Bujang in Malaysia

An article in the Malay Mail(1) of October 19, 2020 had the news about a new Museum Board dedicated to the museums in the Malaysian state of Kedah. One of the sites to be listed is that of the “Hindu-Buddhist archaeological site of North Serebang Perai” in the Bujang-valley it said, a site adjacent to an ancient port.

This Malay Mail article mentioned a “Pali inscription” and the memorial stone inscribed with the name of a certain Buddhagupta.

With regard to this Buddhist archeaological site(2) one should keep in mind that

a/ the earliest traces of this “Hindu-Buddhist” site date from the 5th – 6th Cent.(3)

b/ As usual Vaisnavite (Hindu) priests encroached on the Buddhist site and built a lingam and possibly additional buildings; the site nevertheless survived as a Buddhist monastery to at least the beginning of the 9th Cent., see below

c/ The Pali language is used by the Theravada Buddhist monastics, not by the Hindu priesthood

d/ As of a certain time Theravada monastics may have followed the Chinese custom of erecting memorials for deceased members of the community

e/ The first Buddhist settlement on this Bujang location must have been a Theravada-presence from neighbouring Siam (Thailand)

f/ Up to this day we see how Thai and Srilankan monks succeed each other in the running of Buddhist institutions – different language and ceremonies prevent a succesful living together.

The name of Buddhagupta remained somewhat a mystery until I came across Prof. R.Choudhary’s “History of Bihar”.(4)

The particular section that deals with an Indian Pala king by the name of Dharmapala (end 8th, beginning 9th Cent.) runs as follows:

“Dharmapala was a Buddhist … He established the University of Vikramashila. … Ratna-kar[a]-shanti of Odantpur (Odantapura) was appointed Dwar-pandita (recruiter?) of Vikramashila. He was invited by the Ceylonese king and he went there to preach Buddhism. He wrote many books on Logic. … During the time of Dharmapala Buddhagupta was the head of the university.”

With the knowledge of these three names of Dharmapala, Ratnakarashanti and Buddhagupta, we are able to draw the triangle of Vikramashila – Ceylon – Bujang.

The Pala-empire had a trade or other post on the shore of the Bujang Valley. Dharmapala sent Ratnakarashanti to Ceylon. He, Ratnakarashanti, told Ceylonese monastics about the Pala-presence and a Buddhist vihara (monastery) in the lovely Bujang-valley. Some Srilankan monks went thither. Ratnakarashanti returned to Vikramashila and recounted his visit to Ceylon and how Ceylonese monks had decided to visit the Bujang monastery. Buddhagupta heard or read Ratnakarashanti’s travelogue and decided to go and visit Bujang for himself. Once there he must have been received with great pomp: the top brass of Vikramashila has come to visit us, humble monks. After Buddhagupta’s death — and he must have died in the Bujang-monastery or else he would not have received a memorial plaque or stele — the monks there erected a memorial in his honour and inscribed his name in stone.

With this knowledge an important piece of history of Buddhism in Malaysia could be established, thanks to Pr. Choudary.

  1. http://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/10/19/penang-assembly-approves-law-to-regulate-states-museums/1914265.
  2. https://wiki2.org/en/Seberang_Perai
  3. http://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/2009/03/05/evidence-iron-smelting-discovered-malaysia/
  4. History of Bihar, Prof. R. Choudhary, 1958, p.117