Sang Nila Utama

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Sang Nila Utama
King of Singapura
Reign 1299-1347
Successor Sri Wikrama Wira
Born 13 Century
Sumatra, Indonesia
Died 1347
Kingdom of Singapura
Burial 1347
Father Sang Sapurba
Religion Hinduism

Sang Nila Utama was a Srivijayan prince from Palembang said to have founded the Kingdom of Singapura in 1299.[1][2] His official title adopted upon his coronation, was Sri Maharaja Sang Utama Parameswara Batara Sri Tri Buana, which can be translated as "Central Lord King of the Three Worlds". The "Three Worlds" may refer to the three realms of the universe – the heaven of the gods, the world of humans, and the underworld of demons. A few early kings in South East Asia had used the title Sri Tri Buana or "Lord of the Three Worlds".[3] He died in 1347; his son, Paduka Seri Wikrama Wira succeeded him.[4] The account of his life is given in the Malay Annals. However, the historicity of the events as given in the Malay Annals is debated by scholars,[5] and some believe that Sang Nila Utama may be a mythical person.[6]

The founding of Singapore[edit]

While the earliest known historical records of Singapore are shrouded, a 3rd-century Chinese account describes it as the "island at the end of a peninsula" or Pulau Ujung. Later, the city was known as Temasek (likely meaning "Sea Town").[7]

According to the Malay Annals, the founding of the city of Singapore began with Sang Nila Utama who was a prince of Palembang, which was then the capital of the Srivijaya Empire. He and his men were on Bintan island on a hunting trip. While hunting, he spotted a stag and started chasing it up a small hill but, when he reached the top, the 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 at sea, a great storm erupted and the ship was tossed about in the huge waves. The ship began to take in 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.)[8]

He landed safely on the beach, then went to hunt wild animals near the river mouth on a patch of open ground now referred to as the Padang. Suddenly, he saw a strange animal with a red body, black head and a white breast.[9] It was a fine-looking animal and moved with great speed as it disappeared into the jungle. He asked his chief minister Demang Lebar Duan 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 1299, and renamed this city Singapura, which in Sanskrit means "Lion City".


The events in the tale of Sang Nila Utama contain symbolisms and meanings behind them as well. For example, the throwing of the crown into the sea could represent the shift of power from Palembang to Singapura. During that period of time, the Srivijaya Empire was nearing its end and as Palembang had been the capital of the Malay World at that time, the throwing of the crown could meant to say that Palembang had been denounced from its role as the gathering place of the Malay people and that Temasek would then be the new centre of power for the Malay kings.

Identity of the "lion"[edit]

It has been pointed out that lions have never lived in Singapore (not even Asiatic lions), and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was therefore suggested to be a tiger, most likely to be the Malayan tiger.[10][11]

It has been suggested that beast mentioned in the Malay Annals fits the description of a mythical beast called janggi told in Minangkabau legends as a guardian of gold mines. Dark red hair called rambut janggi, said to be of this mythical beast but probably actually from urangutan, adorn lances that were kept by the Minangkabaus as heirlooms.[12]

There are however a number of other theories about the origin of the name Singapura as some believe Sang Nila Utama to be mythical. For example, it has been suggested that the "lion" refers to the lion throne originally set up by Parameswara in Palembang as a challenge to the Majapahit Empire, while others believed that the "lion" refers to a Majapahit Buddhist sect.[6]

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. ^ John N. Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300_1800. NUS Press. p. 148. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
  4. ^ "Ruling House of Malacca-Johor". Christopher Buyers. October 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-08. 
  5. ^ John N. Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300_1800. NUS Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
  6. ^ a b C.M. Turnbull (30 October 2009). A History of Modern Singapore, 1819-2005. NUS Press. pp. 21–22. ISBN 978-9971694302. 
  7. ^ Victor R Savage, Brenda Yeoh (15 June 2013). Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics. Marshall Cavendish. p. 381. ISBN 9789814484749. 
  8. ^ Dr John Leyden and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (1821). Malay Annals. pp. 40–44. 
  9. ^ John N. Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300_1800. NUS Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
  10. ^ "Studying In Singapore". Search Singapore Pte Ltd. Archived from the original on December 23, 2007. Retrieved April 14, 2006. 
  11. ^ "Sang Nila Utama" (PDF). 24hr Art. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 19, 2006. Retrieved April 14, 2006. 
  12. ^ John N. Miksic (15 November 2013). Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea, 1300_1800. NUS Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-9971695743. 
Sang Nila Utama
House of Sang Sapurba
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Position established
Raja of Singapura
Succeeded by
Sri Wikrama Wira