A tale of two elephants – Masjid Ubudiah

Following his return from England[1] in 1911, Almarhum Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah had fallen ill and stayed in Port Dickson for respite. He made a vow that if he was restored to good health he would commission the State Government to erect a mosque in Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar, as thanksgiving. When his health finally improved, Almarhum Tuanku returned to Kuala Kangsar and gave instructions to Colonel Huxley, an engineer of the Public Works Department with architectural qualifications, to prepare a plan of a mosque of great beauty. The mosque was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback, a government architect who was notably credited for the design of the Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur railway stations.

Masjid Ubudiah under construction, c.?1915-6. (Source: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

The foundation was laid on Friday 26th September 1913, by Almarhum Sultan Idris I. The following was the inscription on the trowel used by Almarhum to lay the stone: “Presented to His Highness Sultan Idris Mersid-el-Aazan Shah, G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., on the ocassion of the laying of the foundation stone of the Ubudiah Mosque, Kuala Kangsar, Perak, 26th September, 1913.

According Malaysia In History, from a detailed newspaper report written by Thomas Fox from the February 1914 issue of Times of Malaya[2], the ceremony took place during the celebration of Sultan Idris’s investiture of the Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO). The foundation stone for Masjid Ubudiah was also inscribed in Malay to the effect it was laid on September 26th as a memorial of His Highness’ long and successful reign, and also to commemorate the presentation of the insignia GCVO, conferred upon him by George V.

A view of one the annexes (anjung). (Source: Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia)

The celebration was also named ‘GCVO week’, of which there were numerous celebrations held in Kuala Kangsar. Below is an excerpt of the passage from Times of Malaya describing the ceremony held at Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar:

“For several years His Highness the Sultan of Perak has been moved by a desire to see the erection of a mosque in close adjacency to his palace, where he and the Royal household could carry out their devotions. From the idea evolved the complete scheme which on Friday, September 26th, was officially marked by the laying of the foundation stone by His Highness on a hillock near the Astana Negara.

“The ceremony was more or less formal and was without all the outward show and splendour which marked the earlier G.C.V.O. celebration.

“The Sultan in his speech gave a brief outline of the circumstances leading to the idea of building a mosque. He added that the idea of the mosque came up during the office of Mr. Caulfield, the State Engineer. When Mr. (Oliver) Marks became the Acting British Resident of Perak, the idea was re-lived. With a budget of $200, 000, it was then prepared by the Government Architect, Mr. (Arthur) Hubback.

Floor of white Italian marble with black borders. (Source: Raja Yusuf Izzudin)

“The plan was to built an octagon of 60 feet for the mosque proper with a wide and imposing verandah all round, making the whole octagon, 96 feet in diameter.

“To the North West will be the mihrab, to the South East the tank and fountain for ablutions in an octagon in 30 feet in diameter formed by columns, and to the North East and South West the porches 27 feet for the carriages. The whole will be surrounded by a circular ornamental wall 135 feet from the centre of the building, with two approaches and gates through the wall.

“The architect decided on the design being in Saracenic style with domes and minarets, and the whole building is to be constructed entirely in concrete.

“The inner mosque will be covered with a double dome 60 feet in diameter constructed on the Kahn reinforced steel system, rising to a height of 140 feet and surrounded by four minarets 126 feet in height containing staircases by which the Imam will ascend to the top of the minarets to call the faithful to prayer. There will be double domes on the carriage porches, a bathing enclosure and the mihrab, whilst small minarets are to show at all the corners of the double octagon.

“It was decided there would be an imposing staircase in marble in between the bathing enclosure and the main building, giving access to the minarets. The whole structure was on a platform 4 feet high above the ground level with marble steps surrounding it.

Behind the mimbar is the mihrab where you can see the natural patterns of the Italian marble used. (Source: Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia)

“Only choices of Italian marbles were to be used. The outer columns of the verandah, staircase and bathing enclosure will be in red marble and the inner columns in Verde Antica, whilst all columns will have bronze caps and bases. All the minarets and piers are to have bands of rich marble panels and the mihrab will have a dado of red onyx 7 feet high with a floor of Greek Cippolino marble.

“The floors of the inner mosque, verandahs, bathing enclosure, steps up to verandahs staircases are to be in white marble with black borders. The ceiling over the main octagon is to be of fibrous plaster, specially designed for the mosque, made by Bromsgrove Guild[3] of London[sic], and to be carried at the octagonal corners by marble with bronze caps and bases.

Ornamental windows high up in the central octagon of the masjid. (Source: Raja Yusuf Izzudin)

“It was the intention to obtain the light through eight large semi-circular ornamental windows, high up in the octagon, and glazed with rich red ruby glass.”

Almarhum Sultan Idris I mangkat in 1916 and never saw Masjid Ubudiah in its completed glory. The building work continued during the short reign of his son, Almarhum Sultan Abdul Jalil.

The building work on Masjid Ubudiah was interrupted several times. Initially the work was delayed by the outbreak of the First World War in Europe and the Italian marble had to be shipped around the coast of South Africa.

The other interruption occured much later when an elephant belonging to Raja Sir Chulan named Kulop Gangga went berserk. Kulop Gangga’s foray was exacerbated by the presence of another elephant, named Kulop Chandan, which belonged to Almarhum Sultan Abdul Jalil. This hostile incident of pachydermal proportions had resulted in destruction in much of the building equipment as well as the expensive Italian marble! Raja Chulan was immediately called and he managed to placate Kulop Gangga on his own. It was described that it was unusual that an elephant could be pacified by just one man, especially when Kulop Gangga had two mahouts, named Uda Debok and Pandak Said.

Masjid Ubudiah was finally completed in 1917. The mosque was officially declared open by Almarhum Sultan Abdul Jalil.

Masjid Ubudiah today. (Personal collection of Raja Shahriman)

1. Almarhum was in England for the coronation of George V.
2. Times of Malaya was Ipoh’s first ever newspaper, established in 1903, and was otherwise known as the Planters’ & Miners’ Gazette.
3. The Bromsgrove Guild was a company of craftsmen who produced many fine works of sculpture and ironwork, including the gates of Buckingham Palace (whose locks are stamped with the Guild’s name). Bromsgrove is a town in Worcestershire, England.


1. Malaysia in History. 1970; XIII(1).
2. Hussain bin Mahmud. Sultan Idris: A personal study. p18.
3. Wikipedia

6 thoughts on “A tale of two elephants – Masjid Ubudiah

  1. Pingback: 28th Sultan of Perak: Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah ibni Almarhum Raja Bendahara Alang Iskandar (1887-1916) « SembangKuala BLOG

  2. Pingback: 29th Sultan of Perak: Sultan Abdul Jalil Karamatullah Shah (1916-1918) « SembangKuala BLOG

  3. Assalamualaikum. Allow me to comment on two interesting points here:the very keen interest of Almarhum to build a mosque and the ‘inexplicable’ single-handed ability of my great ancestor Raja Sir Chulan to handle a ‘maddening’ elephant (gajah naik minyak was the term long forgotten because of the absence of elephants in Kuala Kangsar. Most of the elephants were found in the wilds of Grik). Local historians has never really made an in-depth study of the role and contributions of the Malay Sultans in their respective states, which is rather unfortunate considering that they were (and are!) the Heads of Religious and Malay affairs as stipulated in the country’s constitution. Either written or passed down from word of mouth, the Princes of the Perak Royal Household were given religious counselling by the muellims of their time. I, myself, found out that my grandfather Allahyarham Raja Badiozaman did attend majlis mengaji kitab when I discovered the kitabs (religious scriptures and books) he used as references in the original Arabic and old jawi texts. I would not be surprised if my great ancestor Raja Sir Chulan was one such dedicated disciple of Islamic study!! Perhaps SembangKuala in due course of time will unearth the immense secrets of Islamic knowledge that once gave the aura of keramat to our forefathers: the God-blessed Sultans of the Perak Royal Kingdom.

  4. Pingback: The hills of Kuala « SembangKuala BLOG

    • Masjid itu adalah bangunan asal Masjid Ridzuaniah yang dibina pada tahun 1915 oleh Almarhum Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah. Bangunan asal itu telah dirobohkan dan dibina bangunan yang baru pada tahun 1982 bagi menampung keperluan jemaah yang making meningkat. Masjid ini terletak bersebelahan Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar.

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