Thursday, September 29, 2011


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If you have the chance to visit Seri Menanti in Negri Sembilan, you will not only be amazed by that ‘One square mile’ where most of the Negri royalties stayed but you will be awed by the architectural wonder of the Istana Lama.
The Istana Lama or the Old Palace is a unique architectural landmark consisting of a four storey wooden building which was built without the use of any iron nails . Some even say that the Istana is the highest completely wooden structure building in the world!!
UNESCO has even given the recognition of the Istana Lama as one of the World’s Heritage sites in recognition of its unique architecture
As a child in the early fifties living in Seri Menanti, the Istana Lama is a common sight to greet us every morning. It is a sight to behold the majestic palace against the backdrop of the surrounding mountain ranges. In the cold morning air it is common to see white mists rising in the hills with the sound of animals forming the forest orchestra.
Legend has it when the area was chosen to be the site of governance; the visitors were awed by the sight of the golden shimmering padi in the fields and thus named the area as Seri Menanti or “Shining awaiting”.There are others who argued that the name of the valley is modification of the words ‘ padi menanti’
The Old Palace is one of the two palaces in the valley. The older palace being fondly referred to as the Istana Lama and the new palace called Istana Besar or Grand Palace. The two palaces are only short distance apart from each other.
In order to appreciate the architecture of the Istana Lama, you have to see it from different aspects of the building. The building itself is the integration of customs, culture and even the neo architecture of the period the palace was built.
Historically speaking the rulers of Negri Sembilan was invited from Pagar Ruyong in Indonesia where the people consisted mainly of Minangkabaus. The Minangkabaus were unique in the sense their architecture reflect strongly of the use of buffalo horns in their design. This is translated directly into the design of the Istana Lama which proudly exhibits this heritage by having roofs in in the design of buffalo horns. What better proof could be shown of the migration of the Minangkabaus to the state of Negri Sembilan?
In order to appreciate the building structure would require more than just pictures taken from cameras. You need to walk around in and surrounding compound to really appreciate it.
Seri Menanti is a flat plain, right smack in the centre of a valley. The valley is generally surrounded by high hills on all sides except in certain areas which provide openings that connect with surrounding outside world.
Most of these royalties who built houses on the perimeter of the padang leading to the Old Palace hold important positions in the royalty household such as the Crown Princess, Tunku Besar and even the wives or mother of the king.
Against this backdrop of hills and mountains is the area where the Old Palace is built. The choice of site will provide a panoramic and commanding view of Seri Menanti.
Since the old palace was the tallest building then, it is possible to see the whole span of the valley. It is by no accident that the site was chosen. In fact it is interesting to note the ‘golden area surrounded are either owned by the palace or occupied by the royalty relatives.
The whole area surrounding the Seri Menanti palace was once abundant with padi that stretch as far as the eyes can see. A painting in the Istana depicted the scene of yesteryears of once what it was like.
Looking at the Istana Lama will easily convince the visitors of the strong Minangkabau influence as shown by the Buffalo Horn roofs or gables. This is not surprising as Negri Sembilan royalties directly came from Pagar Ruyong in Indonesia
The design of the old palace is full of symbolism to the culture than. The incorporation of 99 pillars that represent the warriors of the past
There are many facts and fictions or even legends tied with the building of the palace itself. All we are aware is that the building of the palace is under the direction of two ‘architects’ Kahar and Taib with the approval of the English Mr Woodford of JKR. It is said that the palace took a few years to build from 1902 to 1908
The Istana lama is a grand building four storey high. The uniqueness of the palace lies in the fact that it was built without the use of iron or metal nails. Instead the structure is held together by using wooden timber joints or wooden pegs or pasak.
Just like the Pyramids and Taj Mahal the building materials were sourced from the deep jungles kilometers away and slowly transported to the site using buffaloes. Many legends were associated with the transportation of the giant trees to the site of construction
So it is quite an architectural and constructional achievement to build buildings of that scale during that time.
For such a large and stately building, the Istana Lama holds many functions. As one goes from one floor to the next floor above, we see the transformation of the function of the palace from the first floor where the ruler has his attendance with the people and dignitaries, to the next floor which is reserved for the family of the royal house hold to the single room at the top where the state secrets and regalia are held
There are many stories and legends about what was kept in the single room at the top most floor!
Steep narrow wooden steps at the back leads from one floor to the next

Type rest of the post here. Read more!