Singapore — A new study suggests that Singapore may be 1,000 years old, and not 700 as has been widely believed.
The findings of Dr Iain Sinclair, a researcher from Australia, are featured in a recently-launched publication by the Institute of Policy Studies and the Indian Heritage Centre.
The researcher has made the Singapore Stone, a sliver of a slab of ancient sandstone, the focus of his studies for one-and-a-half years now.
The former visiting fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute told The Straits Times (ST) that the phrase “kesariva”, which is part of the engraved inscriptions on the stone, might be taken from a longer word “parakesarivarman”, which is a title that was used by a number of rulers of the Tamil Chola dynasty in South India, a dynasty that had been in power for many years.
This possibility gives rise to the connection between the Tamil rule and the Strait of Singapore dating from as long as 1,000 years ago, a milestone discovery that could change the timeline of Singapore’s history.
According to Dr Sinclair, the stone may have originated from the start of the 11th century, when the inscription is studied side by side with literary and various epigraphic records, reports The Straits Times.
Singapore’s history is widely believed to have begun 700 years back, according to the Sejarah Melayu, a mythologized historical text depicting the decision in 1299 of the Palembang prince, Sang Nila Utama, to build a city on the island. There are also records from China dating back from the 1330s that talk about settlements on the island.
The Singapore Stone is one of three fragments of a boulder that used to stand at the mouth of the Singapore River. It was blown up in 1843 by the British to make a bigger passageway.
Many academics have studied the inscriptions on the stone over the centuries, including Sir Stamford Raffles and Dutch linguist Hendrik Kern. However, none have been able to interpret the inscriptions.
It is not known where the other two fragments are but the fragment being studied is usually kept at the National Museum of Singapore. Scholars recognise that the inscriptions are in Kawi, which was used in the pre-Islamic Malay Archipelago for languages including Sanskrit, Malay and Javanese.
ST quotes a curator at the Indian Heritage Centre, Ms Nalina Gopal, as saying: “As Singaporeans, standing at the 200-year mark of British arrival in Singapore, the fact that Singaporeʼs history dates far back to 1,000 years, as suggested by Dr Sinclair, reminds us that as a post-colonial nation, aspects of history and heritage could be revisited for fresh interpretations.”
Ms Gopal had encouraged Dr Sinclair to pursue studies concerning the Singapore Stone. According to the Australian researcher: “The stone was the one object I declined to talk about. Of course, I was already familiar with it, the literature on it and the problems of getting new information out of it.”
Ms Gopal was in possession of a draft reading of the three fragments of the Singapore Stone from Dr Titi Surti Nastiti, an Indonesian Kawi expert, which had never been studied before.
Dr Sinclair added: “At this stage, the task was to see whether Dr Nastiti and I understood the shapes of the letters the same way. Since I accepted most of her draft reading, I tried to see whether any of it sounded like a language used in the Straits in the pre-colonial era.”
He was able to compare the draft readings from Ms Gopal with a handwritten copy dating back from 1848.
A possible miscopying of one part of the word “kesarava” gave rise to the new theory about Singapore’s age.
“There are no absolutes in the readings of difficult inscriptions. It all depends on finding the explanations that fit the evidence best,” the researcher said. He added that much work still needs to be done in studying the chronology of various Kawi inscriptions that would shed light on the age of the Singapore Stone. -/TISG