The primary source for much of the information of the kingdom was from the account of the Chinese Buddhist monk Yijing who visited Maritime Southeast Asia between 688–695. The exact location of the kingdom is the subject of studies among historians. One theory is that the kingdom was established around present-day Jambi on Sumatra, Indonesia, approximately 300 km north of Palembang. According to this theory, it was founded by ethnic groups in the Batanghari river area and gold traders from the Minangkabau hinterland. The theory is disputed as the geographical location of Jambi contradicts the descriptions by Yijing, who explicitly mentioned that the kingdom is located half-way between Ka-Cha (Kedah) and Bogha (Palembang)".
The origins of the word Melayu ('Malay') are disputed. One theory suggests that it is derived from the Malay/Javanese terms melayu or mlayu (to steadily accelerate or to run), to describe the strong current of a river in Sumatra that today bore the name Sungai Melayu ('Melayu river'). The name was later possibly adopted by the Melayu Kingdom, as it is common for people in the region to be known by the name of the river on which they settled. Another theory hold that it originates from the Tamil words Malai and ur meaning "mountain" and "city, land", respectively. An early literary appearance was in Vayu Purana where the word "Malayadvipa" (literally "mountainous island") was mentioned, referring to the mountainous terrain of Malay Peninsula. Then, the term "Maleu-Kolon" was used in Geographia by Ptolemy which is believed to have originated from the Sanskrit term malayakolam or malaikurram, referring to a geographical part of Malay Peninsula. In 7th century, the first use of the term for a nation or a kingdom was recorded by Yijing. An inscription on the south wall of the 11th century Brihadeeswarar Temple also made a reference to Malaiyur, a kingdom that had "a strong mountain for its rampart" in Malay Peninsula that fell to the Chola invaders during Rajendra Chola I's campaign.
In the later Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) and Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the word Ma-La-Yu was mentioned often in Chinese historical texts - with changes in spelling due to the time span between the dynasties - to refer to a nation near the southern sea. Among the terms used was "Bok-la-yu", "Mok-la-yu" (木剌由), Ma-li-yu-er (麻里予兒), Oo-lai-yu (巫来由) - traced from the written source of monk Xuan Zang), and Wu-lai-yu (無来由). In the chronicle of Yuan Dynasty, the word "Ma-li-yu-er" was mentioned in describing the Sukhothai Kingdom's southward expansion against Malay states of the peninsula.:
- "..Animosity occurred between Siam and Ma-li-yu-er with both killing each other..."
In response to the Sukhothai's move, a Chinese envoy arrived at the Ram Khamhaeng's court in 1295 bearing an imperial order: "Keep your promise and do no evil to Ma-li-yu-er". This nation of "Ma-li-yu-er" that appeared in the Chinese record possibly a similar nation that was mentioned by the famous Venetian traveler Marco Polo (1254–1324) who lived during the same period. In Travels of Marco Polo, he made a reference to a kingdom named "Malauir" in the Malay peninsula. The Khmer recorded the nation of Melayu, however, its progeny Srivijaya, was also called Melayu.
According to the translation by Slamet Muljana, the word bhūmi Mālayu (literally "Land of Malayu") is incribed on the Padang Roco Inscription, dated 1286 CE, according to the inscription, bhūmi Mālayu is associated with the Dharmasraya kingdom. On the Amoghapasa inscription, dated 1347 CE, the word Malayapura (literally "city of Malaya" or "kingdom of Malaya") was proclaimed by Adityawarman, again referring to Dharmasraya. The word "Melayu" is also mentioned in the Malay annals referring to a river in Sumatra:
- "...Here now is the story of a city called Palembang in the land of Andelas. It was ruled by Demang Lebar Daun, a descendant of Raja Shulan, and its river was the Muara Tatang. In the upper reaches of the Muara Tatang was a river called Melayu, and on that river was a hill called Si-Guntang Mahameru..."
On his route via Maritime Southeast Asia, Yijing visited Srivijaya twice where he stayed from 688 to 695, studying and translating the original texts in Sanskrit. Srivijaya appears to have been flourishing around the time of Yijing's visit, which he initially called "Bogha" during his first visit. At its greatest extent, the kingdom extended to Malayu, which seems to have been annexed or to have come spontaneously under the realm of Bogha prince.[clarification needed] The whole country as well as the capital received the name "Sribogha" or Srivijaya. The change of the name Malayu to Sribogha is likely to have occurred before Yijing's time or during his stay there, for whenever he mentions Malayu by name, he added that "it is now changed to Sribogha".
The following extract from Yijing's work further describes his route via Bogha and Malayu:
- Wu Hing came to Bogha after a month's sail. The king received him very favourably and respected him as a guest from the land of the son of heaven of the Great Tang. He went on board the king's ship to the country of Malayu and arrived there after fifteen days sail. Thence he went to Ka Cha, again after fifteen days. At the end of winter he changed ship and sailed to the west.
Further for the determination of the location of Sribogha-Malayu, Yijing furnishes the following:
- In the country of Sribogha, we see the shadow of the dial-plate become neither long nor short (i.e "remain unchanged" or "no shadow") in the middle of the eighth month (Autumnal equinox), and at midday no shadow falls from a man who is standing on that day, so it is in the middle of spring (Vernal equinox).
Thus it can be inferred that the country of Sribogha covered the place lying on the equator, and the whole county therefore must have covered the north east side of Sumatra, from the southern shore of Malacca, to the city of Palembang, extending at least five degrees, having the equatorial line at about the centre of the kingdom.
According to Yijing, Hinayana Buddhism was predominantly adopted in Srivijaya, represented for the most part by the Mulasarvastivada school, however there were few Mahayanists in Malayu. Gold seems to have been abundant in the kingdom, where people used to offer the Buddha a lotus flower of gold and used golden jars. Moreover, people of the kingdom wear a type of long cloth and used fragrant oil.
Further, Melayu had accessed to gold producing areas in the hinterland of Sumatra. This slowly increased the prestige of Melayu which traded various local goods, including gold, with foreigners.
Center of Srivijaya
Between 1079 and 1088, Chinese records show that Srivijaya sent ambassadors from Jambi and Palembang. In 1079 in particular, an ambassador from Jambi and Palembang each visited China. Jambi sent two more ambassadors to China in 1082 and 1088. This suggests that the center of Srivijaya frequently shifted between the two major cities during that period. The Chola expedition and as well as changing trade route weakened Palembang, allowing Jambi to take the leadership of Srivijaya from the 11th century on.
Almost a century after taking over Palembang's role as the center of an empire, Jambi and Srivijaya experienced decline in influence. This was caused by a change of policy by the Song dynasty to no longer accept ambassadors from Srivijaya and Jambi's inability to cope with changing scenario. Instead of the Jambi controlling the trade through tributary system, traders were allowed to trade directly.
Melayu's last prince Parameswara
Mahesa/Kebo/Lembu Anabrang was a General of Singhasari, who conquered Srivijaya and Melayu in 1288. In the year 1347, Gajah Mada the military leader of Majapahit installed Adityawarman as the king of Melayu to prevent the revival of Srivijaya. Adityawarman later conquered Tanah Datar to take control of the gold trade and founded a kingdom in Pagar Ruyung. In the year 1377, the Majapahit defeated Palembang and ended efforts to revive Srivijaya. The last prince of Srivijayan origin, Parameswara, fled to Temasik to seek refuge before moving farther north, where he founded what would become the Malacca Sultanate.
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- Photos of ancient Melayu Kingdom
- The History of Jambi - The Early history
- Timeline of Indonesia history
- Indonesia…from ancient times to middle ages
- The origins of the word 'Melayu'