Discovering the Past: Malaysia’s Ancient Buddha Statue Unearthed

Source: The Rakyat Post

Malaysia’s Bukit Choras archaeological site in Yan, Kedah, has yielded a remarkable discovery: a life-sized Buddha statue dating back to the eighth or ninth century, making it older than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat and Indonesia’s Borobudur.

Unearthing History

This complete Buddha statue from the Kedah Tua civilization is a groundbreaking find. Accompanied by Sanskrit inscriptions and earthen pottery fragments, it offers a tantalizing glimpse into a bygone era. Datuk Roslan Abdul Rahman, secretary-general of the Tourism, Arts, and Culture Ministry, highlighted the significance of the discovery, calling it a thrilling development for Malaysian heritage.

A Collaborative Effort

The excavation was a joint effort involving the Global Archaeological Research Centre (PPAG) at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) and a local team led by Nasha Rodziadi Khaw. This collaboration between the National Heritage Department (JWN) and USM promises further insights into Malaysia’s rich archaeological tapestry.

Future Exhibitions and Archaeotourism

Plans are underway to exhibit the relic once USM completes its study. The potential development of Bukit Choras as an archaeotourism site, akin to those in Cambodia and Indonesia, is also being considered. This could significantly boost Malaysia’s cultural tourism.

Social Media Buzz

Images of the discovery were shared on Twitter, capturing public imagination and excitement. A user posted photos of the USM team’s efforts to extract the statue from the site between May 17-21, 2024.

The Ancient Craft

The Buddha statue, crafted from a mix of lime, water, and sand (stucco), was found along the temple’s north wall. Currently housed at the PPAG USM laboratory for conservation, the statue is one of several significant finds at the site, including inscriptions containing Buddhist mantras.

Unveiling Kedah Tua’s Strategic Importance

These discoveries shed light on Kedah Tua’s strategic position in Southeast Asia’s ancient maritime trade routes. In August of the previous year, researchers found a 1,200-year-old Buddhist stupa at Bukit Choras, distinct from the 184 sites in the Bujang Valley to the south. Gunung Jerai, historically a crucial navigation landmark, underscores the region’s significance for ancient traders.

Ongoing Mysteries

The precise role of Bukit Choras remains unclear. It may have served as a military garrison or coastal trade outpost, with further excavation needed to unravel its secrets. Early findings indicate similarities with sites in Java and Sumatra, Indonesia.

Historical Echoes

Previous finds at Bukit Choras include two Buddha statues and a Pallava inscription, echoing the architectural style of the Srivijaya kingdom, which thrived between the 7th and 11th centuries CE.

The Ancient Kedah Kingdom

The Bujang Valley discoveries point to the “Ancient Kedah Kingdom” or Kerajaan Kedah Tua, which flourished from the 2nd to the 14th centuries CE. This multiethnic and multireligious society thrived on international trade and production of iron and glass beads. Traders from China, India, and the Middle East frequented the area, leaving a blend of foreign architectural influences.

Rediscovering Bukit Choras

Bukit Choras first came to light in 1850, reported by a British officer and briefly studied in 1937. Despite minor excavations, it remained largely undisturbed until 2017, when Nasha secured funding to restart research. Proper excavations in 2022 revealed a well-preserved site, contrasting with the eroded and damaged sites in the Bujang Valley.

Significant Finds

Among the most important discoveries were two well-preserved stucco Buddha statues, previously thought to be exclusive to Java, Sumatra, and India.

This discovery at Bukit Choras not only enriches Malaysia’s historical narrative but also holds promise for future archaeological and tourism developments.

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