Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!
Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.
Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:
A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).
Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.
Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.
If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.
One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.
Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).
Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.
The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2. Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).
Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.