An example of a preserved candi in Karawang, Indonesia. Photo: WikiMedia Commons.

What is a candi?

Candis are Hindu and Buddhist temples and sanctuaries which were built in the 8th to 15th centuries, out of brick and stone. Ancient non-religious structures such as urban ruins and bathing places are often called candi, but the word is mostly used to describe a religious shrine. While candi are prominently found in Indonesia, they are also found throughout South-east Asia.

So how old is the one Lembah Bujang?

The ruins of candi and other archaeological sites in this area date back more than 2,000 years. Excavations with Hindu and Buddhist influences that point towards a Hindu-Buddhist kingdom that traces as far back as 110 CE.

Researchers have also identified 127 sites with 90 candi in the Bujang Valley. This ancient civilisation with elements of Hinduism and Buddhism has existed since the 5th century, even before the beginning of the Islamic calendar.

Why the fuss?

A candi believed to be more than 1,000 years old, located in Sungai Batu Estate, Lembah Bujang, was demolished by housing developers clearing land for a residential housing project.

Candi 11, which measured 250ft long and 150ft wide, was first discovered by British explorers in the 1920s, and was reconstructed in 1974 by the Museum Department. The NGO Badan Warisan Malaysia is trying to get the valley recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is feared that several candi have been destroyed over the years.

Fail! How did this happen?

The developer claimed to not know the historical significance of the stone edifice. Datuk V. Nadarajan, a researcher who is conducting a study on the Lembah Bujang site, discovered that the candi was demolished and lodged a police report to stop the developers. However, no action was taken.

Nadarajan also criticised the Sg Petani municipal council for approving the housing project despite knowing the existence of the candi. “They built the road to it. They know tourists go there. At the very least, they could have incorporated the candi into the development plan, built around it and maintained it. But they didn’t bother.”

What’s happening now?

The developer who demolished a candi has agreed to temporarily stop work, said Kedah’s Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir. Culture and Tourism Minister Nazri Aziz directed the Commissioner of Heritage to save the archaeological site from being destroyed. The commissioner said he could invoke the National Heritage Act 2005 to save the candi.

Penang’s Deputy Chief Minister II Dr. P. Ramasamy said he will be writing to Badan Warisan Malaysia to seek action against the developer and the authorities complicit in the destruction. The Merbok land office had given the developer the go-ahead to clear the land because “there were no historical sites”, so the land office may also be held accountable for this.

Jessie Marie LaDouceur