The Raja Bendahara

“The premier chief of Perak was the Raja Bendahara (Yang Teramat Mulia Tuanku Raja Bendahara Wakilus-Sultan Wasirul Kabir). He was the titular Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief.  He derived his revenues mainly from a toll-station (Batang Kuala Kinta) that levied duties on all produce entering or leaving the Kinta River.  It is not known what gross annual revenue from this station amounted to.  The Bendahara was also entitled once a year to send the royal musicians (orang kalur) round the villages to bear his sword of office (baur) and to collect a capitation tax of 50 cents from every household.  This revenue is known as beman kalur.

“The wife of the bendahara when she was of royal birth was styled Raja Perempuan Kechil. If she was a commoner she was to be styled as Bendahara Empuan or popularly as Che’ Puan Bendahara.

“The title of Bendahara up to the days of Sultan Iskandar Dzulkarnain (about 1780) was vested in the family of Megat Terawis. Sultan Iskandar suddenly bethought himself- so the story goes – that it was a great pity that Perak should only have a commoner as its prime Minister when there were so many promising young princes for whom no employment could be found.  He therefore directed his Bendahara Megat Pendia, to build him a palace  at Pulau Indar Sakti, and so worried that minister with contradictory instructions and undeserved censure that the unfortunate man tendered his resignation in order to prove that no other Bendahara could do the work better.  The Sultan also promptly appointed his brother (or cousin), Raja Alaidin to be Bendahara and expressed himself perfectly with the house Raja Alaidin built. After that time the high office of Bendahara came to be looked upon as an apanage of royalty.  About the year 1851, however the holder of this position dies at a very incovenient time, there being no prince of the Royal house who was acceptable to the Chiefs.  The old theory as to the non-royal status of the bendahara was there upon revived and the office was conferred upon Raja Ismail, whose father was a foreigner though his mother was a Perak princess.  The theory was that he should be regarded as a Prime Minister or Premier Chief and not as prince of the blood and ultimate heir to the throne.  At the deaths of Sultan Shahabuddin, Sultan Abdullah II, and Sultan Jaafar, the Bendahara accepted this view and put forward no claim to the position of Raja Muda.  Doubtless, he would have done the same at Sultan Ali’s death in 1871 had not the timidity of Raja Abdullah created an intolerable situation.  The Chiefs then revived the more modern Perak practice and treated the Bendahara as an heir to the Sultanate.  Raja Ismail was a very old man and his installation as Sultan promised to be a temporary makeshift for tiding over a serious crisis.”

This is an excerpt taken from RJ Wilkinson’s ‘Papers on Malay Subjects’ (In History: Chiefs of Perak. p 77). As pointed out by a kind reader, the excerpt does contain a factual error regarding the last Bendahara, which is detailed in the comments section below.

6 thoughts on “The Raja Bendahara

  1. Pingback: 15th Sultan of Perak: Paduka Seri Sultan Iskandar Dzulkarnain ibni Almarhum Sultan Muhammad Shah (1754-1764) « SembangKuala BLOG

  2. Assalamualaikum wbt

    Dear Engku,

    Since this article mentioned about the Bendaharaship of Perak, allow me to comment on some of the key points about the Bendaharas of Perak.

    Indeed, since the reign of Sultan Muzaffar Shah I until the reign of the 15th Sultan – Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain, the title of Orang Kaya Bendahara was vested to the Megat Terawis clan.

    However, Bendahara Megat Pendia was not the last Bendahara of Perak from the clan. The last Megat who held the Bendaharaship was Megat Abu Kassim (known post-humously as Bendahara Hilang di Teluk)

    Bendahara Megat Pendia was one of the Perak generals who led the army in the war against Bugis in Bukit Gantang. The three Perak generals in this war were Raja Muda Iskandar (later Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain), Raja Kimas (later Sultan Mahmud Shah) and Bendahara Megat Pendia.

    During the reign of Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain, he instructed the Bendahara to build a palace. It was said that the requirement was – ‘bilik seribu, tiang sebatang’. And yes, this Bendahara tendered his resignation together with Orang Kaya Temenggong Tan Bantan and Orang Kaya Menteri Syed Hussain. During this time, the post of Orang Kaya Besar was vacant – due to the demise of Megat Mutabar (former Temenggong who later was appointed as Orang Kaya Besar and died in office).

    According to the order of rotation, the next in line to the Bendaharaship was Megat Mentaha (who is also known as Megat Lambat Makan di Kuala Kenas). Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain knew that the Bendaharaship is hereditary to the Megats. When he appointed his younger brother – Raja Alauddin as Bendahara (hence the title changed from Orang Kaya Bendahara to Raja Bendahara),he compensated the Megat family by making the title of Orang Kaya Besar hereditary exclusively for the Megats. That’s why, Megat Mentaha Lambat Makan of Kuala Kenas was later appointed as Orang Kaya Besar.

    Another occurance of such compensation for a major chief family is when Sultan Jaafar Muazzam Shah appointed Ngah Ibrahim Bin Long Jaafar as Orang Kaya Menteri. Previously, the title of Orang Kaya Menteri was vested to the Syeds – descendants of Syed Hussain Al-Faradz Jamalullail. When Ngah Ibrahim was appointed as Menteri, Sultan Jaafar compensated the Syeds with the title Orang Kaya Besar – which is shared between the Megats and the Syeds.

    In less than 50 years, through inter-marriages between different aristocratic houses of Perak, the title of Orang Kaya Besar is shared between 3 branches – the Syeds, the Megats and the commoners.

    That’s why in modern day appointments, when the Tok Kaya is a Syed, the Toh Muda is a Megat; if the Tok Kaya is a Megat, the Toh Muda is a commoner; if the Tok Kaya is a commoner, the Toh Muda is a Syed…and the rotation goes on….

    What I’m trying to point out here is that there are writings from outside the Perak Aristocratic circles saying that Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain’s decision to appoint his brother as Raja Bendahara was a selfish decision.

    In my opinion, Sultan Iskandar Zulkarnain is a wise ruler. He knows that he must uphold the tradition of making the Megats be the head of the Orang Besar as Bendahara. Since the Bendaharaship will then be converted to a Royal Title – path to the throne, then the most senior post among the chief is the Orang Kaya Besar. That’s why he appointed the next Megat Bendahara to the post of Orang Kaya Besar.

    Raja Alauddin(who is also known as Bendahara Penyengat Hitam) was the first Raja Bendahara. The last Raja Bendahara was Almarhum Raja Abdul Rashid Ibni Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah I who died in 1959.

    MEGAT ISKANDAR BIN MEGAT ZAHARUDDIN
    Secretary
    The Megat Terawis Clan Association

  3. Waalaikumussalam

    Thank you for visiting and making a comment on this entry, especially for pointing out the error in the posting with regards the last Bendahara prior to the appointment of Raja Alauddin as Raja Bendahara. This post is actually an excerpt from a book by RJ Wilkinson. Whilst the citation is not pointed in this specific entry, we have mentioned the reference in another post – https://sembangkuala.wordpress.com/2009/07/30/reference-note/ We do endeavour to ensure any information is factually correct, but as you can see, we do get it wrong sometimes (especially when quoting from a non-Malaysian source).

    You are absolutely right in your opinion about Sultan Iskandar Dzulkarnain being a fair ruler. We are posting entries on each of the Sultans but we’ve only got to number 13, and we have noted from the information provided from the Official Website of DYMM Sultan Perak, the story of how Megat Abu Kassim was pretty much the last non-royal to hold a Bendahara’s title.

    As you have eloquently provide a description on the role of the descendants of Megat Terawis in your comment, we were hoping if you wouldn’t mind consenting to us re-posting your words as a specific entry on SembangKuala.

    In the meantime, we are leaving this Bendahara entry as it is, but with an added caveat, vis-a-vis the citation for RJ Wilkinson’s book.

  4. Dear Engku,

    Just to let you know, I did my masters at the School of Oriental & African Studies, London and I have in my possession copies of several Perak-related manuscripts hand-written in JAWI which I’ve obtained from SOAS, Royal Asiatic Society and Oxford Uni.

    This includes:

    SOAS MS 40333(2) Megat Family of Perak
    RAS Maxwell MS 24 & 25 Salasilah Raja-Raja Perak

    Until then….wassalam

  5. Pingback: A brief appraisal on the Perak Rajas and chiefs by Wilkinson « SembangKuala BLOG

  6. Pingback: 33rd Sultan of Perak: Sultan Idris Shah ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar (1963-1984) « SembangKuala BLOG

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