Saturday, June 19, 2010

4. The Legend of Princess Saadong - Princess of Kelantan


Around about 420 years ago, there lived a Princess called Puteri Saadong. She was a legendary figure and famous along the stretch of land on the east coast of Tanah Melayu (now Malaysia). Known for her beauty, integrity, loyal, religious and most of all courageous with iron will, she was the favourite foster daughter to Kelantan’s ruler Cik Siti Wan Kembang during that era. Her life began with an adventure, intertwined with historical events between Kelantan and Siam and eventually ended in a mystery until June 2010, when her 7th generation came forward to be acknowledged, who wrote a book about her ancestor (Princess Saadong) thus uplifting some of the mystery surrounding Puteri Saadong’s disappearance.

Because of the dramatic and tragic events surrounding her life, especially towards the end, there were very limited literature on her biography. Her story was sparingly told or passed down from generation to generation in the form of bedtime folk tale. But once a while her legend would commonly be told through Kelantan’s traditional play called Mak Yong.
Mak Yong is equivalent to a theatrical performance. It is a traditional cultural play accompanied by traditional music instruments. The words spoken and the script are normally presented in the language so rich in dialect that only the Kelantanese would understand fully and perhaps viewers with theatrical background could decipher.

Up to the last three decades, Mak Yong was allowed to be staged in the state but was banned around late 1970s because Kelantan had then began its religious administrative era and Mak Yong contradicts the Islamic teachings. Mak Yong was an all women cast and their costumes are indeed spectacular but deem to be too revealing. On top of that, it was believed that before any performances, the casts would need to perform some rituals or blessing from spirits.

One of the reasons why her life story was not written as widely as the other SRIKANDIs or Women Patriots / Legendary women, such as Tun Teja of Pahang, Mahsuri of Langkawi, Dang Anum of Johor, Puteri Gunung Ledang of Melaka, Puteri Santubung of Sarawak and so on, will be revealed at the end of this story.

There are many versions of this legend and I chose this style of narration.

Princess / Puteri Saadong – childhood (There are 3 versions to this part of her life)

Version 1.
The state of Kelantan. Upon the demise of the Kelantan King Sultan Ahmad, a royal prince from Johor, Sultan Husein was appointed to rule on behalf of Sultan Ahmad’s daughter Cik Siti Wan Kembang who was still young at that time.

When Sultan Husein passed away in 1610, Cik Siti Wan Kembang began her reign.  She was a just and wise ruler, loved by all her people. She moved her ruling post from Pulau (Isle) Sabar to an inland fortress, far into the jungles, a place near a mountain called Gunung Cinta Wangsa. (Approx 27 miles South East of Kuala Kerai town). Kelantan became a prosperous state under her reign.
Around about the same time, there was another district named Jembal, with another ruler called Raja Loyor, son of Raja Sakti of the Kedah state. Kedah is the state to the west of Kelantan. ( Jembal is approx 6 miles from Kota Bahru – capital of Kelantan now). Raja Loyor married princess Namng Cayang from Pattani, Thailand and they conceived PUTERI OR PRINCESS SAADONG.
Puteri Saadong later became the adopted child to Cik Siti Wan Kembang, as she does not have an heir to continue her legacy.

Version 2

The state of Kedah (the state to the west of Kelantan). The people of Kedah were once terrified by their ruler known in legend as Raja Bersiong. (literally translated as King with Fangs). The King had developed a liking to human blood after his cook accidentally cut her finger badly while cooking the King’s favourite dish, Kangkung Belacan (watercress with prawn paste). His canine tooth started to grow long like fangs when he continued having the dishes tainted with human blood. That is how he became known as Raja Bersiong.
In the beginning he secretly sacrificed all his prisoners for their blood. When all of his prisoners were dead, he moved on to his people, the villagers. Up till one stage, he wanted the blood of a new born.  

All parents and parents to be became afraid and petrified. They tried all their best to leave the state without being discovered. Puteri Saadong’s parents had decided to put her in a small perahu (a traditional water transport made from floatable wood) and drifted her off along the river with the hope that some kind soul at the other end of the river would take her in as their child. That was how Puteri Saadong came to Kelantan and into one of the Kelantan’s districts’royal family.

It could also be that, both Puteri Saadong’s parents and her, stowed away in a perahu and made their way secretly to the Kelantan soil, where they could have opened up a settlement and became the rulers there.

Version 3
In this version, the infant who was drifted off via the river was actually not Princess Saadong but her Grandfather. He was one of the royal official's son (royal blood) who then safely landed in the hands of a childless couple down the river in Kelantan district.

Back to the the story...
One fateful day, as Cik Siti Wan Kembang (ruler of Kelantan) made her routine visits to the villages in various districts, she saw the beautiful child Princess, Puteri Saadong. The warm, kind hearted and full of life princess got along so well with the Queen that Cik Siti immediately announced to adopt Puteri Saadong as her daughter.

Anyhow, however the stories are put forward, it can be concluded that Puteri Saadong is of a royal blood and became the adopted child of the ruler of Kelantan at that time, Cik Siti Wan Kembang.

The Marriage of Princess Saadong

Legend says that Princess Saadong was deeply in love with her cousin Raja Abdullah and so was he. They both were respectively beautiful and handsome. Both were also very well trained in the art of self defence.  So well suited for each other and loved by their subjects.

The stories about this beautiful Princess Saadong reached the ears of the King of Siam and its people soon after. The King of Siam wanted to send his representatives to meet Cik Siti Wan Kembang to ask for her hand in marriage.  To avoid this reunion and subsequent bloodshed between Kelantan and Siam, Cik Siti Wan Kembang quickily decided to marry off Princess Saadong to her cousin Raja Abdullah. 

They were married with the blessing of Cik Siti Wan Kembang in a grand celebration for many days. Together they rule the district of Cetak from their palace situated in Kota Mahligai.
After the royal installation, Cik Siti Wan Kembang retreated to Gunung Ayam, known to be a sacred mountain with magical properties. Since then she was not heard off. The locals believe that she has gone back to the place where she came from. 

Like her adopted mother, Princess Saadong ruled justly and was respected by her people. During her reign she gained the trust of her people and build a strong and trustworthy relation between her subjects and the royal palace. Thus continuing the legacy of her adopted mother Cik Siti Wan Kembang.  The construction of Kota Jelasin and Mahligai was a joint effort between the palace officials and the people of Kelantan. Puteri Saadong also employed expert and professional architects then to design, which was very hard to come by during this era. The Princess also was instrumental to the developement and progress of Kelantan's traditional culture, mainly on Mak Yong Play, Wayang Kulit and Menora. She made it compulsory for such acitivity to be performed in any of Kelantan's state function and celebrations. In the matters of military defence, to prepare her people to face the Siamese army, she initiated an up-to-date war drill excercises ( other than the art of defence called "silat"), built many fortresses and had taken various measures to streghten the state defence as best as possible. Eventhough she knew the state stood very little chance against Siam, as Kelantan lack of ammunitions and war heads. She will not give up without a fight
The newly weds unfortunately were only happy for a couple of months before gruesome fate started to crawl into their lives.

The King of Siam

Kelantan sends gold in the form of flower arrangement to the King of Siam as a peace offering and as an acknowledgement of the power of Siam over the state.
Despite realising that his chance to have her as his bride had passed, the King of Siam was still adamant to have her as his bride and persued his intentions.

One version of the legend says that The King of Siam had sent his ministers to claim Princess Saadong. Another version says that The King himself went to fetch  her.

Anyhow, upon knowing that the Siamese cavalry was coming for her, Puteri Saadong and her husband decided to evacuate their palace and move to other location for protection. Hoping that the troop would leave peacefully when they could not locate her. But naturally, when the Siamese troop could not find her, they slained every single villagers around and kept on looking for the princess from one settlement to another. They killed anyone who stood in their path. There were a lot of bloodshed.

Hearing this, Princess Saadong felt so bad. She intended to stop running and face the enemy herself. However Raja Abdullah could not bare to see his wife taken away from him under his nose. So they both kept running from one place to another. To their dispair, the Siamese army didn't seem to retreat. More innocent lives were lost. Eventually, the princess was adamant and put a stop to it. She decided to agree to follow the cavalry to Siam and meet the King,  as she could no longer bare to see her loyal and innocent subjects being slained by this ruthless and heartless Siamese army. Nevertheless, NEVER did she utter agreeance to be his bride.
Princess Saadong' - journey to Siam

One legend narated that before she decided to end the bloodshed, Princess Saadong had dreamt of an old woman who gave her a magic pouch. That pouch was to be used when the time was right. And that the Princess herself will know what to do with it. The old woman profecised that it was alright for her to go to the King of Siam. And that she will come back to the arms of the man she loved, unharmed.
Coming back to the newly weds, before Princess Saadong made her long and disheartening journey to Siam, she made a promise to her husband that she will stay true and untouched till she is back in his arms. And Raja Abdullah too, sworn to stay true to her till then. But fate has other plans for them.
Princess Saadong was a bright and courageous woman. To protect and maintain her credibility as a woman, she made sure that she travelled with at least 4 of the palace's trusted man-guards of top ranking and unquestionable ethics as well as lady companions. And made sure that at no moment she was alone.

After a long and agonizing journey on an Elephant’s back, braving rain and shine, the party arrived in Siam.
She was greeted grandly by the King. Given a palace to herself with many maids waiting on her. Many dances and cultural performances, good food and muse to welcome and make her comfortable, in the hope that she would forget her hometown and husband. But the princess kept on refusing and made excuses not to meet the King. Hoping that the King would loose interest in her as time passed by. But to her disappointment the King was persistent.

Finally she could not provide anymore excuses so she prepared herself to meet the King. It was said that the King took one look at Princess Saadong and became totally smitten by her beauty.

During those days it was a custom ( to show respect) for the best person of the visiting party to perform a dance for the King and in this case the Princess agreed to do so. In one of her mesmerizing and enchanting dance moves, she subtly scratched the King’s skin with her long gold nail (the gold nails were a part of the dance costume). The nail was actually laced with the magic potion made up by the princess. ( as prescribed by the wise old woman in her dream). No one including The King were aware of this as they were entranced by the whole performance.  

After the dance, she gracefully excused herself, claiming fatigue and promised to meet the king again the next day.

The King was over the moon with her performance and was very much taken by the short but captivating conversation with the woman he fell head over heals for. However that night as he retires to his bed chamber he started to feel itchy and began to scratch himself. It got worse as the morning came. By noon he had developed such an itch that he had to delay all his arrangement with the Princess.

The royal medicine men were summoned to address this matter but they could not come up with any suggestion as to how the King had developed the strange disease, neither could they suggest any remedy. Days turned into month, and it had been months since the dance. The King was getting worse by the hour.

Since the King could no longer perform his duties, the royal officials had announced the condition of the King to his people and had offered a handsome reward to anyone who could cure him. But no one could. Eventually, the sooth Sayers of the palace came to conclude that the unfortunate turn of event may have occurred because the King had forcefully brought a royal princess against her will and that the King need to seek her forgiveness, and that the cure may be in her hands.

The King sent his men to see the princess to deliver his apology. Princess Saadong in turn offered to try and cure the King on the condition that she would be returned to her people safely and that she also asked for at least 4 trustworthy men and women from the King's palace to accompany her through out her journey home. This was her stratergy to proof that she had been untouched by anyone through out her journey.

The King agreed to her terms and Princess Saadong again performed her enchanting dance.  But this time, in one of her dance moves,  she spit at the King with the juice of the beetle nut and sireh leaves which she had been chewing through out her dance performance. And then she excused herself. The King was too weak to utter any word.

After a couple of days, the King of Siam healed and was back to his normal self. With heavy heart he granted the Princess’s request and let her return home.

Princess Saadong – return to Kelantan

Princess Saadong felt so very happy to be finally out of the claws of the King of Siam and just could wait to be back to her homeland, in the arms of her beloved husband.

Back in the palace at Kota Jelasin, Raja Abdullah received the sudden news of his wife’s return. He was extremely happy at first but then he became upset as he would not know how to break the news to his wife that he has taken another. That he has broken his vows to her. In silent he started to build up his defense. Day and night he paced up and down the palace corridor trying to find reasons and ways to face his wife. He blames the people who were close to him for misleading and inluencing him to astray and dishonor his promise made to his wife.

Back to Princess Saadong, upon reaching the palace grounds, the excited Princess  who was so eager to meet her husband, hastily climbed down from her elephant and ran into the palace looking for him without waiting for the royal procession to properly halt, to have her maids and guards to accompany her in as it should have been.

Then suddendly, upon reaching the inner palace reception hall, her steps stopped dead, bolted in the moment of surprise. She couldnt believe her eyes to see right there infront of her, on the royal platform, there sat her husband with another woman by his side. She almost fainted in disbelieve.

Little need to be said as to what happened next. There were ascending exchange of words. Angry words. So engrossed with emotions, diappointments, betrayal  which lead to physical confrontation between the princess and her husband. Raja Abdullah in his defence gave lame excuses and had even accused the princess a whore and demanded proof that the princess was untouched all the while she was in the foreign land.
What happened next was the ineveitable death of the Sultan. But the story leading to this were of various versions. Two of them were of common knowledge to many people, while the third version is somewhat a new perspective to what happened. Read on.

Version 1

In this version, the legend says that, Raja Abdullah had came up with a plot to rid of the home coming party prior to the arrival of the Princess. This was to erase all evidence and testimonial from those people supporting her claims. Princess Saadong was to be accused for adultery and to be charged guilty of treason for leaving her husband without his consent. And that she left the palace without any subsequent news of her which governs the husband to marry another in anticipation that she will never return.

This version also says that Princess Saadong was subsequently either imprisoned to death or beheaded. And that the entire village and community was warned to be silent, not to mention her name or enquire as to what had become of her, or face death themselves.

Further supported in Hikayat Seri Kelantan, it was said that prior to her beheading, she had had a precognition of her fate and so she ordered her most trusted maid to revive her should it happened. It was said in the legend that after the beheading, one of her maid took her hairpin which contained magical rose water, positioned her head back to her torso, pour the rose water over the wound and instantly her head joined with her body and she came back to life.

Almost immediately afterwards, she went after her husband who was having a ball with his new wife together with the rest of the royal officials, celebrating her demise and stabbed him to death with her hairpin.

This version may seem to defame the Princess and also have mythological approach to the event occurred.

Version 2

In this famous and common version, says that after the exchange of words and heated arguments, there was a struggle between Raja Abdullah and Princess Saadong. In the heat of the moment, Princess Saadong stabbed her husband in anger with her hair pin and killed him.

This version is a simple and commonly accepted expanation to the event occurred.

Version 3
In this version which was very little known to public for many generations related that in the midst of the struggle, the Princess's hair became loose, untangled and her hairpin got caught in such a position that it would either stab the princess herself or her husband. And without hesitance Raja Abdullah siezed the opportunity to turn the hairpin against him instead. For he still love the princess deeply and would not bear to see her die. Neither can he face the mockery of his subjects, however the event would turn out to be.
Also little known to public that Princess Saadong actually had accepted her husband’s decision to take on another wife as they were of Muslim faith and the men are allowed to have 4 wives at any given time. However, it was Raja Abdullah who could not accept the princess back, as he sees her dirty and was the spoils of another man all the time she was away in the foreign land. And that he would be mocked by the palace official and loose face if he took her back.
This version is very little made known. It can be deduced that from various angles of the sitting position of the witnesses in the Balai diraja (inner palace reception hall) when this struggle took place, this 3rd version could also be a strong possibilty of what actually went down.

Princess Saadong – after the struggle with death

As written in an article in the Mingguan Malaysia by En. N.A Halim of Museum Negara, dated 28th Oct 1979, he wrote that after the death of Raja Abdullah, Princess Saadong had herself announced the replacement of ruler of the district. The replacement declared by the Princess was Raja Rahim. ( however there was inconsistency in reports as to whether Raja Rahim was the son or brother to Raja Abdullah). Who then moved back to Kota Mahligai to rule from there until he was assassinated by the people at a nearby lake called Tasik Lelayang Mandi. The fact above was extracted from an article written by N.A Halim of Museum Negara in Mingguan Malaysia news paper dated 28th Oct 1979.

Form this extract, it can be concluded that the people of Kelantan had indeed accepted the fact that Princess Saadong, as still the ruler of their land, despite what happened and that the death of Raja Adbullah was accidental in nature. And that she ruled until she announced the new ruler of Kelantan. If the people had dispised her then the announcement would have came from the palace officials instead.

From this point of the story / event, what became of her was not known. As if she had disappeared from the face of the earth as mysteriously as her adopted mother Cik Siti Wan Kembang.
****   THE END  ****

 Princess Saadong – aftermath

How was her life after this tragic event was a mystery until June 2010 when her 7th generation came forward to be acknowledged as her true descendant. To know more on what happened since, we would need to read the book titled Sri Saadong VII written by her descendant, Raja Tengku Puteri Anis Raja Sazali.

In an article published in Mingguan Malaysia newspaper on 06.06.2010, it was stated that after the tragic untimely unfortunate death of her husband, she was so broken hearted that she left the state subtly and made her way to Gowa where she changed her name to Puteri Hijau (literally translated as Princess Green ) She then married the ruler, Sultan Abdul Jalil Tuminanga Ri Lakiyung, 1677 – 1709 . She had children and was said to have died in Acheh.

It was known by legend that there was a curse cast by Princess Saadong on the state or people of Kelantan after the tragic event occurred some 420 years ago. I guess, to know what it was, we will all need to get the book.

THE WAY I SEE IT – the story of Puteri Saadong should be revived and should be made one of the ICON for women of the modern times. If Mak Yong is still banned, then perhaps her story could be told through THEATRE or MOVIE in a universal language where people from all walks of life could understand. Puteri Saadong is indeed a very good role model. An Iron lady of her time. Upholding her integrity, with unbelievable inner strength and bravery to endure all challenges thrown to/at her, within the confinement, limitation and expectation of a woman in those time. Battling between her own emotion for her husband and responsibility towards her people. Being witty and courageous to face the King of Siam and turn the situation to her advantage instead of surrendering herself to him. Keeping he head straight when the love of her life betrayed their promise when she had kept hers. Acknowledging the rights of her husband in Muslim faith. And being patient throughout the ordeal. To me she had come out victorious above all.

It is sad and unjust for Puteri Saadong’s life story to take a back seat. Her biography or life story is not being put in the limelight or at par with the other women of steel of her time. May be due to prejudice, perhaps also due to the nature of those olden days where women should not be seen to overpower or be more influential than men. Therefore her influence and her role as an icon in the society is downplayed and eventually forgotten.

The various versions of her story also seem to skew towards an unfavourable potrayal of her as a woman, seem to be similar to another Legend of another continent – Medusa of Greece. (do read her story which I have written earlier here in my blog)

In June 2010 her 7th generation came forward to claim her rights to be acknowledged as the descendant of Princess Saadong. Her name is Raja Tengku Puteri Anis Raja Sazali. She is also the author of the book on Puteri Saadong herself titled Sri Ratu Saadong VII which was launched on 07 June 2010. - – newspaper - MINGGUAN MALAYSIA 06 June 2010, article by Rodelio Junjun Taucan ( )

After writing this episode I believe it is about time for her life story to be made known to all legend lovers and historians of this country if not the world.  Preferably the ending to be the 3rd version which is very little known to public.


Dear readers,

Thank you for spending time to read this piece of story which is part legend part historical. I do hope you had enjoyed reading and will part with some points to ponder if not anything else.

I am trying to get hold of the book SRI RATU SAADONG VII to know more on what happened to her, after the last tragic event. I promise to update this blog again after reading.

Till we meet again readers. Take care



yati said...

Hi Orchid,

I am so lucky that finally i could find your writing on Puteri Saadong. I am now in midst of gathering information on Puteri Saadong for my second book. The first was Tok Kenali. Its a history-fiction book.

Appreciate if you could contact me at or my FB Nor Hayati Mohd Redzwan...

Thanks in advance :)

nang cayang said...

Salam Orchid,

I am the author of buku 101 Puteri Dunia Melayu, I read Orchid's articles on P. Saadong with great interest. I ahd done some reserach and analysis on kisah P. Saadong & Cik Siti.

I hope some day...i could have a chat & meet with Orchid and Puan Yati.

I ahve 2 fb
(i) Nisry Yahaya
(ii) 101 Puteri Dunia Melayu

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