Zabag (Chinese: Sanfotsi; Sanskrit: Javaka; Arabic: Zabaj) is thought to have been an ancient kingdom located south of China somewhere in Southeast Asia, between the Chenla Kingdom (now Cambodia) and Java. The established studies by several historians associated this kingdom with Srivijaya and thought its location was somewhere in Sumatra, Java or Malay Peninsula. Indonesian historian suggested that Zabag is connected to the present day Muara Sabak area, the estuarine of Batang Hari River in East Tanjung Jabung Regency, Jambi province.
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Many scholars identify Srivijaya with the Arabic Zabaj, which most scholars agree in equating it with Javaka (in Pali texts), that also appeared in Indian sources. According to a Sri Lankan source, king Chandrabhanu Sridhamaraja is one of Javakan kings from Tambralinga kingdom, who had invaded Sri Lanka in 1247. However, the term Javaka was not occurred here for the first time, the term has been used vaguely to identify a polity in Southeast Asia.
The naval prowess of the Maharaja of Zabaj had played a major role in forming a legend recorded by Sulaimaan, an Arabic merchant in 851, and published by Masoudi, a historian, in his 947 book "Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems." He described the story of one proud Khmer king who foolishly defied the power of the Maharaja of Zabaj.
Some scholars have sought to link this Maharaja of Zabaj with the Sailendra king of Java. However, there are few evidences to prove that the Maharaja of Zabaj is the same king of Sailendra. While the Javakan king of Tambralinga had been directly linked to Maharaja of Zabaj. Therefore, the Javaka had occurred in The history since 9th century. In addition, Javakan king also occurred in the history of Lavo kingdom.
Legend of the Maharaja of Zabaj
One day in a fit of jealousy, the Khmer ruler made the following remark in court.
"I have one desire that I would like to satisfy," said the young ruler.
"What is that desire, O King," inquired his faithful councillor.
"I wish to see before me on a plate," remarked the monarch, "the head of the King of Zabaj."
"I do not wish, O King, that my sovereign should express such a desire,” answered the minister. “The Khmer and Zabaj have never manifested hatred towards each other, either in words or in acts. Zabaj has never done us any harm. What the King has said should not be repeated."
Angered by this sage advice, the Khmer ruler raised his voice and repeated his desire so that all of the generals and nobles who were present at court could hear him. Word of the young ruler’s impetuous outburst passed from mouth to mouth until it finally arrived at the court of the Maharaja of Zabaj. Upon hearing the words of the Khmer ruler, the Maharaja ordered his councillor to prepare a thousand ships for departure. When the fleet was ready, the Maharaja himself went aboard and announced to the crowd on shore that he would be making a pleasure trip amongst his islands. Once at sea, however, the Maharaja orders the armada to proceed to the capital of the Khmer ruler, where his troops took the Khmers by surprise, seized the city, and surrounded the palace. After the Khmer ruler had been captured, he was brought before the Maharaja of Zabaj.
"What caused you to form a desire which was not in your power to satisfy, which would not have given you happiness if you had realized it, and would not even have been justified if it had been easily realizable?" inquired the Maharaja of Zabaj.
Since the Khmer king had nothing to say in return, the Maharaja of Zabaj continued. "You have manifested the desire to see before you my head on a plate. If you also had wished to seize my country and my kingdom or even only to ravage a part of it, I would have done the same to you. But since you have only expressed the first of these desires, I am going to apply to you the treatment you wished to apply to me, and I will then return to my country without taking anything belonging to the Khmer, either of great or small value."
When the Maharaja returned to his own palace back home, he seated himself on the throne. Set before him was a plate upon which rested the head of the former Khmer king.
Many historian identify Zabag with Srivijaya, a maritime empire centered in Sumatra. Zabag is the Arabic word for Sumatra and Java, roughly corresponding with the Srivijaya Empire. A French scholar George Coedès published his discoveries and interpretations in Dutch and Indonesian-language newspapers. Coedès noted that the Chinese references to "Sanfoqi" or "Sanfotsi", previously read as "Sribhoja", and the inscriptions in Old Malay refer to the same empire.
Srivijaya and by extension Sumatra had been known by different names to different peoples. The Chinese called it Sanfotsi, and at one time there was an even older kingdom of Kantoli that could be considered as the predecessor of Srivijaya. In Sanskrit and Pali, it was referred to as Yavadesh and Javadeh respectively. The Arabs called it Zabag and the Khmer called it Melayu. This is another reason why the discovery of Srivijaya was so difficult. While some of these names are strongly reminiscent of the name of Java, there is a distinct possibility that they may have referred to Sumatra instead.
- St Julian, James (Mar 2014). The tale of the Khmer king and the Maharaja of Zabag. Teaching History, Volume 48 Issue 1.
- Slamet Muljana (2006). Sriwijaya (in Indonesian). PT LKiS Pelangi Aksara. p. 114-116. ISBN 9789798451621.
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