The Singapore Stone and the Story of Badang

The Singapore Stone is perhaps the first thing I recall learning about in Secondary School History class. A portion of the stone is the first thing a visitor comes across at the National Museum.

National Museum 1The Singapore Stone is a fragment of a larger stone, that originally stood at the mouth of the Singapore River. This slab of stone is at least 700 years old, although it is possible up to 1100 years old and on the stone are inscriptions. What is unique about the inscriptions are that no one knows what is written on the stone. Some suspect that it is Sanskrit, Javanese, ancient Ceylonese Pali, Tamil or Sumatran. While the locals probably knew of the rock, the first colonial record of the rock was in 1819.

Administrators and Scholars were intrigued by it, but no one could decipher it. This stone stood at the mouth of the Singapore River until it was blown up in 1843 by the British to increase the space at the Fullerton area so as to build Fort Fullerton and space for the commanders of the fort. The site of the stone was slated for a bungalow. The story gets even more tragic (as first described here), “when news of the destruction of the sandstone slab reached Bengal, James Prinsep asked the Governor of the Straits Settlements, Colonel William John Butterworth, to secure any legible fragments that might still exist and to send them to the Royal Asiatic Society’s museum. Butterworth replied: ‘The only remaining portion of the stone you mention, except what Colonel Low may have, I have found lying in the verandah of the Treasury at Singapore, where it was used as a seat by the Sepoys of the guard and persons in waiting to transact business. I lost no time in sending it to my house, but, alas! not before the inscription was nearly erased.'”

Another slab of the stone was pounded into gravel and used to fill roads.

This is all that is left of the stone.

National Museum 5But where did the stone come from?

It seems like the best answer to this is the Story of Badang in the Sejarah Melayu, Chapter 6. Here is a movie of the story of Badang.

And here’s the National Day Parade version.

Here’s a plain english version of the story from Wikipedia.

One morning Badang found his traps empty. The leftover bones and scales proved that someone had eaten his catch. This went on for a few days and Badang was angry. Not only was he not getting enough to eat, his friends even laughed at his plight. Expecting this to be the doing of some wild animal, Badang armed himself with a rattan stick (or a parang in some versions) and hid in the bushes of the jungle. Drifting in and out of sleep, Badang dreamt that he was strong enough to lift a boat with all its load. He dreamt that he lifted a great big rock and threw it into the air. The rock travelled many miles and landed at the mouth of a river. In his dream Badang was very rich and lived in a palace with many servants waiting on him. His mother, father and sister wore fine clothes and lived with him in the palace. He also dreamt that he swallowed something that came out of the mouth of an ugly beast. The beast was so big and ugly that Badang shook with fear and woke up…….

At dawn, Badang saw none other than the demon from his dream. The beast was a hantu air, a water spirit capable of taking the form of any flora and fauna which lives around bodies of water. It looked like a short old man with long white hair, eyes like fire and a beard that reached his waist. Badang ran at the man on sight and used the empty net to tie its hair to a rock.

The demon turned out to be a timid creature and begged for mercy. He promised to grant Badang any wish if he spared his life. Badang thought of wishing to be invisible but knew he would be hunted and killed. He thought of asking for riches but knew that whatever he owns belongs to his master. Instead he wished for strength so that he would not tire during his chores. The demon said that if Badang wanted great strength he would have to swallow whatever he coughs up. The demon vomited all the fish he had swallowed and Badang ate each one bit by bit. (In some versions the demon coughed out two red gems called geliga for Badang to swallow.)

True to the demon’s word Badang became immensely strong. As he walked back, Badang tested his strength on the trees. Nira Sura inquired how such a large section of the forest was cleared so quickly and Badang explained everything that had transpired. The landowner was so grateful for the servant’s loyalty that he freed Badang from slavery on the condition that he never boasts of his strength and uses it to help others. Now a free man, Badang worked for a number of people before heading to the Kingdom of Singapura.

One day in his new home Badang saw fifty men trying to push a heavy boat into the water. Badang continually offered to help but the men refused, saying that no one so small would make any difference. The king Paduka Seri Rana Wikrama eventually sent for 300 men to help push the vessel but it was to no avail. When he saw Badang being refused, the king gave Badang the chance to push the boat by himself. Everyone present was shocked to find that the small-framed Badang could move the ship after 300 people had just failed to do so. He was summoned to the court of Seri Rana Wikrama and was appointed commander-in-chief of the army.

Badang was frequently asked to do favours. The king once asked him to gather the tasty kuras leaves from Kuala Sayong in Sumatra, so Badang set off in a boat by himself. When he climbed the kuras tree, its branch broke and Badang fell a long way, his head hitting a rock. To his surprise, Badang was completely unharmed and the rock was split in two. Today that rock is called the Split Stone (Batu Belah).

Over time, Badang had become known in other nearby countries as well. A king from India wanted to test Badang’s strength against his own champion, Nadi Bijaya (or Wadi Bijaya). The Indian warrior sailed to the Malay Archipelago and greeted the local king with the friendly challenge. Seri Rana Wikrama took great pleasure in tests of skill and agreed. As decreed by the Indian king, the loser would owe the victor seven ships of cargo. Badang competed against Nadi Bijaya in several contests of strength and wrestling but the result was always tied. Finally, Nadi Bijaya suggested that whoever can lift the large rock in front of the palace shall be declared the winner. He then lifted the rock to his knees and immediately dropped it. When it was Badang’s turn, he lifted the rock above his head and threw it, where it landed at the mouth of the Singapore River.The rock was blown to pieces in 1843. A fragment, known as the Singapore Stone now sits at the National Museum of Singapore. Nadi Bijaya acceded to the agreement and gave Badang the seven ships of cargo before returning to India

Badang spent many years in Singapura defeating challengers from other countries, including the champion of Java. He eventually grew tired of the attention and requested that he retire from the king’s service. After Badang died, even the Indian ruler who sent Nadi Bijaya grieved and sent a marble stone to be placed at the head of Badang’s grave.

Go to the musuem and just look at the Singapore Stone.

Singapore StoneSource

Then let the fact that you are staring at more than a millennium of history wash over you. The land of Singapore is futuristic and modern, but it is also an ancient and historical one.

How to get there

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