6 April 2009

Princess of Mount Ledang

Puteri Gunung Ledang (Princess of Mount Ledang) was a reputedly
> beautiful
> woman that, as legends have it, lived on the summit of Mount Ledang,
> which
> is located in today's northern Johor. If my rather superficial
> knowledge of
> Sejarah Melayu serves me well, no mention was made of the origins of
> the
> princess was ever made by the author of Sejarah Melayu. (Maybe someone
> on
> the list can provide some clues on the possible historical personality
> of
> the princess?)

Indeed, there is no mention in the Sejarah Melayu of the origins of the
fabled princess. She first comes up in conversation in the book when the
Sultan laments along the lines of (and I am creatively paraphrasing
here) "Hey, I've married a Javanese princess, I've married a Chinese
Princess, been there, done that, but even Alexander the Great married a
Chinese princess, so I want to get hitched to a princess no one ever has
married before and ever will. I want the Princess of Gunong Ledang!"

Pires' Suma Oriental lends some credence to the Gunung Ledang fable when
he mentions "the enchanted queen in the hill of Malacca called Gulom
Leydam (Gunung Ledang) ..... where there are only women, and they have
no men, and that they are got with child by others who go there to trade
and then leave, and others are made pregnant by the wind ...."

There is a whole chapter on Gunong Ledang in Eredia's 'Description of
Malaca', where he describes her as "the Oueen Putri, the companion of
Parameswara, founder of Malacca .... and to Gunoledam retired the Queen
Putri and here the enchanted Putri remains forever immortal and here she
lives to this day by her magic arts. She makes her home in a cavernous
cave on the summit of the mountain and here she lies on a raised couch
decorated with dead men's bones. She takes the form of a beautiful young
girl, adorned with silk and gold."

Eredia describes the cave as "planted with thickets of bamboo, from
which proceed harmonious voices and sounds of flutes and other musical
instruments." The Sejarah Melayu also mentions these "singing bamboos
that birds on the wing stopped to listen to and every creature that
heard it was enchanted ..."

Eredia also says that surrounding these thickets are forests are
occupied by tigers who guard the Putri. He goes further by saying that
"the Banuas ('orang benua' or Orang Asli) learn their magic arts in this
cavern at Gunong Ledang and use these arts to transform themselves from
human form into tigers, lizards, crocodiles, birds and other animals".
Eredia says that so many of these were-tigers came in the night into
Melaka and killed women and children that the first Bishop of Melaka,
Dom Jorge de S Lucia, solemnly excommunicated these 'tigers' in a High
Mass in 1560!

Winstedt's study of the occult in his "The Malay Magician' also mentions
"a were-tiger that guards the fairy princess of Mt. Ophir. He further
adds that she was said to take the form of a girl in the morning,
appears in noon as a woman and at night as an old hag. Even in the
Sejarah Melayu, Tun Mamat never ever actually meets face to face with
the Putri Gunung Ledang but speaks with an old woman "bent double with
age ... and the old woman who spoke with Tun Mamat was Puteri Gunung
Ledang herself in disguise." Winstedt records local folklore telling how
she would take the form of an old woman carrying a cat and some 'kunyit'
(saffron or turmeric) and ask the boatmen on the Gemenceh River for
passage - if it is refused, the boat eventually runs aground, if she is
taken aboard, it glides along the river more swiftly than usual. When
she leaves the boat, she would give the boatman some saffron, which
would turn to gold in his hand!

In his book 'Shaman, Saiva and Sufi', Winstedt says the fairy Princess
married Nakhoda Ragam, a wandering seafarer prince of Borneo. After his
death at sea from the prick of her needle, she donned fairy garb and
flew to Gunong Ledang, whence she migrated later to Bukit Jugra further
up the coast with a sacred tiger as her companion.

> Hearing of her beauty, Sultan Mansur Syah ordered Orang Kaya Laksamana
> Hang
> Tuah and a few other people to go and ask for the hand of the
> princess. (I
> think His Majesty was wont to react like this whenever he heard about
> beautiful women. Speaking of which, which Sultan had Tun Teja
> kidnapped, was
> it Mansur or Mahmud? Wouldn't be surprised if it was the former).

Indeed it was!

> Speaking of Puteri Gunung Ledang, you may have heard of the film that
> is
> currently in the making called "Puteri Gunung Ledang", co-produced by
> the
> Malaysian Agriculture minister Effendi Norwawi, starring Tiara
> Jacquelina, M
> Nasir and Christine Hakim etc...In the film, Puteri Gunung Ledang was
> apparently, originally a Javanese princess who became a mistic of
> sorts and
> fell in love with Hang Tuah. But I don't know how this ties in with
> Sejarah
> Melayu. Hang Tuah was already old when he went to ask for the
> princess' hand
> and had to send Tun Mamat(?) in his stead because he couldn't climb to
> the
> top of the mountain. So, as far as the Sejarah Melayu is concerned,
> Hang
> Tuah never met the princess. (Can't wait to see the film given all the
> hype
> about it.)

Methinks the movie may be taking a few liberties with traditional
folklore here. One thing I can say though, it probably won't come near
to the magic of old Cathay Keris movie version of Puteri Gunung Ledang
by S Roomai Noor in the 60s. This version had the princess come to the
Sultan's chambers in the dead of night in his dreams. Not knowing who
she is, he summons the Royal Astrologer, who tells him it is indeed the
Fairy Princess of Gunung Ledang. Hang Tuah leads a team up the mountain
but the elderly warrior retires to a cave in exhaustion and urges Tun
Mamat on in the quest for the Sultan. I tend to recall them encountering
the famed were-tiger, whom they manage to trap in a pit. They also
encounter a group of hostile Orang Benua, whom Tun Mamat defeats. Tun
Mamat eventually meets with the Princess's guardian Dang Raya Rani, a
bevy of four beautiful fairies and the Princess herself. On hearing of
the impossible conditions set by the Princess for her dowry, Hang Tuah
feels his promise to the Sultan cannot be fulfilled and vows not to
return to Melaka in shame. He throws his kris into the Sungai Duyung and
descends into the river's depths, vowing that hang Tuah will only ever
step on Melaka soil when the keris floats upon the river surface.

The Sultan agrees to the Princess's demands and cruelly oppresses the
people of Melaka in his quest for the gold and silver needed for the
bridge. Wracked with madness, he draws his keris to kill his son for the
cup of blood required but, as he is about to plunge the blade, the
Princess magically appears and swears that he will never marry a man who
is so weak and cruel as to oppress his people and murder his own son.

I last saw this movie when I was about eight or ten I think, so the
details may be a little off. One thing I definitely remember is that it
was definitely the first Malay movie I ever saw with what appeared to be
an English girl in the lead female role - a gorgeous young thing by the
name of Elaine, I think.

I'm not sure if local Malaysian television will ever screen it again -
there was a time some time ago when I think Censorship Board banned a
lot of the old Malay movie classics from public viewing because they had
fairies and magic and similar un-Islamic themes. I definitely remember
classics such as Bawang Putih Bawang Merah and the hilariously funny
'Minta nombor ekor' short film from 'Ragam P Ramlee' were banned - how a
small group of narrow-minded pin-brained religious bigots could get away
with that without a whimper of complaint from anyone still baffles me.
So, I'm not sure how this new Putri Gunung Ledang film is going to
overcome that - but then they have a government Minister backing them,
so I suppose that makes it all hunky dory.


  1. Antara yang tiga tu, sapa yang paling cantik? Atau yang jadi pilihan? Takkan nk tanya magic mirror tu mcm dalam citer Snow White tu?

  2. heheh putri gunung ledang la...



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