Pahang Kingdom

Mueang Pahang[1]
Pahang Tua[2]
5th century–1454
Capital Inderapura
Languages Malayic, Mon-Khmer
Religion Mahayana Buddhism[3]
Government Monarchy
   450–? Sri Bhadravarman
  ?–1454 Dewa Sura (last)
   First diplomatic mission to China 5th century
   Melakan invasion 1454
Succeeded by
Pahang Sultanate
Kingdom of Singapura
Today part of  Malaysia
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Pahang Kingdom (Malay: Kerajaan Pahang Tua[4]) was a historical polity centred in the Pahang region in the east coast of Malay Peninsula. The polity appeared in foreign records from as early as 5th century[5] and at its height, covered much of modern state of Pahang and the entire southerly part of the peninsula.[6] Throughout its pre-Melakan history, Pahang was established as a mueang[7] or naksat[8] of some major regional Malayic mandalas including Langkasuka,[9] Srivijaya[10] and Ligor.[11] Around the middle of the 15th century, it was brought into the orbit of Melaka Sultanate and subsequently established as a vassal Muslim Sultanate in 1470, following the coronation of the grandson of the former Maharaja as the first Sultan of Pahang.[12]


The naming of Pahang relates to the ancient practice in Malayic culture of defining territorial definitions and apportioning lands by water-sheds.[13] The term 'Pahang' in referring to the kingdom thus, is thought to originate from the name of Pahang River.[14] There have been many theories on the origin of the name. According to Malay legend, across the river at Kampung Kembahang where the present stream of the Pahang parts company with the Pahang Tua, in ancient time stretched a huge mahang tree (macaranga) from which the river and kingdom derived their name. This legend agrees with oral tradition among Proto-Malay Jakun peoples that say their forefathers called the country Mahang.[15]

Other notable theory was espoused by William Linehan, that relates the early foundation of the kingdom to the settlers from ancient Khmer civilisation, and claims its naming origin to the word saamnbahang (Khmer: សំណប៉ាហាំង) meaning 'tin', based on the discovery of prehistoric tin mines in the state.[16]

There were many variations of the name Pahang in history. Wilder suggests that Palandas and Attabas rivers mentioned in Ptolemy's Geography are respectively the upper and lower parts of the Pahang River.[17] The Book of Song referred to the kingdom as Pohuang or Panhuang.[18] The Chinese chronicler Zhao Rugua knew it as Pong-fong. According to the continuation of Ma Duanlin's Wenxian Tongkao, Pahang was called Siam-lao thasi. By Arabs and Europeans, the kingdom was variously styled Pam, Pan, Paam, Paon, Phaan, Phang, Paham, Pahan, Pahaun, Phaung, Phahangh.[19]



Archaeological evidences revealed the existence of human habitation in the area that is today Pahang from as early as the paleolithic age. At Gunung Senyum have been found relics of mesolithic civilisation using pleolithic implements. At Sungai Lembing, Kuantan, have been discovered paleolithic artefacts chipped and without trace of polishing, the remains of a 6,000 years old civilisation.[20] Traces of Hoabinhian culture is represented by a number of limestone cave sites.[21] Late neolithic relics are abundant, including polished tools, quoit discs, stone ear pendants, stone bracelets and cross-hatched bark pounders.[22] By around 400 BC, the development of bronze casting led to the flourishing of the Đông Sơn culture, notably for its elaborate bronze war drums.[23]

The early iron civilisation in Pahang that began around the beginning of Common Era is associated by prehistorians with the late neolithic culture. Relics from this era, found along the rivers are particularly numerous in Tembeling Valley, which served as the old main northern highway of communication. Ancient gold workings in Pahang are thought to date back to this early iron age as well.[24]

Early period

The Kra Isthmus region of the Malay peninsula and its peripheries are recognised by historians as the cradle of Malayic civilisations.[25] Primordial Malayic kingdoms are described as tributaries to Funan by the 2nd century Chinese sources.[26]

Ancient Pahang sits astride the 'Austric marchland'- the territory where the Mon-Khmer-speaking (Austroasiatic) cultures meet up with the Malayic and pre-Malayic-speaking (Austronesian) cultures.[27] The early settlers lived by mining gold, tin and iron and planting rice. They left many traces; irrigation works, mine workings, remains of brick buildings, and probably the pottery industry at Kuala Tembeling. Ancient settlements can be traced from Tembeling to as far south as Merchong. Their tracks can also be found in deep hinterland of Jelai, along the Chini Lake, and up to the head-waters of the Rompin.[28] One such settlement was identified as Koli from Geographia, a thriving port located on the estuary of Kuantan River, where foreign ships stopped to barter and resupply.[29]

By the middle of 5th century, a polity suggestive as ancient Pahang, was described in the Book of Song as Pohuang or Panhuang (婆皇). The king of Pohuang, She-li- Po-luo-ba-mo ('Sri Bhadravarman') was recorded to have sent an envoy to the Liu Song court in 449-450 with forty one types of products. In 456-457, another envoy of the same country, led by a Senapati, arrived at the Chinese capital, Jiankang.[30] This ancient Pahang is believed to had been established later as a mueang[31] to the mandala of Langkasuka-Kedah centred in modern-day Patani region that rose to prominence with the regression of Funan from the 6th century.[32] The Langkasuka-Kedah with its city states that controlled both coastal fronts of Malay peninsula, assumed importance in the trading network involving Rome, India and China.[33] The growth in trade brought in foreign influence throughout these city states. The discovery of many Buddhist votive tablets and Hindu icons points toward strong Indian influence during this period.[34]

By the beginning of 8th century, Langkasuka-Kedah came under the military and political hegemony of Srivijaya. However, the gradual domination of Langkasuka-Kedah was not achieved by conventional warfare, and no records of major seaborne naval expeditions exist. The submission of Langkasuka-Kedah to the might of Srivijaya was of benefit and interest to the former for, as a commercial centre, it was useful to be allied to a powerful with a navy strong enough to protect them.[35]

Classical period

In the centuries that followed, up to the final decline of Srivijaya, Langkasuka-Kedah was one of its closest allies and Kedah rose to become a principal port and even the seat of the Srivijayan Maharaja. Langkasuka-Kedah's fortune were, therefore interwined with Srivijaya's, and the former's decline only came after the fall of the latter to Chola raids from South India in the 11th century.[36] The power vacuum left by the collapse of Srivijaya was filled by the rise of Nakhon Si Thammarat Kingdom, commonly known in Malay tradition as 'Ligor'. By the 13th century, the kingdom succeeded to incorporate most of the Malay Peninsula including Pahang under its mandala. During this period, Pahang, designated as Muaeng Pahang[37] was established as one of the twelve naksat city states[38] of Ligor.[39] In the early 14th century, the fortune of Ligor was in turn eclipsed by the rise of Thai Buddhist power, and the expansion southwards by Ram Khamhaeng of Sukhotai who brought it under Thai hegemony.[40]

The 14th century, was the time of the earliest recorded evidence of Islam in the east coast of Malay peninsula.[41][42] The period also coincides with Pahang, began consolidating its influence in the southern part of the Malay peninsula. The kingdom, described by Portuguese historian, Manuel Godinho de Erédia as Pam, was one of the two kingdoms of Malayos in the peninsula, in succession to Pattani, that flourished before the establishment of Melaka in the 15th century. The Pahang ruler then, titled Maharaja, was also the overlord of countries of Ujong Tanah ('land's end'), the southerly part of the peninsula including Temasek.[43] The Majapahit chronicle, Nagarakretagama even used the name Pahang to designate the Malay peninsula, an indication of the importance of this kingdom.[44]

The History of Ming records several envoy missions from Pahang to the Ming court in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the year 1378, Maharaja Tajau sent envoys with a letter on a gold leaf and bringing as tribute six foreign slaves and products of the country. In the year 1411, during the reign of Maharaja Pa-la-mi-so-la-ta-lo-si-ni (transliterated by historian as 'Parameswara Teluk Chini'), he also sent envoys carrying tributes. The Chinese returned the favour in 1412 by sending the legendary Admiral Zheng He as an envoy to Pahang, and in the year 1414, Pahang sent tribute again to China. In the year 1416, they sent tribute together with Kozhikode and Java envoys, and in return Zheng He was again ordered to go to Pahang.[45]

Melakan invasion

The 15th century witnessed the rise of Melaka Sultanate, which under the Sang Sapurba dynasty had aggressively consolidated its influence on the west coast of Malay peninsula. Earlier at the end of 13th century, the dynasty wrested the small trading outpost at Temasek from Pahang influence and established the short-lived Kingdom of Singapura which was sacked by the Javanese a century later. The renegade last king Seri Iskandar Shah established Melaka to succeed Singapura.

Muzaffar Shah, the fifth Sultan of Melaka who reigned from 1445 to 1458 refused to acknowledge the suzerainty of Ligor over his country. The Ligorians, in assertion of their claim, sent an invading army led by Awi Chakri, overland to Melaka. The invaders, who were aided by Pahang auxiliaries, followed the old route by the Tembeling, Pahang and Bera rivers. They were easily defeated and fled back by the same route. Subsequently, they attempted a naval invasion, but were again beaten. Muzaffar Shah then conceived the idea of checking Ligorian pretensions by attacking the Ligor vassal state of Pahang. An expedition was organised by Muzaffar's son, Raja Abdullah and was personally led by the Melakan Bendahara Tun Perak with two hundred sail, big and small, accordingly proceeded to Pahang and conquered it in the year 1454. The reigning ruler of Pahang, Maharaja Dewa Sura, fled to the interior while his daughter Putri Wanang Seri was captured. The victors, anxious to gain the goodwill of the Bendahara, hastened in pursuit of the fugitive king until he was captured and carried together with his daughter to Melaka.[46]

In the year that Pahang was conquered, Raja Abdullah married Putri Wanang Seri, the daughter of the captive king, whose name had been changed, probably on conversion to Islam, to Putri Lela Wangsa. By her he had two sons Raja Ahmad and Raja Muhammad.[47]


Little is known on the administrative system used in Pahang, but throughout its history, several government titles are recorded. The government was headed by a 'Maharaja' (literally 'emperor') as an absolute monarch,[48] a similar title held by its overlord in Ligor.[49] Towards the end of the kingdom, the Maharaja was recorded by de Erédia belong to the same dynasty that ruled Ligor.[50] A title known as Senapati was recorded in the Book of Song, a Sanskrit word literally means 'lord of the army'. The Senapati was recorded in the Chinese chronicle to had headed several envoy missions to China.[51] Other than that, a Pahang Shahbandar was known to have ruled Temasek before the island was wrested from Pahang by the Sang Sapurba dynasty. The word Shahbandar is a title adopted from Persian that literally means 'lord of the port'.[52]

The old court name was Inderapura, and the capital has always been known as 'the town'. The pre-Melakans calling it by Sanskrit name Pura, the Malays 'Pekan', the Portuguese 'a Cidade', while the people of Rompin and Bebar described the capital as Pekan Pahang. Pura may have covered a much larger than the town known as Pekan today. In addition to modern Pekan, it appears to have comprised the land on the banks of Pahang river as far as Tanjung Langgar.[53]


The culture of ancient Pahang was the result of amalgamation of various Mon-Khmer and Malayic cultures.[54][55] The pre-Melakan inhabitants of the country, together with people of Isthmus region's civilisation further north, were collectively referred as 'Siamese' in the Malay Annals[56] of Melaka Sultanate, although they were identified culturally as Malays by Portuguese historian, de Erédia.[57] On the other hand, de Erédia adopted the term 'Siam' and applied it in a broader context, referring to the overlord of these historical 'Siamese' people, that is the Thai kingdom of Ayuthaya.[58] This broad Portuguese application of the term was later popularised as exonym for successive Thai kingdoms by other European writers.

In the classical Malay text, Hikayat Hang Tuah, it was noted that although the Pahang people regarded themselves as Malays, they spoke and sang their folk songs in an outlandish language that differs from the Malay language spoken in Melaka, which would indicate a mixture of tongues and races.[59] The pre-Melakan Pahang people were also described by Fei Xin as the adherents of Mahayana Buddhism, on which were superimposed tantric orgies involving human sacrifices. Its influence in Pahang, though it waned with the introduction of Islam, may be traced up to the beginning of the 17th century.[60]


Since ancient times, the inland river-valley routes that crossed through Pahang formed significant trading network linking east and west coast of the peninsula. The inland attractions were threefold; first the presence of gold in the interior along the Tembeling and Jelai rivers, as well as in Kelantan to the north, second, the presence of tradable forest products, and of local people, the Orang Asli, skilled at getting them, and lastly, the suitability of most of the state for long-distance travel, because of its relatively non-mountainous and open terrain.[61]

The Tembeling Valley was the connecting link between ports and tin mining areas of the west coast and the Lebir Valley in southeast Kelantan; the latter led in turn to Patani and Kra Isthmus region. This route involved the short overland stretch known as the Penarikan that allowed boats and their cargo to be dragged the few hundred metres between the headwaters of the Muar, flowing west, and the Serting River, flowing east into Pahang, Jelai and Tembeling systems.[62]

The most important product of ancient Pahang was gold. Its auriferous mines were considered the best and the largest in the whole peninsula. It was from here that there came the gold which formed the subject of the ancient trade with Alexandria.[63] The peninsula as a whole was known to the world as a source of the precious metal to the extent that it was proclaimed Chrysḗ Chersónēsos (the golden peninsula) by Ptolemy.[64] According to Fei Xin, Pahang also produced rice, salt which was made by boiling the sea water, and wine by fermenting the sap of the coconut tree. Fei Xin also mentioned on rare and valuable forest products like camphor barus, olibanum, agarwood, sandalwood, sapanwood, pepper and many others. Pahang, in turn, imported silver, coloured silk, Java cloth, copper and ironware, gongs and boards.[65]


  1. Rajani 1987, p. 87
  2. Zakiah Hanum 1989, p. 44
  3. Linehan 1973, pp. 8–9
  4. Zakiah Hanum 1989, p. 44
  5. Guy 2014, p. 29
  6. Linehan 1973, p. 7
  7. Rajani 1987, p. 87
  8. Rajani 1987, p. 65
  9. Farish A Noor 2011, p. 17
  10. Farish A Noor 2011, p. 18
  11. Linehan 1973, pp. 9–10
  12. Khoo 1980, p. 9
  13. Linehan 1973, p. 2
  14. Milner 2010, p. 19
  15. Linehan 1973, p. 2
  16. Linehan 1973, p. 2
  17. Benjamin, p. 96
  18. Guy 2014, p. 29
  19. Linehan 1973, pp. 2–5
  20. Linehan 1973, p. 3
  21. Benjamin, pp. 88–89
  22. Linehan 1973, p. 3
  23. Benjamin, p. 91
  24. Benjamin, pp. 88–89
  25. Barnard 2004, pp. 56–57
  26. Jacq-Hergoualc'h 2002, pp. 101–102
  27. Benjamin, p. 83
  28. Linehan 1973, p. 11
  29. Farish A Noor 2011, pp. 19–20
  30. Guy 2014, p. 29
  31. Rajani 1987, p. 87
  32. Farish A Noor 2011, p. 17
  33. Mishra 2010, p. 28
  34. Mishra 2010, p. 28
  35. Farish A Noor 2011, p. 36
  36. Farish A Noor 2011, pp. 18–19
  37. Rajani 1987, p. 87
  38. Rajani 1987, p. 65
  39. Linehan 1973, pp. 9–10
  40. Farish A Noor 2011, p. 19
  41. Benjamin, pp. 92–93
  42. Zakiah Hanum 1989, p. 83
  43. Linehan 1973, pp. 6–7
  44. Linehan 1973, p. 1
  45. Linehan 1973, p. 5
  46. Linehan 1973, pp. 12–13
  47. Linehan 1973, p. 13
  48. Linehan 1973, p. 6
  49. Linehan 1973, p. 9
  50. Linehan 1973, p. 10
  51. Guy 2014, p. 29
  52. Linehan 1973, p. 8
  53. Linehan 1973, p. 2
  54. Benjamin, p. 83
  55. Farish A Noor 2011, pp. 15–16
  56. Linehan 1973, p. 9
  57. Linehan 1973, p. 7
  58. Linehan 1973, p. 8
  59. Benjamin, p. 105
  60. Linehan 1973, pp. 8–9
  61. Benjamin, p. 83
  62. Benjamin, p. 86
  63. Linehan 1973, p. 7
  64. Farish A Noor 2011, p. 16
  65. Linehan 1973, p. 7


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