Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah II was born in the purple as the eldest son of a reigning Sultan of Perak. His mother was Raja Perempuan Kelsom, and his father, Sultan Iskandar Shah, had already been a Sultan of Perak (from 1918-1938) for six years when Raja Idris was delivered at dawn on 15 August 1924 at the Istana Negara (now Istana Iskandariah) on Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar.
Raja Idris went to a nearby Malay school in 1931 for three years, and, like many members of Perak royalty, attended Clifford School and then the Malay College. In 1934, he received his first title when he was appointed the Raja Di-Hilir of Perak following the death of Raja Sir Chulan ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdullah II. Four years later, upon the death of his father, he was made Raja Bendahara during the reign of Almarhum Sultan Abdul Aziz.
His studies in the Senior Cambridge class at the Malay College came to a halt with the Japanese invasion of Malaya in the late 1941. It was sometime in 1944, when the tide of the Pacific war was turning against the the Japanese, that the young Raja Idris, with full consent and encouragement from his uncle, Almarhum Sultan Abdul Aziz, took on a cloak and a dagger role by joining the Giu Tai, a volunteer force that the Japanese were forming for the defence of occupied Malaya against an anticipated Allied invasion.
His sole aim in joining the Giu Tai was to covertly arm as many young Malays as possible, so that when the expected invasion by the Allied Forces came about, the Malays would be able to take arms in an attempt to defeat their Japanese occupiers themselves. For some time, Raja Bendahara Idris and a handful of Malays kept in contact with Force 136 officers, among them Lieutenant-Colonel (Datuk) Peter Dobrée, who had parachuted into the jungles of Upper Perak, to prepare for the Allied invasion, and the role Giu Tai were to play eventually. The Japanese had a strong suspicion that Almarhum Sultan Abdul Aziz and some members of the royal family were in contact with Force 136. The Japanese subjected Sultan Abdul Aziz and his aide-de-camp (ADC), Raja Amir bin Raja Razman, to many indignities and stationed a Japanese officer in the palace on round-the-clock duty. The anticipated armed invasion of Malaya by the Allies did not materialise as Japan surrendered after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Raja Bendahara Idris then joined the State Secretariat in 1946.
In 1948, Raja Idris was appointed Raja Muda during the reign of Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzudin Shah, and in the following year, on the advice of the Dato’ Panglima Bukit Gantang Wahab, who was then Perak Menteri Besar, and Sir Henry Gurney, the then High Commisioner of the Federation of Malaya, Raja Muda Idris went to England to further his studies.
Raja Muda Idris pursued a two-year course in local government, social welfare and economics at the University of London, and later was attached to the Oxford County Council and the Burlington Rural District Council before returning to Malaya in 1951 to join the Royal Malay Regiment for military training following which he received his commission as a lieutenant.
On completing his military training, Raja Muda Idris was named as an official member of the State Executive Council which he served until 1958. During this period, he took on a variety of official functions and made extensive tours of rural Perak as he had done as a government servant. Even in his later days as Sultan of Perak, he always earned a reputation for his enthusiasm and youthful energy he displayed in carrying out these duties. Amongst the official positions held was Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Regiment of Engineers.
Since its inception in 1953, Raja Muda Idris also served as a member of the Dewan Negara Perak, an appointed body of titled Perak Rajas, Malay chiefs and elders that advises the Sultan on constitutional matters pertaining to the throne of Perak.
For his services to Perak, Raja Muda Idris was appointed Companion of The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (C.M.G.) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
As Almarhum Sultan Yussuf Izzudin’s health declined, Raja Idris in his capacity as Raja Muda had more duties to perform and often represented the ailing Sultan at ceremonies, official functions and the Conference of Rulers. During the last days of Almarhum Sultan Yussuf, Raja Muda Idris was constantly present at the palace on Bukit Chandan. On 5 January 1963, Almarhum Sultan Yussuf mangkat, and two days later, before the royal coffin was borne out of the throne room, Raja Muda Idris was proclaimed the 33rd Sultan of Perak by the Orang Kaya Bendahara Seri Maharaja Perak, Dato’ Che Mohamad Yusof bin Sheikh Abdul Rahman. He was styled Sultan Idris Al-Mutawakkil Alallahi Shah and he was 39. The installation ceremony was considered historic as it was the first time a commoner held the royal powers of a Bendahara since 1780.
As it had always been his practice since his days as the Raja Di-Hilir in 1934, Sultan Idris Shah II had a continuous desire to be close to his rakyat, to mix freely with all, particularly in the rural areas. His personal friends are not only among the titled, the influential and the rich like the Shah of Iran, but also among those from humbler walks of life, whose well-being was of paramount concern to him.
In most of his speeches, Sultan Idris Shah II focused on his chief aim which was to work for the rakyat regardless of race or religion. In his tours of Perak, he had himself seen the problems and difficulties the people, both Malays and non-Malays, were experiencing. Within his power, he would persuade the state government to bring about the improvements for all with the intention that Perak and its people would always continue to be happy and prosperous. It was no surprise that he was one of the Malay Rulers who led the opposition to the constitutional amendments in 1983 which restricted the powers of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong and the Sultans, as this amendment would limit his reach to his rakyat.
Sultan Idris Shah II was a man of hobbies, despite the many official duties that kept him busy. The hobby closest to his heart was painting. Tuanku had always been interested in painting from an early age. He was into water colour during his school days and later switched his medium to oil. During his tour of England and the continent in 1949 and 1950, he spent much of his time visiting art galleries. His love of the sea is reflected in two of his favourite paintings he completed on his return from Europe. One was entitled Boat at Sea showing a sampan with her full-blown sail heading to the shore, and the other was a seascape of Pangkor Island.
His love of the sea was not just confined to paintings. Like his father, Almarhum Sultan Iskandar Shah, Sultan Idris Shah II was very fond of boating and fishing. The love of the sea runs in his family – his younger brothers, Raja Mohamed and Raja Ahmed Sifuddin (later Raja Muda 1984-1987). Sultan Idris Shah II had a boat named Dunita, after Raja Nor Akma (Ku Duna) binti Raja Kechil Sulong Harun Al Rashid, the late wife of his brother, Raja Mohamed. During their leisure time, they would go out to the sea on the boat to fish.
Sultan Idris Shah II was a keen amateur photographer, with his own dark room and he would develop the negatives and print the photographs himself. Motoring was another of his favourite pastime.
Sultan Idris’ private life had its share of difficulties, much like that of many other men living in that period. In 1943, he married his cousin, Raja Noor Izah binti Raja Ali (she was Raja Puan Besar), but divorced 14 years later with no issue. It was during the harrowing years of the Japanese occupation that he married Raja Muzwin binti Raja Ariff Shah (later Raja Perempuan) when she was just 15, and had two sons and two daughters, although they also had another daughter who sadly died at an early age.
Sultan Idris had also other wives including Amy Lim Kam Fong, who took on the Muslim name of Aminah upon reversion, following which she held the title of Che Puan Negara. They had no children. Other wives were Che Asmah, Che Hanizah binti Abdullah (Annie Chin), Dato’ Seri Sharifah Salmah binti Syed Ahmad, Che Satira binti Abdullah (real name Suteen, a lady of Thai descent) and Dato’ Seri Norizan binti Haji Hamzah. Sultan Idris also had issue from these marriages, and had a total of 13 children, including the four from his marriage to Raja Perempuan Muzwin.
Sultan Idris Shah II was the frontrunner to be elected Malaysia’s eighth Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. However it was fated that on 30 January 1984, a week before being elected by his brother Malay rulers, he suddenly mangkat after suffering a heart attack at the Lumut District Hospital at 11.15 pm.
Almarhum was 59 and was the Sultan of Perak for 21 years.
Almarhum was interred at the Al-Ghufran Royal Mausoleum at Bukit Chandan and the posthumous title of Marhum Afifullah was conferred.
1. Arkib Negara Malaysia.
2. Laman Rasmi Pejabat DYMM Sultan Perak.
3. Portal Raja Kita Negeri Perak Darul Ridzuan.
5. M.A. Fawzi Basri. Cempaka Sari: Sejarah Kesultanan Negeri Perak. 1986.
6. The Straits Times. 1954 December 12. p6.
7. The Straits Times. 1963 January 7. p1-10.
8. The Straits Times. 1963 October 25. p22.
9. The Straits Times. 1984 February 2. p1.