EP 37: Do Dragons Really Exist?

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By June Ramli

Listen On Goodpods

If you’ve watched the Disney movie Raya, you would really be able to resonate with this latest podcast series that I’ve prepared for you.
In my recent interview with the Director of the Customs Museum from Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia, our topic of discussion was centre around well… dragons.
Now let me explain, why did a business site like ours decide to do a piece on dragons?
Well… I recently wrote a novel titled Daily Straits.

Daily Straits by June Ramli

Though the book is NOT about dragons it is however centred around the world of mysticism and Malay folklore with a tinge of Westernisation weaved into it as the book was set in Sydney and a small town in Malaysia known as Tronoh.
After having the urge to write a novel for the last eight years and not doing so due to a serious bout of reasons (read: procrastination), I finally disciplined myself enough in the last year or so to complete my novel at the height of the pandemic while we were all under lock and key.
I am please to announce that my debut novel has been done and dusted and is now available for purchase on Amazon.
But due to my busy schedule I’ve failed to do the most important thing that every independent author should do and that is to promote the book.
And so here I am trying very hard to market the book.
I’ve decided to skip the fanciful Zoom parties that most authors do these days to promote their literature and have gone on a different trajectory that is to interview experts and artists who can give us a glimpse of our rich ancient history and Malay folklore through podcast interviews such as these.
With that in mind and to kick-start the series, my very first guest today is the Director of the Customs Museum in Negeri Sembilan in Malaysia Mohd Nasrul Mohd Nasir – who is going to give us a lowdown on all things dragons or naga as the Malays call it which apparently according to him was a pretty evident feature in the Nusantara (Malay) culture during ancient times.

Mohd Nasrul Mohd Nasir. Supplied.

Although our interview was recorded in Malay, the team at DailyStraits.com have taken time to translate one of Nasrul’s research papers about dragons in English and we have placed the article at the bottom part of this interview.
So, for now without further ado, let’s us listen and watch the interview here:

Mohd Nasrul Mohd Nasir speaks exclusively to DailyStraits.com
Mohd Nasrul Mohd Nasir speaks exclusively to DailyStraits.com about all things dragon.

Unpacking the Mystery of the Dragon

By Mohd Nasrul Mohd Nasir

“There is no other animal as wiser than the DRAGON. The power of its blessing is not false. It can be smaller than small, bigger than big, higher than high, and lower than low.”
Chinese scholar Lu Dian (1042-1102 AD)

The cultural history of Southeast Asia and the archipelago proves that dragons once served as a strong ‘anchor’ in ancient societies. Generally, dragons for communities in the Southeast Asian region are animals that are aquatic in nature and are believed to have an influence on the fertility of agricultural land and water (rivers or seas). When Buddhist pilgrims set foot into the world of animism in Southeast Asia about 2,500 years ago they found the snake cult so powerful that they incorporated the dragon element into the story of Buddhist teachings in order to change the minds of the natives. (Herald Wong, 2005). The dragon is also a mythological animal figure owned by almost every civilisation or kingdom that has ever appeared in the Southeast Asian region. Whether in the mainland or the Indo-Malay archipelago, dragons are described as animals that are full of magic in legitimising power to the future ruler or king of a dynasty.
Moreover, dragons are said to bring prosperity and stability to the kingdom and unite with the power of the king. Almost every founder of the dynasty of kings in Southeast Asia and the archipelago in the city-state era stated that they were descendants of dragons and were often mythical of marrying princesses from watery regions to assert their political authority and uphold sovereignty. And, this sovereignty is transferred from the dragon princess. This myth is a common theme for the beginners of the dynasty in the archipelago. The existence of dragons in the cosmological space of the archipelago society proves that they have shared a universal culture for a long time, long before the beginning of the era of colonisation by Western powers.
The story of the dragon and its connection with the emergence of a new dynasty is told in many literary texts, folklore and sculpted as sculptures or reliefs on ancient temples in the archipelago and Southeast Asia. The mythology of this dragon developed almost all over the archipelago starting from the era of animism, Hindu-Buddhism until the era of the emergence of Islam in the archipelago. In fact, in the History of the Malay Sultanate, there is a relationship between the founder of the Malay kingdom in Palembang, namely Sri Tri Buana, with his mother, a dragon princess, as narrated in a famous manuscript, the Malay History text. While in Java, the story of the rulers with the dragon princess is recorded in ancient Sanskrit and Javanese texts such as Arjunawiwaha and Babab Tanah Jawa. Legends about the greatness of the dragon continued to grow as Java began to be ruled by the Islamic government. The story of the marriage of Nyai Roro Kidul (Queen of the South Coast) with the Second King of Mataram, Senopati until now celebrated in ritual annually in the South Coast, Central Java. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the story of the dragon has started from the beginning when the first Malay kingdom, Funan, was established. The story of the marriage of the dragon queen Soma and Kaundiya later became an inspiration to the Khmer people to process this story as a legend of the emergence of the Kambujadesa people. Similarly with Champa in Central Vietnam, the story of king Pau Klaung Garai with a dragon became a superior legend in the Cam community to this day.

The Meaning of the Dragon in a Cultural Context

Almost all cultures that inhabit the archipelago understand the word ‘Dragon’. Despite the different regions between the Mainland (Indo-China) and the Indo-Malay Archipelago, the dragon gives almost the same meaning and significance. The emergence of the term dragon in the archipelago is also related to myths in society during the early kingdoms of the archipelago. The influence of Naga mythology in the archipelago if viewed from the context of the term is indeed heavily influenced by the influence of India, especially the Sanskrit and Pre-Aryan languages in India.
Many scholars put forward views on the meaning behind the word dragon. According to Vogel (in M. Rajantheran, 1999), the term dragon is probably derived from an Indo-European word. Etymologically, the root word naga is nagna which means naked in Sanskrit. These creatures are believed to inhabit underground areas and groundwater areas known as patala (Singaravelu, 1970). Patala or part of it is known as a ‘place to enjoy fun’ or ‘a city of inhabitants’. Generally the word patala is used to denote the area below and the area of groundwater. Patala is also one of the seven provinces in the Indian belief for the underworld apart from Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Rasatala, Talatala and Mahatala. There are also seven parts of the region (loka) in the upper realm namely Bharvar, Svar, Mahar, Janar, Tapah, Brahma and Syesya. All these regions are located above the head of the dragon, Syesy.
The importance of dragons is evidenced by the fact that in many Southeast Asian civilisations in particular the construction of city-states and the founders of dynasties evolved from the spirit of the serpent. The legend is taken from the story of a local princess, who is a female water dragon spirit (Nagi) who marries a strong Brahma youth and establishes a royal dynasty. Later, the king’s sovereignty was spread by the dragon princess. Although the narratives and legends of the Southeast Asian countries are different from each other yet they still share the same elements. It can therefore be seen that the concept of the dragon, although formed under foreign influence but it represents a special feature of the relics of the oldest civilisation in Southeast Asia.

Dragons and Relationships with the Power of the King

By the last centuries BC and the beginning of the century AD, there was a movement of political power from emerging governments. This is driven by the increasing population in the strategic regions of Southeast Asia, especially in trade areas. The growing population centers began to exert political influence or military dominance in the surrounding territories. The group that manages to acquire valuable resources will build a city-state center. A powerful chief becomes a ruler or king known as a ‘great man’ and succeeds in expanding his power in neighboring power centers and expanding his royal empire. (Wolters, 1999).
As the rulers became increasingly powerful through the domination of a larger population, they affirmed the king’s power by borrowing ideas related to the Indian gods from the Brahmans who visited their area. One of these ideas is by elevating the position of the king as the center of the World cosmos.
According to Heine-Geldern (1956), the kingdom of ancient Southeast Asia was a picture or reflection of the cosmic world where the state had to be a picture of the microcosm and the macrocosm. The center of this state is considered as Mount Meru which is said to be the cosmic center where Dewa Indera is located. This center can be a real or symbolic mountain (Jumsai, 1989), which makes the intersection of the Father’s Heaven and Mother’s Earth. In addition, this center is also the core of vital force or the highest energy of the universe.
The upper part of Mount Meru is ruled by the king. This characteristic of the ruler is indicated by the title of King of the Mountain (Coedes, 2010). As such, it is considered to be at the center of the universe which is represented as the embodiment of the power of the highest beings, such as Siva, Vishnu or sometimes other types of sacred deities. As the representative of the gods, the king must maintain the order of the cosmos. The king’s power affected the state of his territory. Therefore, as the king of the universe, the ruler must also maintain proper order in the worldly kingdom.
The proper ruler is one who can gather the divine energy of the gods and use it for the benefit of his nature. Since it occupies the center of the universe then a large amount of energetic force will logically be concentrated in itself. Then this ruler distributes power from the center in all directions in his territory. Rulers also have precise access to cosmic energy to ensure prosperity, fertility and the interests of the government they control. To gain cosmic power, the rulers of Southeast Asia had to have an affinity with the dragon i.e. the water spirit. In Southeast Asian countries, soil fertility and crop yields as well as fruits are in fact produced through the provision of water or river basins. For residents in agrarian areas, water is needed to cultivate paddy or grow other crops. While for maritime groups, the sea or river is the place of their economic activities. In a situation like this, the kings had to establish a relationship with the dragon in order to provide prosperity to the state and the people. (Miyazaki, 2002).
Furthermore, dragons sometimes serve as protectors of the kingdom itself. Although the kings managed to make great increases in power, they were often short -lived (killed) or unstable as a result of a war with the same powerful royal lineage or internal conflict such as a coup or civil war. Since the spirit of the waters symbolizes the king’s energy and life in his territory, it is believed that dragons can also provide strength to defend nature from the king’s enemies. In short, if the dragon allied with the king, his kingdom would prosper: However, if not allied, the kingdom would decline.
In addition, in Southeast Asia there are many lineages (clans) of kings who claim descent from dragon princesses and great kings. The marriage between the ruler and the dragon princess was seen as the basis for the emergence of the early kingdoms in Southeast Asia. This legend shows that the life energy of water was supplied to the realm of the king. By marrying the ruler of the water or the sea, the kings get the right to rule the world, namely the sea and the earth.
As the historical record, that narrative of the king and princess of the dragon from Pallava in India was eventually processed in Cambodia to become the story of Kaundinya-Soma. From Cambodia, the idea was able to spread to the Southeast Asian region. It is also possible that it reached Southeast Asia directly from India through maritime trade or the development of Buddhism. The idea that the power of rulers came from water-dragons is evident in history and common belief in Southeast Asian countries and seems to be rooted in Southeast Asian traditions.

Dragons in the Archipelago Literary Tradition

Since the earliest civilisations, myths about dragons have often hovered in the literary space of local communities. Usually an element or motif of a dragon is included in a literary work to indicate the lineage or rights of a ruler over a territory. If we trace his traces, the story of the dragon began to appear in Asia, especially in India since the first century BC. The earliest literary source recording dragons is in the famous Indian text of the Mahabharata. In the text, the author loads the story of Arjuna when he went down to the sea and was taken by the princess of the dragon king named Ulupi into the river Ganges for falling in love with Arjuna. The sequence of events Arjuna had married the dragon princess. The author of Kalidaasa in his work Rajatarngini uses a dragon motif in a story about Rama’s son named Kusa. Kusa in the story was married to Kumudavati, the youngest daughter of Nagaraja Kumuda the Dragon King. Apart from that, a Tamil poet named Coyankondar through his poem titled Kalinkattuparani which glorified the King of Cola state named Kulottunga also contains the story of the unification of the Cola kings with the Naga princesses. According to Coedes (Dlm. M. Rajantheran, 1999)), there is a charter of the Pallava king that is King Nandivarman III (9 AD) referring to the legend of the dragon. According to the legend, a Pallava king named Virakurca had married a dragon princess and acquired a mace as an instrument of his royal greatness.
In the world of archipelago literature, especially in Indonesia, many sources about dragons are recorded through marriage manuscripts, chronicles and new Javanese literature. In general, the stories or stories recorded in these manuscripts are not only famous in Java but even spread to almost every corner of the archipelago, including Malaysia. Among the ancient works that tell the story of dragons is the marriage of Arjunawiwaha. This marriage was written by Empu Kanwa as a form of special dedication to the great King of Java at that time, namely King Airlangga. In the story of Arjunawiwaha, the main character Arjuna is said to have been surrounded by a dragon called the dragon Kwana. The result of the twist caused Arjuna to almost die so that he did not realise he was taken by the dragon to the top of Swelagiri mountain. The story was later carved as a relief in several temples in East Java in memory of King Airlangga who was considered Arjuna. Among the temples include Surawana temple, Jago temple and Kedaton temple.
Apart from that, there is a prose that is transcribed from the book of Mahabrata, namely Adiparwa, which also contains the story of the dragon. The prose written on this palm leaf tells of the birth and life of a dragon named Naga Anantabhoga, Naga Basuki and Naga Patsaka as friends of the gods. This prose also tells of a dragon that was assigned to circle the mountain of Mandara Giri as a rope when the god Asura tried to get Amerta (water of life). In Adiparwa there is also the story of Sang Jaratkaru who married the Nagini (female dragon) and gave birth to a child named Astika. In addition, there is the story of the quarrel about the dragon and the eagle. In order to end the dispute with the dragon, the eagle agreed to get the holy water of amertha for the immortality of the dragon and Kadru. But while on his way to get holy water, the eagle had met Vishnu where the eagle agreed to be Vishnu’s vehicle after Vishnu gave amertha holy water. The mother eagle was finally released after giving the holy water of Amerta to Kadru and the dragon.
In the Malay world there is a famous story about the character of a dragon. The story is known as the Hikayat Pandawa Lima. This story was inspired by the Mahabrata manuscript which was modified during the time of King Dharmawangsa Teguh in Java in the 10th century AD. Through the Hikayat Pandawa Lima, there is a dragon character known as the dragon Arda Leka. This dragon inhabits an ocean called the Mahadra sea. The story begins with the story of the fight for the throne between the Pandawa and Korawa families to seize the throne of the Kingdom of Astinapura. One of the tricks used by the Korawa family to defeat the Pandava family was by making bets in gambling games. The bet involved a kingdom owned by the Pandava family. With various tricks made by the Korawa family, finally the Pandava family had to hand over the throne of Astinapura to King Duryodhana of the Korawa family. To ensure that the royal throne of Astinapura remained the property of the Korawa family, King Doryadana had decided to abolish the entire Pandava family consisting of Dharmawangsa, Bima, Arjuna, Sadewa and Nakula. The trick used by King Doryadana was to order the entire Pandava family to dive into the sea of Mahadra inhabited by the dragon Arda Leka to take Bambang Sotomo’s arrow. The five Pandavas were eventually swallowed by the dragon Arda Leka. But with his magical power, one of the Pandavas, Bima, finally managed to kill the dragon Arda Leka by splitting the dragon’s stomach and came out safely.

The Story of the Legend of the Dragon Princess (nagi) in the Kingdom in the Archipelago

In the text of Sejarah Melayu Raffles’ version, MS18, there is the story of the youngest prince named Sri Tri Buana who has events that are similar to other legends in the archipelago. The event began when Sri Tri Buana wanted to create a new government in Palembang by elevating himself as the new king. At that time, Palembang was ruled by a chief with the title of Chief Minister. But to be king, he had to get married. Unfortunately, every girl he married got a skin disease (chloasma) every time they slept with him. Sri Tri Buana then sought permission from the Chief Minister of Palembang to marry his daughter. The Chief Minister agreed to his terms and the future king first entered into a mutual agreement with each other. They finally made an agreement in which the Chief Minister was promised that his descendants would be the heirs to the king’s descendants if they were treated fairly and well. After the agreement was made and the promises were implemented, the Chief Minister of Palembang married his daughter to Sri Tri Buana. Unlike a marriage with another girl, it turned out that the princess did not suffer from skin diseases in the morning after the wedding. Finally, Sri Tri Buana and his queen
underwent a bathing ceremony and he became the founder of the royal dynasty in Palembang (Brown, 1970). According to De Josselin De Jong (1985), this story can be considered a demonstration of the king’s power. The story reveals that the power of this king is unholy, harmless and unworthy. Sri Tri Buana is indeed responsible for the illnesses suffered by his wives. His Majesty and his power are the cause of the problem. Despite the fact that it was he who made his wives sick, he left the bride stricken with a skin disease. However, when Sri Tri Buana married the Chief Minister’s daughter, the two sides eventually reconciled, the king promised not to shame his people, and the promise sanctified the king’s power.
Legends of this type also appear in some areas of the archipelago and more interestingly the dragon character is always involved in the story. For example, there is no doubt that Sri Tri Buana was the prince of the dragon princess and the human king (Raja Suran). Among other examples can be seen in the myth of the Cam community consisting of Austronesians who are said to have formed an independent state called Champa in the fourth century AD. They were then attacked and broken by the conquest of the Dai-Viet people in the fifteenth century AD. The Champa myth describes the life of a Champa king named Po Klaung Garai. He is considered by the Cam people as the founder of the Champa dynasty and also the founder of rice cultivation in Champa. The myth states that her mother was born from seafoam and became pregnant after drinking holy water. Her son (Po Klaung Garai) was born but suffered from leprosy. One day the boy met a dragon and the dragon had cured his leprosy by licking and making him aware of his greatness in the future. In addition, such legends are also found in Khmer society. It is said that a king had symptoms of disease because he was infected by the blood of a dragon. The story of this king was later called the story of the ‘king of leprosy’ and this story became a folk tale and it is often linked.

Archaeological finds at the Angkor Thom temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

In addition, in Java during the second kingdom of Mataram there is a legendary story about Nyai Roro Kidul in Java who was bewitched and got a kind of skin disease. According to the story, Nyai Roro Kidul is a beautiful princess from the Padjajaran Palace who is infected with a skin disease due to being targeted by black magic. The black magic was imposed by a magician who was hired by his brother due to jealousy with the beauty of the princess. The magic caused the princess to get a disgusting skin disease. Disappointed, the princess decided to commit suicide by plunging herself into the South Sea. After that, a miracle happened when the South Sea restored her beauty and made her queen. And in revenge, Nyai Roro Kidul had supported Senopati and made him the founder of the second Mataram dynasty. The story of this legend is seen as a story in Southeast Asian myths, skin diseases are often associated with female deities, who have to do with fertility and well-being. Furthermore the deity is further associated with dragons and the sea. In general, stories or legends in the archipelago related to such diseases symbolize the power of the rulers. If highlighted in the story of Sri Tri Buana, the disease signifies the power of a cruel king. In the story of Nyai Roro Kidul, the princess’ illness is the basic cause of the establishment of the new government. With power the magical and dominant one was transferred to Senopati to become the second King of Mataram. In Champa folklore, skin disease visually shows the boy’s extraordinary potential as a king in the future. From the sequence of events that took place it is clear that water and dragons are responsible for giving energy to the rulers.

The Dragon Princess as Depicted by W.G Shellabear

Among the earliest records of the story of the dragon in the archipelago is through a legendary story of the founder of the dynasty of the Funan kings in Cambodia which is derived from the Campa inscription. According to the inscription a Brahma -descendant King named Kaundiya who probably came from the Malay Peninsula or India had a sacred bow or spear which then sailed to the East and eventually arrived in Funan. Kaundiya’s arrival at Funan was greeted by a battle at sea from a Dragon Princess named Soma. Kaundiya finally manages to destroy the boat of princess Soma by using her sacred bow. After the defeat Kaundiya had married the Dragon Princess and developed the first ruling dynasty in Funan.
There are various legends that narrate the marriage of a dragon princess with a hero character who became the founder of a new government or dynasty in the Malay world. This legend explains about the close relationship of the hero character symbolically with the dragon princess who is associated with the elements of earth and water. According to Wolters (1990), the beliefs of ancient Asian societies, especially Indians regarded the sea as a source of fertility, wealth, power and sovereignty. All these resources are under the control of women and inherited by women. In the tradition of Indian mythology, the legend of the dragon depicts the aspect of women uniting with superheroes on land. Dragons are said to represent the forces of nature, precious minerals, metals, gemstones and the earth.
Based on the myth of marriage with the royal princess of the underworld (female dragon or nagi) this is the foundation for the legend of the dragon in the Malay world. In Malay History, this relationship is explained through the myth of Raja Suran’s journey to the kingdom in the sea. Raja Suran obtained the right to rule over the Malay world through his marriage to Puteri Mahtabul Bahri. The right to rule was then passed down to his three sons, namely Nila Pahlawan, Keriyana Pandita and Sang Nila Utama. Sang Nila Utama was later called Sang Sapurba and subsequently called Taremberi Teribuana by Bat (Batala) who emerged from the vomit of a cow ridden by Sang Nila Utama and his two brothers (Sejarah Melayu version W.G Shellabear, 1981). Taremteri Buana is said to be the founder of the Malay kingdom in Palembang even though the kingdom was ruled by Demang Daun Lebar. Hence, the right to inherit the throne belongs to Taremteri Buana, so Demang Daun Lebar handed over the power to the rightful person, namely Taremteri Buana. His rights were also proved by several regalia, namely the royal sword of the Si Manjakini pattern, the spear of the Lembuara and the stamp of the kempa wood to seal the king’s letters. The event confirmed that the legitimate rights belonged to him. The mother of Sang Nila Utama (Taremteri Buana) namely Puteri Mahtabul Bahri is symbolically described as the owner of all the wealth of the world and the sea as a myth about the king’s marriage to the dragon princess in India. This also shows that the author of the text Sejarah Melayu is aware of the basis of dragon mythology in the Indian literary tradition related to the ownership of a king’s rights over the sea and land wealth of a state or government.

The Myth of the Saktimuna Snake in the Malay World

In the Malay world there are myths about snakes and dragons that still remain to this day. The dragon snake is known as the Saktimuna snake. According to Azharuddin Mohamad Dali (2018), one of the earliest researchers who recorded the origin of the existence of the Sakti Muna snake was W. W. Skeat through his study book entitled Malay Magic published in 1900. Through the book W.W. Skeat explains that the Saktimuna snake is an ‘astronomical dragon’ that has to do with the mythology of world events. Because of its violence, this serpent was killed by the Angel Gabriel using iron taken from the gates of heaven. His head floated into space and his tail to the earth. His detached limbs changed into various forms of jinn and mambang. From the child of Saktimuna’s snake’s eye called the ‘seed of Saktimuna’s eye’ was born a white jinn who is considered a good jinn (Islamic jinn).
There are various stories in the history of Malay culture that tell about the killing of snakes and what is interesting is that all the killers are descendants of Iskandar Zulkarnain. One of the interesting versions is in the legend of the ancient island of Sumetara known as Pulo Perca (Pulau Perca) which is located between Palembang and Jambi. According to this version, a wandering king killed a large snake and later became the king of Palembang. One of his descendants who was expelled by the Mataram Javanese government also later founded the Minangkabau dynasty. (Winstedt, 1925)
In the Minangkabau legend, there is a story about the Saktimuna snake (dragon) but this story is completely different compared to other dragon legends in Southeast Asia. This is because this dragon represents a symbol of evil and must be destroyed. According to Winstedt (1925), this story is an analogy that the dragon is a symbolic term referring to indigenous peoples. The local people were considered dragons because they had resisted the invasions made by the kings who came to conquer their territory. After the conquest and the emergence of a new king, the local people who became rebels were described by the king as an evil dragon. This opinion is a hypothesis that shows that the killing of the snake Saktimuna can be interpreted as the conquest of Palembang (Srivijaya) by Java in the twelfth century AD.
The story of the serpent Saktimuna is in line with the idea in Hindu belief, such as the story of Naga Kaliya being defeated by Krishna. The idea of a malicious Dragon is also seen in Indonesia which is also said to come from the influence of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. There are several sculptures from temples in Indonesia in the eleventh century depicting
an evil dragon character dominated by an eagle. With the conquest of the Javanese kingdom in the 8th century AD the concept of the dragon may have spread to Sriwijaya along with the influence of Buddhism (Miyazaki, 2002).

Dragon-Snake Symbolism in Malay Material Cultural Aspects

Ragamhias or dragon ornament in cultural objects is one of the important themes that are often found in the Malay world. In general, ornament or decorative pattern means a symbol or symbol of a belief related to the cultural context. Ragamhias naga is said to have started with an injection of influence from the heyday of Indian culture and then evolved and adapted according to the tastes of the local community. Beginning with sculptures on reliefs and sculptures in ancient temples, dragon ornaments were later used as ornaments on cultural utensils including daggers, puppets, jewelry, textiles, ceramics and royal regalia utensils. To this day, some cultural objects still use this style of decoration and some are no longer used. This is because, after permeating the influence of Islam, especially in the Malay world, the community began to abide by religious prohibitions that do not allow animal or human nature ornaments.
Yet in the past, in material culture in the Malay World many mythological animal themes were produced in the form of snakes or more precisely dragon incarnations. According to Endicott (1970), the snake is a reptile and ever-present animal, which can be found either on land or at sea and also in places such as mangrove swamps. Naga (dragon) is also often associated with water and fertility, where it has a creeping nature and is always present. In the world of wayang kulit Alam Melayu, especially in Java (Indonesia), Kelantan (Malaysia) and Patani (Thailand), dragon characters appear very often. It seems to symbolise a code where there is a source of power somewhere then it will be manifested by the existence or appearance of a dragon. For example, on the head of a sword or dagger, and also on the bottom of Rama’s bow, is placed the shape of a dragon. In Javanese shadow puppets the bracelets also have a dragon motif, showing the strength of one’s hand. The headdress of a superhero or deity also has a dragon head motif that appears in the hairline but in Javanese puppets it is replaced with an eagle.
According to Azharudin Mohamed Dali (2018), there is a close relationship between the use of regalia of the Perak Sultanate, namely pontoh bernaga and pontoh ular lidi with the mythological story of the Saktimuna snake in Pulau Perca. This has been linked to the arrival of Raja Muzaffar Shah at Beting Beras Basah where his ascension ark was stuck on a shoal and prevented his ark from going home to Hulu Perak. On the advice of the royal magician, he looked up at the sky while issuing the following exclamation:
“Sekongkong Tanah Minangkabau, Selilit Pulau Perca, Di lengkung ular Saktimuna, Perpisahan beta di Selat Melaka, Jika sah beta Raja Berdaulat, Lepaskanlah sealian malapetaka”
As soon as Raja Muzaffar Shah finished uttering the words, all the great men of Perak were preceded by Bendahra Tun Saban who called out “Daulat Tuanku” three times. Suddenly his ark escaped the obstacle and he continued his journey until he reached an area known as Tanah Abang and then ascended the throne as the first Sultan of Perak.
In examining the variety of dragon -shaped ornaments, there are often similarities between snakes and dragons. According to Hoop (1949), a variety of snake or dragon -shaped ornaments have been detected to exist in the Sulawesi Islands, namely among the Toraja community before the advent of Hindu Buddhism. These snake-dragon-shaped carvings have often been used as decorations on the exterior and interior of Toraja homes since ancient times. This is similar to the variety of ornaments on the wood carvings of the Dayak Ngaju in Kalimantan. It clearly illustrates that dragon symbolism is one of the main identities of the Austronesian community group associated with the cult of ancient beliefs.
Referring to the Malay world, especially Malaysia, dragon-themed ornaments can still be found on cultural objects of the past and not those produced in the present. Compared to Indonesia, the variety of dragon ornaments in Malaysia is very little used. If found on cultural objects such as temapayan, pottery or ceramics, jugs, gongs and so on we find that the cultural objects have to some extent been absorbed by external influences, especially Javanese, Siamese and Chinese. The absorption of this influence also indirectly gives identity to cultural objects in the Malay world. Despite this, there are also some discoveries of equipment produced by the ancient Malays who chose the subject of dragons as the theme of the carvings on the products produced. If you look in the context of wood carving, some dragon ornaments have been produced by Malay carvers, especially on boat heads, quail traps and weapon heads. Similarly, metal materials such as rhythm cannons also use the shape of a dragon’s head on the muzzle of the cannon and the handle of the cannon. However, over time, the variety of dragon ornaments became increasingly lost in the world of Malay sculpture due to the influence of Islam which is growing in the soul of the Malay community, especially in Malaysia. But there is an interesting fact about the subject of dragons when viewed from the point of view of illustration in Malay manuscripts of the late 19th century. There are several manuscripts written in Jawi that record the sciences of Malay blasphemy using the illustration of the dragon in the manuscript as a description of the greatness of the knowledge or mantra written.
According to the Herald-Wong (2005), in Southeast Asian countries where most of the people embraced Islam or Christianity, dragon spirits as well as all the mystical and symbolic things from the roots of earlier animism had faded as both teachings prohibited all forms of idolatry. In Malaysia, many ancient ideas have been modified according to Islamic principles and found new expressions in swirling floral motifs from traditional wood carvings. The dragon ornaments are safe from religious purification but live symbolically as in the form of a dagger or knife that is often used in ceremonies in Malaysia and Indonesia as a regalia and a symbol of supreme power.


In short, dragons in the archipelago and Southeast Asia are generally mythological animals that live in the water, crawling and give a symbol of prosperity, power and fertility to the environment of a kingdom and its shadow area. The people in the archipelago are seen to have almost the same cosmology although separated in terms of region and area. Historians such as Higham (1964) and Belwood (1997) assume that by 1000 BC there was migration from the Mainland to the Indonesian Archipelago through Peninsular Malaysia. According to Jumsai (1989), at the same time there is also the possibility of migration from the archipelago to the Mainland at that time. It was from this process that they began to share the culture and beliefs they brought with them from the area of origin and eventually became a common form of local culture at the time. This phenomenon is indeed very noticeable in the Southeast Asian region and some of it is still going on to this day.
In addition, dragons are also said to be associated with the power of the king and give legitimacy to the position of a king. Although this influence is likely to come from India but it is through a process of adaptation to the local culture and cultural interaction has given birth to an interesting cultural image of the dragon. The myth of the dragon is an important element in the stories of the existence of a new dynasty in a kingdom and it is often mentioned in ancient texts about the relationship between the founder of the dynasty and the dragon princess. Interestingly, almost every region in the archipelago and Southeast Asia generally has an almost identical story narrative and develops in society as a folk tale to this day. Therefore, the world-view and belief of the people of the archipelago towards dragons still remain in some aspects of culture. The most notable aspect is in the form of material culture. The variety of ornaments and motifs of dragons are always ‘alive’ in the environment of cultural objects of the archipelago where it indirectly depicts the symbolism of the power and spirit of the dragon still flows in the pulse of culture of the archipelago and Southeast Asia in general.

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