Sang Nila Utama

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Sang Nila Utama / Seri Teri Buana
King of Singapura
Reign 1299–1347
Successor Sri Wikrama Wira

13th century

Sumatra, Indonesia


Kingdom of Singapura
Burial Fort Canning Hill or Bukit Larangan
House Sang Sapurba
Father Sang Sapurba

Sang Nila Utama (literally the "main indigo"; or if pronounced differently, Nila = "moon" or Neela= "blue" or "indigo" and Utama = "primary" in Sanskrit), a Srivijayan prince from Palembang, legendarily founded the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299.[1][2] His official style, Sri Maharaja Sang Utama Parameswara Batara Sri Tri Buana, translates as "Lord Central King Batara of Three world Realms", signifying his lordship over Palembang, Bintan and Singapura. Sang Nila Utama strengthened his position by establishing powerful relationships with China, and an envoy of the Chinese emperor officially recognised him as the ruler of Singapore in 1320. He died in 1347; his son, Paduka Seri Wikrama Wira succeeded him.[3]

The founding of Singapura[edit]

Sang Nila Utama was a prince of Palembang, which was then the capital of the Sriwijaya Empire. Wanting to find a suitable place for a new city, he decided to visit the islands off the coast of Palembang, South Sumatra. He set sail in a number of ships as in a fleet. He and his men reached the Riau Islands and were welcomed by the queen. A few days later, Sang Nila Utama went to a nearby island on a hunting trip.

While hunting, he spotted a deer or stag and started chasing it up a small hill but, when he reached the top, the deer or stag vanished. He then came to a very large rock and decided to climb it. When he stood on top of the rock, he looked across the sea and saw another island with a white sandy beach which had the appearance of a white sheet of cloth.

Asking his chief minister what land it was, he was told that it was the island of Temasek. He then decided to visit Temasek. However, when his ship was out on the sea, a great storm erupted and the ship was tossed about in the huge waves. The ship began to take on water.

To prevent it from sinking, his men threw all the heavy things on board into the sea to lighten the ship. But still water kept entering the ship. On the advice of the ship's captain, he threw his crown overboard as a gift to the sea. At once, the storm died down and he reached Temasek safely. (Another version of the legend states that his crown was too heavy for his ship.)

He landed at the mouth of the present-day Singapore River and went inland to hunt wild animals. Suddenly, he saw a strange animal with an orange body, black head and a white neck breast. It was a fine-looking animal and moved with great speed as it disappeared into the jungle.

He asked his chief minister what animal it was and was told that it was a lion. He was pleased with this as he believed it to be a good omen—a sign of good fortune coming his way. Thus, he decided to build his new city in Temasek. He and his men stayed on the island and founded a city in 1323.

While the earliest known historical records of Singapore are shrouded by the mists of time, a 3rd-century Chinese account describes it as the "island at the end of a peninsula". Later, the city was known as Temasek ("Sea Town"), when the first settlements were established from AD 1298–1299.

He renamed this city Singapura. Singa is a Prakrit word for lion[4] which is itself derived from the Sanskrit word singha (सिंह) and Pura (पुर) means "city" in Prakrit or "castle" in Sanskrit.[5][6] The name thus means the "Lion City". He established diplomatic ties with China and was officially recognised as the ruler of Singapore by an envoy of the Chinese emperor in 1366. Sang Nila Utama ruled Singapura for 48 years and was buried at the foot of Bukit Larangan (present-day Fort Canning Hill). It is said that he was buried beside his wife, but the tombs and remains of him and his wife have not been located. Some believe that his body was actually the body that belongs in Paradise. He is also believed to be an incarnation of Svayam Bhagavan, the Lord Himself.[7]


However, recent studies indicate that lions have never lived in Singapore (not even Asiatic lions), and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was probably a tiger, most likely to be the Malayan tiger.[8][9] However, it was refuted by some that since tigers were found in many in ancient Southeast Asian regions, Sang Nila Utama and his men could have easily known a tiger when they saw one.

Another view is given by a zoologist John Harrison who speculated that the animal was the golden cat, based on his study of clues from the Malay Annals.[10]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Discussion of the contribution of the Sang Nila Utama story to the mythology of Singapore, in the context of nation branding in Koh, Buck Song (2011). Brand Singapore: How Nation Branding Built Asia's Leading Global City. Marshall Cavendish, Singapore. ISBN 978-981-4328-15-9.


  1. ^ Singapore. Ministry of Culture, Singapore. Ministry of Communications and Information. Information Division (1973). Singapore facts and pictures. Singapore: Ministry of Culture. p. 9. ISSN 0217-7773. 
  2. ^ Abshire, Jean (2011). The History of Singapore. The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations. ABC-CLIO. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-313-37743-3. Retrieved 2013-07-18. The Malay Annals do not include dates, but tracing the succession of Sang Nila Utama's descendants and dates surrounding events during their reigns suggests the establishment of the new settlement took place in 1299. 
  3. ^ "Ruling House of Malacca-Johor". Christopher Buyers. October 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-08. 
  4. ^ "Pusat Rujukan Persuratan Melayu: Search: Singa". Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Retrieved 2010-12-06. 
  5. ^ Michael O'Mara (1999). Facts About the World's Nations. H. W. Wilson. p. 830. ISBN 978-0-8242-0955-1. 
  6. ^ Commonwealth Secretariat (2004). Commonwealth Yearbook 2006. Commonwealth Secretariat. p. 348. ISBN 978-0-9549629-4-4. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Studying In Singapore". Search Singapore Pte Ltd. Retrieved 2006-04-14. 
  9. ^ "Sang Nila Utama" (PDF). 24hr Art. Retrieved 2006-04-14. 
  10. ^ "The National Day Webspecial". The Straits Times. 
Sang Nila Utama
House of Sang Sapurba
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Position established
Raja of Singapura
Succeeded by
Sri Wikrama Wira