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Legends of Langkawi
Langkawi is a legendary island in more sense than one. Other than its wonderful beaches, its beautiful legends are what draws a visitor to its shores. The legends are all the more real simply because its people are convinced of their authenticity. As such, a keen sense of mystique and mystery surrounds the island and lends charm and intrigue to an otherwise quiet and calm faade.
THE LEGEND OF MAHSURI
and the curse of 7 years
Once upon a time, there lived in Langkawi, a childless couple, Pandak Maya and Mak Andam, who prayed for a child.
Their prayers were answered when they had Mahsuri, a sweet delightful child who grew into a beautiful young woman. Being such a beauty, she had many suitors but she soon married a warrior in her village. Their idyllic lives were disrupted when her husband went off to defend their village against attackers. A travelling poet arrived at the village and Mahsuri was said to have allowed him to stay at her house. This soon gave rise to the vicious gossip that Mahsuri was a faithless wife.
Another version claims that Mahsuri's mother-in-law was jealous of her while others say that a spurned suitor was behind the treachery. Yet another version says that the village headman was so enamoured of Mahsuri, that he tried to make full use of her husband's absence to his advantage. Needless to say, his wife was not amused and plotted to have Mahsuri Punished and done away with. Hence, she accused Mahsuri of being an adulteress, an offense punished by death. Despite her parents' pleas and the cries of her child at her skirts, Mahsuri was dragged away and tied to a tree. Vehemently protesting her innocence, she begged for mercy, but the villagers, under the influence of the headman's wife, gave her no quarter. The people really should have believed her when all the spears that they threw at her fell harmlessly at her feet. They were baffled but still convinced that Mahsuri was guilty of wrong-doing. They would not release her no matter what.
Finally, Mahsuri, having resigned herself that only her death would appease them, told them how they could kill her. She would only die by the blade of the ceremonial sword kept at her home. Someone was sent to fetch it and legend has it that the sky became overcast and there was thunder and lightning as Mahsuri was fatally stabbed. It is said that Mahsuri bled white blood, symbolising her innocence and purity, and with her dying breath, she laid a curse on Langkawi and its inhabitants, proclaiming that they would know no prosperity nor progress for seven generations.
Soon after her death, Langkawi was attacked by the Siamese. To prevent the invaders from getting the upper hand, the villagers poisoned their wells and burnt their padi fields, which effectively put an end to their food supply and means of income for the coming year. The evidence of this burning can still be seen today, two hundred years later, as charred and blackened rice grains surface from the ground especially after it rains heavily. Do you not think it strange that the rice grains have not turned into soil after so long? Some things have to be seen or experienced first-hand to be believed. The village headman and his sons were killed fighting the Siamese and neither was his wife spared an untimely death. As for Mahsuri's family, they left Langkawi and settled in Thailand.
No one knew much about what had happened to them until the year 2000 when the Kedah government located them on the island of Phuket. They were invited to Langkawi for a visit and to see if they would like to make the island their new home. The time for Mahsuri's seven generation old curse to end was at hand and it was hoped that with the arrival of her descendants, Langkawi could finally put its sad past behind and move forward towards prosperity and progress. Coincidence or not, one of the two siblings who are of the seventh generation descendants, is a young and pretty fourteen year old girl named Aisyah who bears a striking resemblance to Mahsuri as depicted in a portrait painted quite some time ago.
The family has since returned to Phuket as they have not yet been able to make the all important decision of becoming Malaysian citizens and resettling in Langkawi. The public was first introduced to Langkawi by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia. As a young District Officer in Kedah, the Tunku used to visit Langkawi and, according to his son, Tunku Ahmad Nerang in a newspaper article, the Tunku had wanted to visit Mahsuri's grave to pay his respects when he heard the sad tale. However, no one could tell him where it was. So, the Tunku made up his mind to find it. He was not one to give up and so persevered until one day, he came across a grave hidden in some undergrowth. He was sure that it was Mahsuri's although there was no marker indicating that fact or otherwise, so he approached a Chinese contractor to build a tomb for her.
Shortly after the tomb was erected, the Tunku was given a promotion and the contractor who had borne the costs of building the tomb became rather prosperous - he was handed several lucrative contracts. No one would have faulted the Tunku if he had thought that their good fortune could have been a token of appreciation from a woman who had died as a result of another's cruelty and whose grave had been so sadly neglected. The Tunku publicised this legend and lent his support in staging plays about Mahsuri and when there was a movie to be made about her. School children grew up reading about Mahsuri in their history textbooks.
To Malaysians, Mahsuri is more than a legend; she is the epitome that truth and goodness shall prevail and she reminds those who think that power enables them to do as they please, that their arrogance will only serve to hinder them. The Tunku did not live to see Mahsuri's descendants on Langkawi soil but it was he who had paved the way for their return. Had he been less interested in the legend and less of the man that he was, Mahsuri's tale would have been confined to the island alone. And just as he had freed Malaya from colonial rule, so too had he helped Langkawi to free itself from the shackles of its own past.
Of Clashing Clans, And Pots and Pans ?
On a lighter note, do you know what happens when two families get together to celebrate their children's wedding, then disagree and tempers flare? Why, they have a food fight, the crockery flies and tourist attractions are born; well, at least in Langkawi anyway.
Once, there were two influential families in Langkawi and they were all set to become even more powerful when their children decided to get married.
However, during the celebrations, there was a disagreement; things got rough and literally out of hand, when they started fighting and throwing things. As it was supposed to be a wedding celebration after all, it would not have been surprising that there were no weapons. So the clans used whatever they could get their hands on and that meant the food and crockery.
Each flung whatever they could at the other. As a result, visitors to Langkawi today get to visit the main town of Kuah, which is Malay for gravy. This is where the gravy was believed to have been spilled and where it seeped into the ground, Kisap (seep) is the name of the place. Where the hot water was believed to have splashed, there spouted hot springs and was subsequently named Telaga Air Hangat, literally, Hot Water Wells and no prizes for guessing that there is a place named for all that broken crockery - Belanga Pecah.
As for the two patriachs who started this ancient food fight, they have been turned into two of the island's major mountains so that they can always see the results of how their rashness had scarred the unmarked beauty of Langkawi.
Bats and Banshees?
On the neighbouring island of Pulau Dayang Bunting, there is a cave so deep and dark that no one dares to venture in. People today claim that thousands of bats live in it but the local people of yesteryear would not set foot there, not even for all the riches in the world. They are convinced the cave is home to a female vampire called the langsir, which, after having lured men to its lair, would suck their bodies dry of blood. No one would go near Gua Langsir, for they believe that the eerie sounds that come from the depths of the cave are the cries of the banshee and it is enough to make their blood run cold and their hair stand on end ?
And Then Fairies And Babies.
On Langkawi island itself, there is a magical looking-place which has seven pools, one after the other on the face of a hill. This was believed to have been where the fairies came to bathe. It is believed that the unique lime trees and the sintuk, a climbing plant which has large pods, that grow around the pools were left behind by the fairies and locals who visit the Telaga Tujuh waterfalls often use them to wash their hair in order to cleanse themselves of bad luck.
Tasik Dayang Bunting, that is the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.
Pulau Dayang Bunting also has a legend about fairies. On this island, there is a beautiful lake, with tranquil waters, often hidden from view by thick foliage and the lack of a good guide - its existence lost to humankind until fairly recently. The local people had long known of its existence but could not find their way there. Surrounded by lush tropical forests, the silence broken by the occasional sounds from the exotic birds that live there, this lake is reputed to have been the bathing spot for a fairy princess and her handmaidens. Unable to resist the lure of the clear inviting water, the princess would descend from her home and bathe there with her retinue. One day, a villager - a mortal man - chanced upon them and promptly fell in love with the princess.
After they left, he watched and waited for them to return. When they finally came back, he hid in the undergrowth and when they were safely in the water, he took the princess' discarded clothes and hid them. Naturally, she couldn't return to her home and agreed to marry the man. Then one day, she discovered her husband's deception and heart-broken, she left him.
But before returning to her world, she went to the lake once more and blessed it, saying that any woman who wanted a child could get her wish fulfilled after drinking water from the lake. This legend gained credence when it was said that a couple, childless after almost twenty years of marriage and not for lack of trying, drank from the lake. Only then did they have their prayers answered. They had a baby girl.
Today, a white crocodile is said to be living in the lake. It is indeed a very lucky person who manages to get a glimpse of it for it is hardly ever seen. Guardian spirit or a real albino crocodile, no one is able to say for sure but many believe in the authenticity of this legend that has brought many a despairing couple to its banks, who have put their faith in the good-will of a broken-hearted fairy princess who had loved the lake and who has given Langkawi another legendary legacy in Tasik Dayang Bunting, that is the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden.
C-Right 2014 by Langkawi Gazette