Kadaram (the ancient Kedah Kingdom), or Kataha Nagara or also called Bhujanga (Bujang Valley) was one of the important ancient Hindu Kingdoms of South Asia. Kadaram was situated in region of southern Thailand, and northern peninsular Malaysia. It is presently known as Kedah. Being situated in a strategic place which commanded the northern approaches of the Straits of Malacca, it became a center of power and economy. It had very close connections with many countries of the ancient world. Trade connections between western Indonesia and Southern India seem to have been close during the reign of the Pallavas, from the 4th to 9th centuries CE. These relations helped spread Hindu culture and religion to the Malays, and also lead to the emergence of Hindu Kingdoms like Kadaram (Old Kedah), Langkasuka, Funan, and Champa.
The word "Bujang" in a modern Malay Language means bachelor but the proper spelling is actually in Sanskrit, "Bhujanga" or dragon. Add the prefix 'Lembah', which means valley, and you get Dragon Valley.
The site covers an area of 224 square kilometres. When you make your way around the cluster of temple ruins, you will note the dominant influences of Hinduism and Buddhism. Researchers have concluded the ruins and artefacts found here dating back to the 5th century AD. Both civilisations practised trade relations with old empires of India, Cambodia and Srivijaya. It was even visited by the Chinese monk I-Tsing in 671 AD.
It is the richest archaeological area in Malaysia. Archaeological research indicates that an ancient Hindu Kingdom ruled here as early as 300 AD. Relics of the kingdom found at the site and now on display at the Archaeological Museum include inscribed stone caskets and tablets, metal tools and ornaments, ceramics, pottery, and Hindu icons. More than fifty ancient tomb temples, called candi, have also been unearthed, many of which were built during the Bujang Valley civilization's heyday.
What remains now to be seen are some remnants of this ancient society which includes temples, tablets and drainage channels which have been found across more than 300 sq km surrounding the "Gunung Jerai" (means Mount Jerai) which happens to be the highest peak in Peninsular Malaysia located at the northern region.
If we were to look for proof of the existence of the earliest Malay kingdoms on the peninsula, it is inevitably Kedah that has yielded the most ancient archaeological evidence so far discovered.
Since the first excavation in 1936 by British archaeologists, H.G Quatrich Wales over 50 archaeological sites have been discovered. This gives evidence to the daily living of people long ago. The temple grounds are sacred where few of the temples have been restored while others are left as it is and is still undergoing research.
The two most prominent sites containing 600-year old candis were unearthed in 1997. Most prominent is the 1,000-year-old Candi Bukit Batu Pahat (Temple of the Hill of the Chiselled Stone) believed to be built in the 17th Century on the summit of a small hill. These sites of temple ruin stretch all the way from Gunung Jerai to Kuala Muda in the south.
Throughout the course of the excavation, archaeologists have found various artifacts such as pottery, jewellery, stone pillars, stone carvings and statues. These findings are displayed at the Lembah Bujang Archaeological Museum nearby.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Captain James Low found:
“undoubted relics of a Hindoo colony, with ruins of temples …’ and ‘… mutilated images. ..’ extending ‘along the talus of the Kedda mountain Jerrei.’
Among his later finds were fragments of a Sanskrit inscription of the fourth century A.D. written in the oldest Pallava alphabet as well as a slab found in the estuary of the Muda River bearing a Sanskrit prayer in fifth-century Pallava script for the success of a voyage about to be undertaken by a sailing-master (mahdndvika), indicating the estuary was a home port for Indian traders during the fifth century A.D. Later excavations in the valley of the Bujang River (an tributary of the Merbok River further north) uncovered various sanctuaries, palace halls of audience, temples, stapas, forts, as well as a number of other unidentified buildings. The shrines in the Bujang Valley were later abandoned in favour of sites nearer the Merbok estuary.
Indian ships found a sheltered anchorage and probably a small community of indigenous folk practicing subsistence cultivation and fishing. No doubt these folk had diversified their simple economy by casual trading with Indian merchants entering the Straits of Malacca. Their settlement, at first a mere village, had grew to become the collecting point for the forest products of the surrounding hinterland, aided also by its strategic location at the western end of a trans-peninsular route to the east.
The archaeologists found a metal-smelting workshop replete with a network of furnace nozzles which was unearthed in an oil palm plantation in "Sungai Batu" (means Stone River). The system of metallurgy found here similarly resembles the techniques used in ancient India. There were also like ceramics, pots, bracelets and beads. "This is the first time that an advanced metal industry from such a period has been confirmed to have existed in this region", says Associate Prof Dr. Mokhtar Saidin from the Centre for Global Archaeological Research (CGAR) from the USM. He points out that they are gradually uncovering the remaining mounds which requires a lot of patience.
There are also a great deal of references in ancient and medieval Indian literature to locations which have been identified as Kedah. One of the earliest presumed references to Kedah (called, at varying times, Kadaram or Kataha) is contained in the Tamil poem Pattinappilai, was written at the end of the second century A.D. It described goods from Kadaram “heaped together in the broad streets” of the Chola capital.
The seventh century Sanskrit drama Kaumudimahotsava called Kedah Kataha-nagara and described it as a country famed for its social attractions and gay life. The Agnipurina also mentions a territory known as Anda-Kataha, with one of its bounds delimited by a peak, which scholars have assumed to be Gunung Jerai. There are two further references to Kataha in a Prikrit work, the Samaraiccakaha written about the middle of the eighth century, relating voyages to Kataha-dvipa. Stories from the Kathasaritsagara described the elegance of life in Kataha, calling it ‘the seat of all felicities’.
After a period of independence, Kedah then attained its height of greatness as the seat of power for the Sri Vijaya empire on the peninsula. It was clearly the chief power on the peninsula and in many ways surpassed Palembang in terms of trade and its strategic links with India and the rest of the region. Its fortunes, however, began to wane after the great raid by Rajendra Chola on the Sri Vijaya empire in 1025 A.D. Kedah was a primary military objective and despite what the Cholas described as the “fierce strength” of the defenders, it fell to the raiders, its king losing “large heap of treasures” to the new conquerors. Kedah later tried to assert its independence from the Sri Vijaya empire and another Chola King Vira Rajendra raided Kedah in 1068 A.D. to aid its king.
But the great city-state sinks into obscurity after that. The Kingdom of Ligor takes over the mantle of power from Sri Vijaya on the peninsula and its king Candrabhanu uses Kedah as a base for attacks on Sri Lanka. The Thais were to later subjugate this kingdom, leading to Thai domination of much of the northern peninsula in the centuries to come.