tombstones reveal that there was a clear Islamic influence in the area. It is believed to have originated from the Sultanate of Malacca on the Eastern Coast of the Malay peninsula.
It was during this period that the area seems to receive its first organized local government as well as many others that appear apparent in its neighbors under the rule of Raja Roman and Tun Saban. It grew to be the second oldest Muslim kingdom in this region.
According to the Perak royal genealogy, the Perak Sultanate was established in the early 16th century by the 8th Sultan of Malacca. He had survived the Portuguese invasion and arrived at the throne to become Muzaffar Shah I
Unfortunately, due to the fragmentary evidence that is available, it is impossible to conclude whether the kingdom of Gangga Negara ever truly existed. However, the lack of legend and mystic tradition surrounding the area suggests that there may have been a minor kingdom in the early 2nd century until the 11th century that was simply absorbed by its neighbors.
The kingdom’s only claim to fame seems to derive from a link to Alexander the Great but in all else, it seems reasonable to assume that there was a city-state in this Malay region. Maybe it is still out there, waiting to be found.
Top Image: Why can’t the lost kingdom of Gangga Negara be found? Source: cn0ra / Adobe Stock.
By Kurt Readman