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Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail 🇸🇬 Dairy of Singapore active senior. Best years of food, travel, lifestyle

Majapahit Gold. Gold Armlet & Earring of Fort Canning Hill

This is the Majapahit Gold, a gold armlet excavated from Fort Canning Hill. It is one of the most fascinating exhibits at the National Museum of Singapore. It tells us a lot about Singapore's past, 700 years ago.

Discovery of this precious national treasure was purely fortuitous. Labourers were digging on the summit of Fort Canning Hill to built Fort Canning Reservoir in 1928 when they stumbled upon the gold armlet and a pair of gold earrings. These were promptly handed over to their superiors. Fort Canning Reservoir was an underground, covered reservoir storing enough water to last two days for the Singapore population. (Image credit National Archives of Singapore)


The set consists of an gold armlet with flexible gold chains to wrap around the arm. There is also a pair of gold earrings.


The motif of the armlet is the face of Kala, the creator of light and the earth, the god of time and destruction, who devours luckless people. He also causes eclipses by trying to eat the moon or the sun. Wearing the gold armlet bearing Kala's face is believed to protect the wearer from misfortune or bad luck.

Kala is an important deity in Javanese and Balinese mythology. Kala's face is often featured in Javanese and Balinese temples. This Kala face is in Jabung Temple in East Java built in the 14th century. (Image credit Wikipedia)

Kala is also often featured in wayang kulit (Indonesian shadow puppet theatre). (Image credit Wikipedia)


How did this gold Kala armlet ended up in Fort Canning Hill?

Made of gold, it once adorned the arm of a person of status who lived on Fort Canning Hill. Perhaps, even a member of royalty of the kingdom of Singapura, sometime between 1299 and 1398.

There was once a kingdom of Singapura that exists on Fort Canning Hill and around the mouth of Singapore River from 1299 to 1398. It was founded by a Srivijaya prince Sang Nila Utama in 1299.

The maximum extent of Srivijaya around the 8th century with a series of Srivijayan expeditions and conquest
At that time, much of the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Java was under direct rule or influence of the Srivijaya empire which lasted from 650 to 1377. The Srivijaya empire was based in south Sumatra with its capital either in Jambi or Palembang. 
Image credit CC BY-SA 3.0Link.

The power of Srivijaya waned in the 13th century in the face of a rising power, the Majapahit empire from Java. In the chaos of the power shift, the more audacious Srivijaya princes set up their own fiefdoms partly to get out of the way of the advancing Majapahit empire. One of the Palembang princes, Sang Nila Utama came to Singapura to get out of the reach of the Majapahit.

For 99 years between 1299 and 1398, and over five reigns, the kingdom of Singapura was a thriving sea port hosting traders from China, the Malay archipelago, Siam (Thailand), India and Arabia. The kingdom grew wealthy and prosperous.

The kingdom of Singapura royalty lived in their palace on Fort Canning Hill. It was also their burial ground. The commoners lived on its foothills and on the banks of Singapore River tilling the fields and fishing.

Keramat Sultan Iskandar Shah

The good times of Singapura came to an abrupt end in 1398 when the Majapahit empire caught up with the little island kingdom. A Majapahit armada sacked the kingdom, leaving the palace in ruins and its inhabitants fleeing into Johor.

Sultan Iskandar Shah, the last king of Singapura fled to Malacca where he founded the Malacca Sultanate in 1400. Sultan Iskandar Shah passed away in Malacca in 1414, and some believe that his body was brought back to Singapura for burial on Fort Canning Hill. A shrine, Keramat Sultan Iskandar Shah was built in his honour and it still exists to this day.

In reality, the kingdom of Singapura was only nominally independent of the Majapahit empire. The mighty Majapahit empire based in Java, ruled the Malay archipelago from 1293 to 1527 when it was overcome by the Dutch.

Singapura was a vassal state of Majapahit to whom it had to pay tributes (taxes) and align its policies to their overlord's pleasure. In return, the Majapahit empire left the tiny kingdom of Singapura in peace and allowed it to prosper. The Majapahit also protected Singapura from the Siamese which had their eyes on the island kingdom.


The Majapahit Gold earrings and armlet with Kala motif and reflect the close ties and cultural influence of the Majapahit over Singapura. But, it was all at the Majapahit's pleasure and ended when the overlord decided that Singapura's time was up.

(According to various accounts, Sultan Iskandar Shah also known as Parameswara was a usurper who murdered the incumbent or a jealous king who executed his queen - acts which angered the Majapahit and led to their invasion of Singapura in 1398.)


Come to the National Museum of Singapore and get up close and personal with this amazing national treasure.

Another amazing relic from the kingdom of Singapura - the Headless Horseman 👈 click

National Museum of Singapore

Address: 93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897

Nearest MRT station: Dhoby Ghaut & Bencoolen

Tel: +65 6332 3659

Hours: 10:00am - 7:00pm

Written by Tony Boey on 17 Feb 2021

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