Monday, August 20, 2012



Cultures can die. Dying cultures attest to colonizability of the people they represent. In Palembang on Bukit Siguntang-Mahameru, Pu Aton staked herself as a descendant of Pateh Gajah Mada, the warrior-premier of Majapahit who swore before his Queen he would unite the Malay Archipelago or die encased in eternal disgrace. Pu Aton believed she was eternal and tried to simplify the bewildering wayang (shadow play) someone staged on the benchmark of the region’s history.

We are “appearances”, she said, meaning they had all been epiphanies of the Hindu Gods, the Batara Guru (Siva), Batara Ganesa and Batara Vishnu. They were all the wayang of the One, of consciousness per se, Batara Brahma. He is Existence.

She was Sokiatan Binti Esmorajo, the nyai (old lady) of Bukit Siguntang. Regarding herself as the keeper of Raja Segentar Alam, the Alexander the Great someone “buried” inside what is clearly a Muslim grave, she volunteered to tell me the grave was empty.

That may not be altogether true. There could be a token or relic buried inside the shrine, like the eight strands of the Buddha’s hair that were said to have been enshrined in a pagoda in Burma, probably representing the Eight Auspicious Symbols in Buddhism. Taken as a whole Bukit Siguntang today is possibly an “appearance” of a yantra of shrines, or a sphere of power, a mandala.

Among the shrines on Siguntang was that of Puteri Rambut Selako. It was said she was Parameswara’s wife he left behind in Palembang when he escaped to Temasik.

The other shrines on Siguntang were of the great warriors, Pangeran Batu Api, Panglima Bagus Kuning; Panglima Bagus Garang; and the celestial princess, Puteri Kembang Dadar, who apparently never menstruated all her blessed life. These other shrines occur elsewhere in Palembang, the heartland of one of the largest empires in the medieval world, Srivijaya.

Pu Aton had been to Negeri Sembilan in July 2005 as a guest of Dato’ Klana Petra, Haji Mubarak Bin Haji Dohak, the 10th Undang Luak of Sungai Ujong (Seremban) who was installed in June 2005. She brought with her a handful of soil from Bukit Siguntang for the Undang, a gesture of romance confirming a historical past that is a mish-mash of legends, myths and matters of fact.

Here, in this world made of deeply set beliefs, even Wan Empuk and Wan Malini, the two women who first met the three Alexandrian hypostases on Siguntang were immortalized in Malay mantras. Since they had seen their padi glitter as gold and silver, they in turn were recalled for ages in the padi reaping ceremony for the grace they represented.

Hey Lady ‘Pok, Lady Melani,
Ladies of Peace shouldering the pole!
Whenever you come the harvest is rich,
With gracious gifts of God.† [Skeats. W.W., 1900, p. 615]

Magic comes easy in a world with such a Gracious God. Pu Aton knew her literature well and tried to tell me the Malay mysteries must be cleverly interpreted along stable lines of usages or they would become tawar,i.e. lose their potency. ‘Read them as mithalan (symbols), and interpret them by ta’wil, like interpreting dreams,’ she said.

I had learned to do a little of that. A rain-bearing cloud would mean the queen or reigning princess is pregnant, and a cloud that drifted after relieving itself of its moisture would mean the king or queen is dead.

That is an example of Malay symbolism. That is ta’wil at its simplest. In every culture there’s meaning and there’s the meaning of Meaning. In the Qur’an the Ka’aba is the House of God. That would mean the human ‘heart’. In Malay culture the heart is physiologically sometimes associated with the liver (hati) when it is the seat of discernment and at other times the physical heart (jantung sanubari), which is the centre of emotions.

In the universe this ‘heart’ is the ‘Arash (Throne), and is the centre of all the Names of God. It is the seat of “I AM”, the existential locus of human consciousness. The Footstool (Kursi) is the mind, the threshold of the Throne, encompassing the seven heavens. In the human form the Footstool refers to the Sirr (lit. secret), the inner conscience, locus of the divine commands. But who sits on the Throne of God?

While to the laity it is God the Supreme Judge (Qadi Rabbu’l-Jalil), the elite understood it as the monad, the one indivisible human substance in whom is the nature of the Divine Command (Amru’l-Lah). In the Qur’an He is the Muta’, or the One Obeyed.

Moving now from the interpretation (ta’wil) of the symbols to the determination (ta’rif) in the sensible world, the Raja Segentar Alam (lit. World Shaker) should be easily traced to the Muta’ (the One Obeyed). In the wayang of history He would be jointly and severally the world conquerors like Cyrus, Darius. Alexander, Solomon, Nurshirwan, Rajendra Chola, Kublai Khan, Gajah Mada, and of course, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, among others.

We may say these are the avatars, or the modified and limited forms of the same Logos, the Muta’.† (Q. 81:21) All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. Some, no doubt, are more special than all the others. Hence, the mithalan (symbols), ta’wil (interpretation) and the ta’rif (determination) must apply for Malay history and historical motifs to be properly construed. The formula is to be found in Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnain. [see Khalid Husain, 1967, p. 148]

In the culture these rules applied to most of everything that we called information. The Existent is God. Since all are epiphanies of the ‘affairs’ of the same God, they must then be mithalan (symbols) and would need to be strenuously interpreted (ta’wil), and finally determined (ta’rif) as a tasty luncheon of “truth” to be digested and acted upon.

While the masters of the sacred texts limit themselves to interpreting the scriptural symbols, the Malay adept applied it in his everyday life. He is no ‘animist’ bent on turning everything in his experiences into folklore. He lived his life in a reality that is solely advanced from Existence, of which he himself is the Book. Except for failing to produce a Sacred [written] Book, his religion is not any different from the Indo-Aryan or the Semitic.

Existence is the sole reality. When we observe Mr. Mouse, the real subject of our observation is Existence while Mr. Mouse is an accident that determines Existence into the particular thing, or idea, symbol, or name – Mr. Mickey Mouse, the delightful Disney’s rat.

The substance of Mr. Mouse, or of a tree, a tiger, a mountain or human person, is only an accident that modifies Existence into a limited form. In other words, everything observable in the sensible world is a modification and a limited form of Existence, and if you so wish, of God Almighty.

Nizami puts it this way in Layla and Majnun:

“Each grain of sand takes its own length and breath as the measure
of the world; yet beside a mountain range it is as nothing. You are
yourself the grain of sand; you are your own prisoner. Break your
cage, break free from yourself, from humanity; learn that what you
thought was real is not so in reality…then the world, your sovereign
will become your slave.”

The phenomenal world, therefore, is only the “affairs” of Existence, the internal articulations of God (or of absolute consciousness) from the unknowable to become the knowable. This is the shu’un of the Holy Qur’an in the verse ‘His only command when He so desires an affair (sha’an) is to say to it “Be!” and it is.’ [Qur’an 36: 82]

Izutsu wrote, ‘The reality of existence is immediately grasped only when the empirical selfhood is annihilated, when the ego-consciousness is completely dissolved into the consciousness of Reality, or rather, Consciousness which is Reality. [Izutsu, T., 1971, p. 8]

In other words, this reality is available to the greater Self, or the universal self that is more closely aware and identified with Existence (Malay Ada, Ar. Wujud).

These “affairs of Existence” shape themselves into the forms involved in the events of history by a process of ‘appearance’. The ‘appearances’ are epiphanies (Malay terjali; Ar. tajalli), reminding us of the Jelebu Teromba which began with the birth of Batin Terjali , the grandson of the great magician, Mertang, who married his sister, Tuk Etah, and went to Pagar Ruyung. [see Samad Idris, 1994, pp. 4-5]

It is about the monad, the single and indivisible Man who must necessarily marry someone of His own making, a “sister” or a “companion made from His rib”, or a woman that appeared in a clump of bamboo. In Hinduism Brahma married His daughter, Gayatri, who is finally the “Sun” that illumines the sensible world.

The Malay lived his life by this cultivation of a culture of Existence. That entailed giving the world into three realms, the upper realm of the Indo-Aryan Indra, or Kayangan with its spheres (falak). Then there’s the human middle-world he called Alam, using the Arabic word to mean all that he surveyed, such as Alam Melayu (The Malay world), or Alam Manusia (the Human World). The third was the netherworld of the jinn, bunian, poyang-poyang, peri and hantu - the genies, elves, nymphs, fairies and demons.

Symbols must mean differently to each class of society. A rain-bearing cloud would mean the queen is pregnant to those whose lives were immediately affected by the regnant. To farmers it could mean “a blessing” but not necessarily to fishermen. This existential scheme of signs must be read according to who you are. It is finally denominated by knowledge of self and Self, the latter being the Word of God, the Logos.

Who then was this Iskandar Zulkarnain, Raja Segentar Alam? What mithalan would he be and what gems would the ta’wil cast?

We have already ‘determined’ He is a limited and modified form of the Muta’, the One Who Is Obeyed. That’s about one level of interpretation. On another plane He is said to be ‘hidden in the breath’, that is, he was an “appearance” of an aspect of Divinity hidden in the nature of the Breath. He must be invoked to be brought into “appearance” and by strenuous self-cleansing through the scheme of Purgation-Illumination-Perfection, he could be brought into being in your self according to your capacity to accept him.

Beringin Songsang

In Malay religion, said Batin Talib, we must try to make our way to ‘the before of before’ (dahulu daripada dahulu), beyond all beginnings, beyond Adam and even beyond Iblis (Lucifer) who was created thousands of years before Adam.

In the Kelantan Main Peteri mantra ‘the before of before’ was described as

‘…before the Pen was sharpened, before the Ink
was made, before the Tablet was written, before the First
was emplaced and when the Last was not yet created, before
the world was spread and the sky became concave….in the dark
of darkness and in chaos…’. That was when ‘the before was before’.
[see Gimlette, John. D., 1915, p. 275]

This path is called Beringin Songsang,† the Inverted Fig Tree, going back into creation to ‘revive the dead’.† The word beringin is literally ‘to aspire’ and songsang is upside down or inside out. It is the same as Nizami’s Break your cage, break free from yourself, from humanity; learn that what you thought was real is not so in reality…then the world, your sovereign will become your slave. Beringin Songsang is metaphysical revolution. [see Skeats p. 634]

The world was changing. New powers jostled to control the Straits of Malacca and the Sunda Straits, Islam swiftly becoming dominant in the Archipelago. Either the Malays find the means to culturally survive or it would be the end of their cultural identity and historical mission.

They modified the Semitic Creation story. In it God Almighty made Adam from clay and then He sneezed. The image of Adam broke to pieces at the impact of that Almighty Atchooohah! A Sneeze it was. Azrael, the Archangel entrusted with the task of modeling Adam, returned to remake the image of Man.

‘Then God commanded Azrael to take the steel of Khorasan (Besi Khersani)† and drive it down Adam’s back so that it became the 33 bones (Dilantakkan di belakang, menjadi 33 tulang), the harder steel at the top and the softer below it. The harder steel shot up heavenwards, and the softer steel penetrated the earth. Thus the image of Adam came to life, and dwelt in Paradise…’ [Skeats, W.W., 1900, p. 585]

The Malay had obviously learned from his experiences and learned his lessons well. Breaking away from the alien captivities was essential, but to choose the right brand of Islam was equally critical. We need to remember on the 10th of Muharram at Kerbala (now in Iraq), Yazid ibn Muawiyah, the Umayyad emperor, had his troops surround the Prophet’s grandchildren and their children and decimated all but one of the males in the family. Islam could never be the same after that. The religion split into two halves and a significant number of the surviving members of Muhammad’s descendants turned to the Shi’ahs of Persia and of Yemen. That was one choice the Malay could make. He took it but failed to come through cleanly.

The Malay had his own exegesis of Existence. He had his own monad. Gayomart (Kayumurs), who was first a son of Adam the Farsi had turned into the first Man. Adam had been usurped.

That story the Pahlavans told in this way:

He said: “That customs of the throne and crown,
First Kayumurs when he was king laid down,
To the Ram’s constellation when the sun
Entered, the earth with brilliant splendor shone.
From the Ram’s constellation he gave light,
So that the earth became young and bright,
When Kayumurs was master of the land,
In the hill country first he took his stand,
His throne and fortune overtopped the hill.
- [Alexander Rogers, trs. Shah Namah of Firdusi, 1907, p. 6]

Here then is a clear indication of the Malay Iskandar Zulkarnain. He was Kayumurs (Gayomart), now the Persian Adam, King of the Mountain, Sailaraja in Sanskrit or Sailendra, Kaudinya’s dynasty of Funan. Funan is the Chinese rendering of kurung bnam, ‘King of the Mountain’ - ‘His throne and fortune overtopped the hill’. Gayomart came through Aries, the Ram, the Possessor of Two Horns. It is the Sun that enters Aries during the vernal equinox to begin the zodiacal year. Gayomart is the Sun. In the Hindu it was Gayatri (Savitri). The Farsi made her Gayomart.

‘We were originally Farsi,’ Batin Talib said, ‘from Iskandar Zulkarnain. He would use ‘Turki’ (Turkic) and ‘Farsi’ interchangeably. When “Rum” was suggested he agreed, begitulah (that is so), he would say.

The Malay believed himself to be a descendant of Gayomart. He was ‘from the land of the East’.† He had simplified for himself his own route into his Self. What was left was to see if he could be stable in this genesis or he would crumple before the Lord of the Flies and himself father grubs.

To him Man is primarily a construct of several basic aspects of the conscious self, the first being Seri Alam, which is that element of the ‘common sense’ that determines our universal sense-experience, which is the World of Man.

Seri Segentar Alam is the second of these basic aspects of the human being and it is about his inner breath, the inner inspiration and expiration of the God-conscious personality that has gone beyond ‘the before of before’. This is the creative-breath, possibly the same as the Hindu prana and the chi of the Taoist, the tanafasa of the Qur’an. (Qur’an, 81:18). This ‘Breath’ is light, and Alam is now the body.

The creations of the Seri Alam in the external world are projected to our sense perception by the inner breath and thus the inner breath can ‘shake the world’ (gentar alam). Hence, the Raja Segentar Alam is the King of that creative energy, which is easily recognized as the monad, the single and indivisible Spirit of Man.

This was the Malay Iskandar Zulkarnain, the dynamo behind human existential nature who determined that human civilization must first be about protecting and enhancing life, knowledge, equity, justice and culture. Among the worst of sins in that framework was to lie, since that would ultimately be affronting the human communis , the human existential unity.

Zulkarnain literally means Possessor of Two Horns, the simplest symbol which would take us towards the integration of East and West. Here then is the Universal Man.

The erudite must apply his knowledge to his heart (hati) the seat of discernment. The heart also contains his biological forces. It encompasses all the worlds and the spheres making it possible for him to gain insights and intuition beyond the reach of ordinary mental faculties. By his heart, King Solomon, it was believed, could communicate with the jinns, animals, birds and insects. This was called Seri Putaran Alam.

The final basic aspect of the human being is his soul. In his pursuit for illumination and perfection he must make the attempt to become himself a Word, a Kalimat.

Reaching that height made him an ‘appearance’ of Bentera Alam,† a servant of God. He is at all times merely a modified and limited form of the Real, Existence.

That Bentara Alam is Iskandar Zulkarnain, the phenomenal appearance(s) of Gayomart, the monad. He was enshrined on Siguntang as the hallmark of Malay religion and culture, his intimacy with the world of variety and of extremes he wants to unite, to moderate and to integrate into a Federation of Man, into kuyup damai – an immersion of Peace, such as John’s baptism by immersion into the waters of the Jordan.

He was to be a special “Malay Man” (Orang Melayu), having his own “power-grid” like it is with the Chinese ‘meridians’ running through the human body modern science has yet to discover.


As an individual he is a particle of that Breath of Segentar Alam and hence, to him ‘Wind’ (Angin ) is an especially important creative substance. .

Be careful of the Wind regulating the physical desdires (Shariat)
affecting the hairs and the skin.
The Wind carrying the reality of Life (Hakikat), affecting the flesh and blood.
The Wind of the movement of emotions (Tarekat) affecting
the arteries and the bones.
The Wind regulating the encounter with the Self (Ma’rifat) affecting
life and seed.† [Gimlette, John D., 1915, p.279]

The Malay Angin is the same as the Arabic Ruh, which means breath and wind. [See Gibbs, H.A.R and Kramers, J. H., 1961, art. Nafs, p. 433] It is the Breath of Life [Qur’an, 15:29] and hence, in Malay medicine, most complaints issue from this Wind, or these Winds.

This part of the Malay is now already a discarded culture, surviving mainly as a barren body of superstition. That’s the price that must be paid for being colonized. It is the cost of subjugation. Malay religion is now wholly Arab religion, the residual Malay culture regarded mainly as an unwelcome guest, a deviant intruder.


Upon Siguntang came later the Alexandrian triad that became the starting point of Malay history in Palembang, as it was narrated by Tun Seri Lanang in the Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) and in some other Malay “fables”. In Batin Talib’s narration one segment of the same Malay history began with Kenaton, Koreh and Tuen in Pagar Ruyung, the chronological absurdity notwithstanding. What mattered was the meaning that could and would be derived from the mithalan (symbols), ta’wil (interpretation) and ta’rif (determination) of the mythological saga.

The Malay saw his self and Self as given to Diri Yang Terdiri, which is his physical person, Diri Yang Terperi, which is the subtle body conceived as being the body he experiences in his dreams or in the dream-states, Diri Terjali, the epiphany, and finally Diri Yang Berdiri Sendiri, which is Existence, the “I AM” or God. We will return to this later.

Now we need to ask, since he is insisting on a fundamentally legalistic Islam, what will the Malay become in the near future? When China becomes the world’s largest economy by 2025, with India close behind, and the geopolitical exigencies would once again change drastically, would he become an Arabic speaking descendant of Mickey Mouse or could he possibly become the Sun? --- © a. ghani ismail, 6 March, 2008

Notes †

† Hei Dang ‘Pok, Dang Melani,
Dang selamat menyandang galah!
Bertapok bertimbun dayang kemari,
Selamat rezki iberinya Allah.
Dengan berkat ……….

† Muta’ (Q. 81:21) – word from ati’u – ati’ullah wa ati’ur-rausl…(obey God and obey the Messenger. Muta’ is the obeyed one, by whose command the spheres are moved. According to Karim al-Jili in his Insanu’l-Kamil (Perfect Man), the Muta’ is one of the names of the Divine Spirit, the Spirit of Muhammad (Ruhu’l-Muhammadi), of which Muhammad is the perfect manifestation, or ‘appearance’. Muhammad was reported to have said, He who has seen me has seen Allah’. He is the Amr Allah, the Logos. Others say the Muta’ refers to the Pole (Qutb), who moves the world. [See Nicholson, R.A., 1964, pp. 63-64]

† Puteh boleh menjadi hitam,
Hitam boleh menjadi puteh, Sri Jaya sifatnya aku,
Sri Allah, Sri Muhammad!
Aku jadi di Beringin Songsang,
Kabul berkat do’a memakai do’a Langgudi Hitam,
Sudah mati hidup samula,
Berkat La ilaha…. – p. 634 - Skeats

† From the land of the East. In the Old Testament Abraham sent his sons from Keturah, his third wife, ‘to the land of the east.’ The Malays could choose the better of two worlds. [See Te NIV Study Bible, Gen. 25:6

† see Skeats pp. 581-583

† Besi Kurasani occurs in the following Malay Mantra:

Hei urat segala urat
Urat Kurasani selilit pinggang
Besi berdiri tulang belakang
Ah! Jaga urat Kurasani selilit pinggang
Tulang bergantung kepada daging
Daging bergantung kepada urat Urat bergantung kepada kulit
Naga berjuang di dalam laut
Kalau tidak jaga
Derhaka engkau kepada Allah
Dengan berkat La illaha ila’l-Lah …..
[Haron Daud, 2004, Ulit Mayang – Kumpulan Mantera Melayu, Selangor, 2004]

† The four basic aspects of the monad occur in the Kitab Pawang as ‘Empat Kudrat Pawang’. See Skeats, 1900, pp.582-583

† The Winds - Jaga sekali Angin Shareat, roma dengan kulit,
Angin Hatekat, daging dengan darah,
Angin Tarekat, urat dengan tulang,
Angin Marifat, nyawa dengan benih. [Gimlette, J.D., 1915, p.279]


1. A.Samad Idris et al., Luak Jelebu, Muzium Negeri dan Kerajaan Negeri Sembilan Darul Khusus, 1994

2. Gibbs, H.A.R and Kramers, J. H., Shorter Encyclopaedia Of Islam, London, 1961

3. Gimlette, John. D., Malay Poisons and Charm Cures, O.U.P., Singapore, 1915, 5th imp. 1991

4. Haron Daud, 2004, Ulit Mayang – Kumpulan Mantera Melayu, Selangor, 2004

5. Izutsu, Toshihko, The Concept and Reality of Existence, The Keo Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies, (?), 1971, p. 5 ]

6. Khalid Hussain, Hikayat Iskandar Zulkarnain, Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka, Kuala Lumpur, 1967

7. Rogers, Alexander, trs., The Shah-Namah Of Firdusi, Chapman & Hall, London, 1907, reprint Heritage Publishers, Delhi, 1973

8. Skeats, Walter William, Malay Magic, MBRAS No. 24, 1900 (reprint 2005)

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