By: RaY KinZoKu

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Monday, 21-Apr-2008 14:00 Email | Share | Bookmark
KUBUR BANGGOL : Kelantan's City of The Dead

Mouldy tombs, granite ( right ) & marble ( left )
Che Siti's Tomb ( left ), granite
Granite twin tombs, partly broken. Circa 1912
Old granite grave markers, hidden in thick bushes, undergrowth
Old grave marker, granite, floral motives
Old tomb : Granite, hidden in thick bushes. Late 19th cent ?
Old tomb : Different angle, mouldy
Granite grave markers, flat & circular
Granite grave markers, wooden case
Cement tombs, from the 1910s
Different Angle : Cement tombs from the 1910s
Old marble tomb, saved from the elements inside a mausoleum
Granite tombs, painted white
Granite tomb, non-painted, natural texture
Earliest grave markers : River Rock
Carved, granite grave marker
Wooden ( left ) and granite ( right ) tombs
Old twin tombs, granite. Nameless. Late 19th cent ?
Granite tomb, with carved details. Circa 1923.
Another similar tomb, with carved details.
All in one : Stone, Bricks and Cement
Heavily deteriorated wooden grave markers
Wooden casings, granite markers
Wooden fencing, there were carved panels, decayed over time
Private quarter (1)
Private quarter (2) : Tuan Tabal
Private quarter (3)

Kelantan's City of The Dead

" Every soul will taste death, then to us you will be ultimately returned. "

( Setiap jiwa pasti merasai mati dan kepada Kami jua akan kamu dikembalikan )

Al-'Ankabut, verse 57

Kubur Banggol.

A Muslim cemetery located in Kampung Banggol, just a few kilometres north of the town - thought to be the oldest and also the biggest Muslim cemetery, still in use in Kelantan.

For the note, Kubur is a Malay word that could either mean a " grave ", " graveyard ", " cemetery " or anything else that is good enough to remind you of death ( other than those gory images you see on the net ! ).

It is where most of Kota Bharu town folks as well as surrounding locals, honoured their dead and has been in used, probably since, a few hundreds years ago. An ancestral burial ground to be exact, especially among the "Nik"s of Kelantan.

The very first thing that a first time visitor would realize about Kubur Banggol, is the extent of the area. So big, it is literally Kelantan's " City of The Dead ", where thousands, from many generations, already made it their " home ".

Covering acres of flat sandy terrain, the burial ground is actually made up of many contiguous " family " plots separated by fences and small gates. " Family ", as they all seemed to be " privately " owned, marked with waist-high to shoulder-high networks of fence enclosing each and every one of them, often with stakes bearing statement of private ownership - a sight rarely seen at other Muslim cemeteries through out Kelantan.

I am not sure about the legality of such practice, as graveyards throughout the state are basically under direct jurisdiction of the local authority, but it surely turned the whole place, into a maze-like, real challenge to move around.

Makes me wonder, where did they shoot " Istana Takeshi ", really ?

Kubur Banggol seems like an ever expanding universe.

A universe for the dead, that is.

New graves continue to occupy new grounds and also the little spaces, still left between the old ones - I mean, reeeeeeeally old ones ! So packed that sometimes, while preparing for a new one, grave diggers would accidentally stumble upon old remains. Certain spots however, remain untouched and made up entirely of old graves. Some of these old burial plots are shrouded in thick bushes, some with fallen trees, with huge barks held from touching the ground by old grave markers of stone. There are tombs with overgrown trees growing straight through them, breaking them apart and there are even those completely " lost " in thick undergrowth !

Speaking of old grave markers and tombs, in Kelantan, the earliest and the perhaps still in use is the River Rock, commonly found on graveyards through out the state. But normally it is hard to tell the exact age of a grave with such marker as most are often without inscription or date. There are many ancient graves with this kind of marker, used by both common people and nobilities, like that of Sultan Omar of the long lost Jembal Kingdom, at what is now, Daerah Sering.

Wooden grave markers or tombs also appeared during the same time or maybe earlier, but being easily perishable, old wood workings are now virtually non-existent. Those survived however, in conditions that are not worth a good study. Still, excellent but very rare examples exist, like Che Ku Tuan Nawi's ( the princess of Long Yunus, Raja of Kelantan ; 1765 ~ 1795 ), of Cengal wood, some 200 years old, currently located at Royal Langgar Mausoleum.

Another material, Granite came into the scene soon afterwards and started to gain popularity mostly among well-to-do Kelantanese urban dwellers, around a couple of hundreds years ago. The source was far inland, cut into slabs and blocks on site then brought downstream to be carved into various shapes and styles which either went to become simple grave markers for the commoners or parts of highly decorative tombs for the nobilities. These carved pieces often reflect the period and era of its manufacture and are interesting to study.

Kubur Banggol is literally littered with such stone workings, a good reason to believe that the cemetery must have been at least a few hundreds years old. Some of the stone tombs, bear not only attractive carvings but also artistic Jawi engravings in beautiful Islamic calligraphy, depicting the name of the deceased and the year of death. Such elaborate tombs were usually made for the ruling class as only they could and should afford one - used to emphasize their status in life. Though you won't find the likeness of King Tut's golden mask or Aztec's death offerings of precious metals and stones here, but I would say that these stone workings, equally amazing !

The Granite trend survived only until about 60 years ago and never made a comeback.
I have no idea why the locals suddenly stopped using Granite. It is proven to be very durable and excellent for such purposes. Maybe it's in the cost or maybe it's the expertise that happened to die along with the experts. Nowadays, grave markers and tombs are mainly made from mortar, poured into moulds for the desired shape and style. Those with extra cash would go for marble, either slabs or tiles. But marble, being basically Calcite, is typically weak against acidic rainwater and exhaust fumes, thus not a good choice for present day outdoor use, especially in hot and wet tropical climate. In comparison, Granite proved to be far more resilient and strong.

I also find this extensive use of Granite remarkable, as the Malays particularly Kelantanese, were renowned experts in wood working and carving but never stone. I am not ruling out the talents of local artisans but much of the artistic manifestations, immortalized on those tombstones and grave markers, in unique floral and abstract designs, seemed somewhat " out of place ", that the carvers were probably not local, or at least some might be of foreign origin. Perhaps Chinese, very much probably Chinese Muslims, escapees from China's 19th century bloody turmoils.

I might be wrong, but I even found that the Islamic calligraphy on most of the tombs are somewhat East Asian influenced. Though I didn't have the chance to carefully inspect each and every tombs here at Kubur Banggol but those I found at the Royal Langgar Mausoleum ( of the same period ), gave me a clue to this possible Chinese connection. Closer inspection on some of the ancient Royal tombs at Langgar, revealed carved figures that look much like a Fenghuang ( a Chinese phoenix ) !

Fuuuuuuhhh ...

I could go miles with this but would be real wise to cut it short for now.

So, as the conclusion,
it's amazing to see the amount informations on Kelantan's past that one could gather by just checking out the entire length of Kubur Banggol. I would gladly recommend it to my dear readers for the historical and cultural values it holds and also for it being a great lesson to all of us, the " still " living, that life is really too short for all the grabs on Earthly desires.

How many had lived and died for the past hundred years ? I don't know. Surely not one.

The visit to Kubur Banggol thought me of how fragile we all really are and that we are actually waiting our turn to join our predecessors. Looking at those graves out there, I wonder how prepared were they in entering the realm of Barzakh ......

.... and most importantly,

how prepared are we ?

" I swear by the time.
Most surely man is in loss.
Except those who believe and do good,
and enjoin on each other Truth, and enjoin on each other endurance.

( Demi Masa!
Sesungguhnya manusia itu dalam kerugian,
kecuali orang-orang yang beriman dan beramal soleh,
dan mereka pula berpesan-pesan dengan kebenaran serta berpesan-pesan dengan kesabaran )

Al-'Asr, verse 1 ~ 3

* An ornately carved, pair of tombs from over a hundred years ago,

The larger one is reportedly ( but not documentally supported ) of a noblewoman, the locals simply called it " Kubur Che Siti " or " Che Siti's Tomb ".

It is alleged to be the grave site of Paduka Che Siti Wan Kembang, the famous ( but also fabled ) female ruler of old Kelantan. The truth ? Nobody knows as there is no evidence to support the claim. The tomb itself bears no inscription and even seems to be just over a hundred years old, whereas the claimed person lived some three hundreds years ago.

It's typical in traditional Muslim burial practice not to put weight on grave inscription. Some even see it as a taboo. Most old grave markers and tombstones bear nothing but decorative floral and abstract carvings. Identifying the deceased were the task of surviving family members. When their own turn comes, often, such information goes to the grave with them. Over time, they fall into anonymity, becoming indistinguishable from the rest thus make it hard for their own future family members to locate their ancestors' final resting place.

Taking lesson from the past, recent practice seem to favour placing details of the dead on the tombs / grave markers ( normally, the name, date of birth, date of death and even age of death ) for future identifying purposes.

* Carved granite. Decorative. Kelantanese Nobility.

Stated, the name of the deceased, along with the date Islamic date 1341 H or 1923 A.D

* Granite, lightly carved. Kelantanese Nobility.

Vertical grave markers with flat and circular design.
If I am not mistaken, the styles are used to differentiate male from female.
A practice now obsolete. Flat for female and circular for male. Correct me if I am wrong.

No visible name or date. Probably mid to late 19th century.

* Marble and granite, carved. Highly decorative. Kelantanese nobility.

Each with description but hardly visible due to stains. Probably of early 20th century.

Largely covered in black mold, but if you ask me, it's better this way than having them painted with strikingly white emulsion paint, like the similar ones in the background !

Stone has its own unique natural texture and shine that are easily ruined by a coat of paint. The reason why you don't paint marble.

To deal with the mold, I think a generous but gentle scrubbing will do.

( alright, who's going to do it ? )

* Granite twin tombs, lightly carved, with a broken part. Kelantanese nobility.

There, on one surface, a carved inscription related to the deceased, with still visible Islamic date 1330 H or 1912 A.D.

He ( or she ? ) died when Tok Janggut was busy planning against the British.

* Granite, lightly carved. Kelantanese nobility.

This one is found amidst thick undergrowth, with a coat of greyish algae.

No visible inscription on this one though a closer inspection would certainly reveal something. Period ? Probably of late 19th or early 20th century.

* A carved, in floral motive, Granite grave marker, found hidden in thick undergrowth.

Judging by the condition, style and material, it should be well over a hundred years old.
Simple grave markers like this normally bears no inscription thus the details and the exact death of the deceased would remain unknown and open to estimation.

    ~~~~~~ # ~~~~~~ # ~~~~~~ # ~~~~~~

    Andai Ku tahu
    Kapan tiba masaku
    Ku akan memohon
    Tuhan jangan kau ambil nyawaku

    Aku takut
    Akan semua dosa-dosa ku
    Aku takut
    Dosa yang terus membayangiku

    Ungu - Andai Ku Tahu

    ~~~~~~ # ~~~~~~ # ~~~~~~ # ~~~~~~

* COMING UP SOON : " KUBUR BANGGOL : The Wooden Mausoleum "

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