By P Ramasamy
Prominent Malaysian archaeologist, Prof Mokhtar Saidin revealed two important findings during a two-day Old Kedah conference in Sungai Petani, recently.
One was that animism rather than Hinduism or Buddhism was the dominant form of worship in Bujang Valley more than 2,500 years ago. Second, that Bujang Valley stands no chance of being gazetted by Unesco because there is no scientific research to date to verify that the temple ruins were Hindu or Buddhist structures.
I am not sure whether the two statements are inter-related or whether Saidin is trying to say that since there exists no solid proof of the existence of Hinduism or Buddhism, chances are that animism was likely the practice then.
Anyway, I hope that in the days or months to come, Saidin can prove to the satisfaction of international researchers that animism was indeed the dominant practice amongst the ancient people there.
He laments the fact that the widespread existence of Hindu and Buddhist temples in the valley have yet to be proven. However I lament that there is a lack of scientific objectivity and rigour in establishing the truth about Bujang Valley.
Mere presence of artefacts and architectural comparisons about Hindu-Buddhist temples do not reflect scientific integrity. Even the candi (either temple or burial ground) have been reconstructed from the stones and bricks in the vicinity.
Saidin said that no effort both in the past and present was made to protect the temple sites in the valley. One candi was completely demolished by a developer in 2013 without any consideration for the heritage status of the land.
Saidin’s analysis of the heritage status of the Bujang Valley raises a number of questions that need to be addressed both by archeologists, historians and those in government.
FIRST: Bujang Valley has been internationally acclaimed as an ancient Hindu-Buddhist site, that is, before the advent of Islam. If there exists no evidence, scientific or not, then there is a need to explain how this valley received such acclaim.
SECOND: Saidin is a well-known archaeologist and researcher, but for him to say that there is no scientific evidence to prove the Hindu-Buddhist status of the Bujang Valley, raises questions as to what our local researchers have been doing all this while. Many excavations have been carried out in the past and many more are being planned, so can I ask for what purpose exactly?
THIRD: Colonial structures in Malacca and Penang have received heritage status from Unesco. Is it really true that Unesco is withholding the conferment of the heritage status on Bujang Valley because there is no scientific evidence to authenticate its Hindu-Buddhist origins? If other ancient sites around the world have received Unesco heritage status, what is preventing Bujang Valley from receiving such a recognition as well?
FOURTH: Apart from the lack of scientific rigour or evidence, who is responsible for initiating the area or place to be designated a heritage site and what role does state and federal governments play in this matter? Is the federal government dragging its feet on this matter simply because it is politically not conducive to do so?
FIFTH: If local researchers neither have the technology nor skills, then maybe it is necessary to bring in foreign experts to determine whether there was such a thing as a Hindu-Buddhist presence in Bujang Valley.
SIXTH: Saidin wants to prove that animism was widespread in the Sungai Batu area of the Bujang Valley more than 2,500 years ago, a site older than Borobodur and Angkor Wat. As I have argued earlier, while this may be so, it does not prove that Hinduism-Buddhism was non-existent. It could very well be that all three practices co-existed before the rise of monotheism.
SEVENTH: Is there a relationship between the presence of animism and the lack of evidence of Hinduism-Buddhism in Bujang Valley?
P Ramasamy is Deputy Chief Minister II of Penang.
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