Elephants – the royal mode of transport

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An elephant with a carriage, likely at the 1897 Durbar in Kuala Kangsar. (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

Elephants were the main mode of official transportation for Malay Royalty since time immemorial. Elephants carrying the Sultan of Melaka have been described in Sejarah Melayu. When Sultan Muzaffar Shah first arrived at the estuary of Sungai Perak from Kampar for his installation, he was greeted by Tun Saban and the people of Perak with a procession of 77 elephants.

During the time of Sultan Muzaffar Shah III (1728-1754), the first Dato Maharaja Lela was Daeng Salili (Haji Besar), a pious Bugis raja who was also the head of the Bugis community at Padang Changkat, a kampung by Sungai Perak near Bukit Chandan. The Bugis of Padang Changkat were entrusted in handling the royal elephants of the Sultan.

Elephants carried the Malay sultans at first Durbar held at Kuala Kangsar in 1897 during the reign of Almarhum Sultan Idris I. Elephants were also part of the history of the construction of the Masjid Ubudiah, when two elephants – Kulop Chandan (belonging to Almarhum Sultan Abdul Jalil) and Kulop Gangga (belonging to Raja Chulan ibni Sultan Abdullah), went berserk destroying the expensive Italian marble meant for the masjid. The two elephant handlers, Uda Debok and Pandak Said, were unable to placate the beasts until Raja Chulan himself came to handle the situation successfully.

Today, elephants are obviously no more the official mode of transport for Tuanku, but people were reminded of the role these magnificent beasts had in the court of the Perak royal house when a procession of elephants similar to that at the 1897 Durbar was held in Kuala Kangsar for the centenary celebration of the Malay College.

Reference: Thaddeus W. Best of Padang Changkat: Kampung steeped in history. Traveltimes NST Online.

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