Champa in Malay Literature

Abdul Rahman al-Ahmadi

Proceedings of the Seminar on Champa



Champa no longer exists on the map of the world and the Cham kingdom and civilization are today virtually unknown in the Malay world. However, contacts were established between Champa and the Malay Peninsula as well as the Malay Archipelago. In this paper, we will gather scattered materials in Malay literature related to the language, literature, and history of Champa.

In the period of its highest expansion, Champa occupied a territory covering present-day Central Vietnam and the western part of South Vietnam. That territory consisted of several states: Amaravati, Vijaya, Kauthara, and Panduranga. Champa was, little by little, absorbed by Vietnam and completely lost its autonomy in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. During the French colonial period and Vietnam’s first few years of independence under the B¿o-[¬i regime, the Chams enjoyed some ethnic and cultural recognition but with Ng‰ [¤nh DiŸm’s accession to power in 1955, a new era of Vietnamization began.1

Archeological vestiges, local epigraphy and foreign documents contain evidence of the great past of Champa. It was discovered, in Champa, no less than 206 inscriptions, 98 of which were in Cham, 43 in Sanskrit, 29 in both languages and 36 in scripts which are not decipherable. The oldest of these inscriptions, discovered in Kauthara (Nha-Trang), was in Sanskrit and dated AD 192. We know that the oldest transcription in Cham can be traced back to the 4th century and considered the most ancient transcription in an Austroasian language known to us.

In the book entitled Sri Shu it was recorded that Chinese troops burned down 1350 volumes of Buddhist literature written in the Kun Lum language which is also an Austroasian language.3 The attribution of the Cham language to the Austroasian language family was first expounded by J. Crawfurd at the beginning of the last century. He published a list of Cham words which he compared to their Malay counterparts. Other scholars such as A. Kern, E. Kuhn, G. K. Nieman, E. Aymonier, and many others followed his interpretation. In the literary domain also, there were close ties between Champa and the Malay world. Evidence is found in the adaptation in Cham4 of the Malay epic Dewan Mandu as well as the alternating songs which are an exact equivalent of Malay songs. A Dutch scholar established a parallel between the two poetic forms of Cham and Achase (North Sumatra).6

Today scholars revive the scientific interest in Champa. French researchers have conducted studies on Cham language and literature. Mr. Po Dharma, himself a native of Champa, has catalogued several Cham manuscripts and produced a treatise of Cham literature with several categories such as folklore and legends, religious literature (Islam and Hinduism).7 There are relatively many references to Champa in Malay and Indian works. In effect, Javanese epigraphy mentioned the presence of Chams in Java in five inscriptions dated 762–831 Caka, which correspond to AD 840–909. The most ancient inscription, that of Kuti in East Java, mentioned the Chams as well as the Kling, Haryya singha (from Sri Lanka), Gola (Begali), Cwalika (from Tamil countries), Malygala, Kranade, Remau (from the Mon countries) and Kamir, among the people employed in the palace. The most recent inscription, that of Kaladi in Java, mentions merchants who were natives of Champa, Mon, Guilaka, and India.8

Four centries later, the Java chronicles Negara Kantagama, mentioned Champa twice: first (song 15.1.14) Champa as a protectorate of the Majpaplit Kingdom, then (song 83. 4.2) Champa along with Cambodia, India, China, Vietnam, and Siam among the countries whose nationals came in throngs to attend the festivities at the Javanese Court.9 Almost a replica of this is found at a later date in Malay Chronicles of the Banjor Kingdom in South Borneo (Hikayat Banjar). It was recorded in these chronicles that the kings of Java, Banten, Jambi, Palembang, Makassar, Pahang, Pattani, Bali, Pasai, Champa and Minangkabang were King Majahabi’s vassals. And at another place, it included the King of Bantan, Jambi, Palembang, Bugis, Makassar, Johor, Pattani, Pahang, Champa, Minangkabang, Aceh, and Pasai.10

Farther east of the Archipelago, in South Celebes, a manuscript in the Makassar language entitled Patturioloanga ri Tugoaya, mentioned the special status accorded the Malay (from Pahang, Patani, and Johor), Cham, and Minankabang merchants, in the port of Goa, under the reign of King Tunipalanga (1546–1565). Then, although still under the constant attacks of [¬i-ViŸt, Champa still proved to retain its power, since in 1594 the Cham King sent military aid to the King of Johor, undoubtedly the Sultan Abdul Jalil Syah II (1576–1597).12

Because of frequent attacks from foreign invaders, the Chams took refuge in the neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia, etc. Some of these refugees played an important role in their host countries. The versified Chronicles in the Malay language which retold the war in Southern Celebes, between the Makassar and the Dutch in the 1660s, recognized the heroism of a Cham warrior:

“Sri Amar Diraja, a native of Champa, was a dauntless commander and an ascete. Although his men were not numerous, the sight of the enemy made him leap. He was a warrior of exemplary courage and his reputation was known in more than a mile around. If he saw the Burgis or the Christian Dutch, his anger was uncontrollable”.13

The Malay text with the most references to Champa is the Sejarah Melayu, “the Malay Annals” which records the greatness of the Malaka Sultanate in the fifteenth century. Chapter 4 of the Annals recorded the honor reserved for a Cham captain at the Court of Malaka and chapter 21 related the story of King Pau Gelang and his successors. Pau Gelang was born from the flower of an areca-tree. He had the town Bal built. His child, then grandchild, Pau Gama, succeeded him on the throne. Pau Gauma went to Majapahit and married princess Radm Galuh Ajang who bore him a child, Jaknaka. The latter became King of Champa. His son Pankubah ascended to the throne. He died after his capital Bal14 fell to King Kuci.15

In this summary of the reigns of Pau Gelang and his sucessors, we find a historical tradition well-known in Champa. Pau Galang seems to correspond to Jaya Paramecvaravarman I who reigned in the middle of the eleventh century.16 One of his successors, Thang Vishnusmurti, alias Harivarman IV, who ascended to the throne in 1074, derived “from the family of coconut trees from his father’s side and the family of areca tree from his mother’s side.”17

As for Pau Gama of Sejerah Melayu, he was the Cham King Jaya Simhavarman III (1288–1307), who married the Javanese princess Tapani and who, at a later date, had to cede to [¬i-ViŸt the two western provinces of Champa in order to marry a Vietnamese princess.18 His son, Harijitatmaja, attempted in vain to reconquer the two lost provinces and lost his life in this venture. Caught prisoner in 1312, he died the following year. His brother, called Ch’-Nang in the Vietnamese Annals, also attempted to liberate the two northermost provinces but had to flee to Java. The Emperor of [¬i-ViŸt installed on the throne a military chief of the name Ch’-Anan who may well be Jak Sake of the Malay text.19

Always according to the Sejarah Melayu, after the capture of Vijaya, the two sons of King Pau Kubah fled to the Malay Peninsula and North Sumatra respectively: Syah Indera Berman took reguge at Malaka where he was welcomed by the Sultan Mansur Syah who converted him into Islam and appointed him minister and “it was from him and his descendants that the Cham Community of Malaka took its origin.” His brother Syah Pau Ling “went to Aceh and origininated the line of Aceh kings.”20

There was also mention of Cham personalities in the Malay Annals twice. A Cham captain named Sayyia Ahmad, was knighted by the Sultan Mahmud of Malaka in recognition of his role in the ravishing of a Pahang princess that the Sultan wanted to marry. Finally in chapter 34, there was reference to a Cham princess married to a Malaka dignitary who took refuge in Pahang after the Portuguese took over Malaka .2

Other Malay texts whose historical authenticity is less reliable also refer to the history of Champa. The poem Syair Siti Zubaidah Perang Cina, for instance, retold the war by Sultan Tainal Abidin of Kembatat Negara against Cina. This text seems to be an allusion to the war by the king of Vijaya, Ch’ BÊng Nga (1360–1390) against [¬i-ViŸt. Taking advantage of the decline of the Mongolians and having reconciled with the first Ming Emperor, Ch’ BÊng Nga, launched a series of victorious attacks against the [¬i-ViŸt before meeting with a fatal defeat provoked by the treachery of one of his officers.22 The famous Malay epic Hikayat Hang Tuan (chapter 23) retold the attack of an army against Indrapura. It was in reality the Indrapura in Champa. It was there that, for the first time, the Chams received the attacks of the [¬i-ViŸt in the tenth century.23 In the Sejarah Malayu the attack of the swordfishes was against the town of Singapura but this event is no less related to Cham history.24 This event of should be considered a symbol of [¬i-ViŸt’s frequent attacks on Champa. It was those attacks which were echoed in the Hikayat Raja Muda, the Syair Sri Banin Selendang Delima and, perhaps also, the verses of sixteenth century Sumatanese mystic songs, Hamzah Fansuri:

Hamzah, a native of Fan Sur Was born in the country of Shahr Nawi.

Hamzah was totally destroyed

Like wood which was reduced to ashes Hamzah was poor and naked.

Like Ismail, he was sacrificed.25

Other tales deserve our attention. The Minangkabou historical traditions in West Sumatra related, for instance, the deeds of four eminent personalities of the Luhak Tanah Datar District, one of whom,Tuan Gadang de Batipuh, became a military chief under the name of Harimau Campa (Tiger of Champa) of Koto Pilihan.

Kelantan traditions are particularly rich in allusions to Champa. The King of Kelantan was said to come from Kembayat Negara. If some authors believed this country to be Cambodia, others affirmed that it was Champa.26 The relations between Champa and Kalantan had existed for years. The oral legends of Kelantan nowadays still contain many tales related to Champa.27 Several place names of Kelantan are related to Champa such as Pengkalan Chepa, Kampeng Chepa, Gong Chepa etc. Finally games, costumes (tanjak Cepa) textiles (Cepa silk, Cepa weaving) hairdress (sabggol Cepa), plants (padi Cepa), weapons (keris Cepa) bear witness to those relations. According to local traditions, the mosque of Kampong Laut in Kelantan would have been built by a group of Cham sailors who were travelling to Java.28

Among Malay texts which bear reference to Champa, we can mention the Silsilah Melayu dam Bugis (History of Malay Kings and Bugis) in which there was a story of a cockfight in Kamboja. The owners of the roosters was a Bugis and a Miangkabu prince, the Raja Culan.29

Finally, the Hikayat Hasanudin (History of Banten) contains two references to Champa, one of which is particularly interesting because it evokes the famous history of a Cham woman who was married to the king of Majapahit and, consequently, the role of Champa in the Islamization of Java.30 Many would like to see a pure legend in this story of a Cham woman; it would be wrong to dispose of it a priori for it has been now established that Islam has been disseminated in the Malay world even before the coming of the Muslims from the West.

As has been easily seen, the written and oral traditions related to Champa are numerous in the Malay world. Some are unmistakingly reflections of historical events. It is, therefore, particularly desirable that other legends and local traditions be the subject of systematic researches. Champa and the Malay world established intense and diverse relations since the ancient times and Malay literature has provided plenty of evidence for these relations.


1. Lafont 1981, pp. 71–74.

2. Coedès 1964, p. 96; Coedès 1961, p. 35. The text of this inscription and an English translation are to be found in Morrison 1975.

3. Abdhul Rahman Al-Ahmadi 1966, p. 6.

4. Chambert-Loir 1980.

5. Po Dharma 1981 a, pp. 199–200; Po Dharma 1982, pp 46– 47.

6. Cowan 1933.

7. Lafont 1977; Po Dharma 1981 b; Inventaire, Po Dharma 1981a and 1982.

8. Lombard 1981, pp. 287–288; Damais 1970, pp. 192–193.

9. Pigeaud 1960–63.

10. Ras 1968, pp. 292–416.

11. Mattulada 1971, p. 1; 1983, pp. 214, 215.

12. Lafont 1981, p.72; Blair and Robertson 1903–1909, vol. X; Buyong Adil 1975, pp. 29–48

13. Skinner 1963, pp. 146–147.

14. According to Abdullah Nakula 1963, Bal is also known as Bal Angwet. Durand 1907 mentions the existence in Champa of a Basl Batthinon dynasty between 1433 and 1570.

15. Shellabear 1956, p. 64.

16. Maspéro 1928, p. 121.

17. Coedès 1964, p. 283; Coedès 1981, p. 48.

18. Addullah Nakula, quoting Majumdar, 1927, advanced the theory that Princess Tapasi came from Javadvipa to the Malay peninsula and not to Java. Other historians, however, basing on the Po Sah inscription, believe that Javadvipa is the island of Java. Princess Tapasi would be a sister of Kartanegara, the king of Singarasi and this marriage signaled a political alliance sealing the coalition between Champa and East Java against Kublai Khan. As for the second marriage of Jaya Simhavarman II with a Vietnamese princess, it was probably also a political alliance destined to earn [¬i-ViŸt’s military aid against Siam.

19. Coedès 1964, pp. 392–393, 413–414; Coedès 1981, pp. 56– 57.

20 Shellabear 1956, p. 138; Marrison 1951. The name of the second son should be written Pau Liang. In comparison with other Jani words such as Siau, Tiang or Siang, the name should be transcribed as Pau Liang. The name Liang is found in one of the names of King Harijitanaja (1307–1312), namely Pulyang Uddharta Simharwarman; Abdullah Nakula (no date) p. 134. It was perhaps the attack of Vijaya that was alluded to in the Malay poem Syan Sri Banin Selindang Delima.

21. Shellabear, 1986, pp. 227.

22. Syair Siti Zubaidah Perang Cina, especially the edition by Abdul Mutalib Abdul Ghani, p. xxxiii. According to Abdullah Nakula, Zainal Abidin was also known as Che Bong Nga in a tale (tradition) of Kelantan. See also Coedès 1964 pp. 427–428; Coedès 1981, pp. 58–59.

23. Hikayat Tang Tuah, pp.415 sq.; Coedès 1964, pp. 227– 231; Coedès 1981, pp. 43–45.

24. Shellabear 1956, Chap. X; Maspéro 1928, pp. 24–25, 146. Claeys 1931.

25. According to folktales collected in Kelantan, Syaikh Ismail Aceh, Wan Ismail and Po Rome or Po Ibrahim (1637–1687) died together in the battle against the Yuwun (Vietnamese) in Phan Rang. Syaikh Ismail of Aceh had become governor of Sri Banoi, succeeding to Wan Ismail of Pattani who had become too old. Moreover, a book published by USIS in 1958 mentioned that an Aceh king sent a theologian to Shahr Nawai to propagate Islam. About Hamzah Fansuri, see Al-Attas 1970, pp. 10–11. The original of the verses quoted in this paper was as follows: Hamizah nin asalyna Fansur Menduja wujud ditanah fayhr Navl Hamzah syahr Nawi terlahu hapua Seperti kayu sekalian hanga Hamzah miskin orang uryani Serperti Ismail mejadi qurbani.

26. Mahmood b. Ismail 1933. Mohd b, hj. Nij Mod Saleh 1964; Mohamed Sallen, 1940.

27. Personal communication of M. Nik Abdul Rahman b. Nik Din Kelantan, Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 15, 1982. 28. Abdul Rahman Al-Ahmadi 1978. 29. Arena Wati 1973, pp. 35–40. 30. Edel 1938, p. 64: Lombard 1981, p. 289.

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