Durbar: predecessor to the Majlis Raja-Raja

The Durbar (Persian for Shah’s noble court) was the Council of Rulers for the Federated Malay States, the predecessor to the Conference of Rulers (Majlis Raja-Raja which was created under Article 38 of the Malaysian Constitution on 27 August 1957). The Durbar provided a platform for the Malay Rulers of the FMS (then comprising Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang) to discuss issues pertaining religion, custom as well as matters of Malay affairs. The Durbar was first convened in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar on 14 July 1897 which lasted for four days.

The list of Durbars held from 1897 to 1939.

The idea for a Durbar was realised from a suggestion made by Sir Charles Mitchell, the British High Commissioner from 1894 to 1899. During the period since its inception to the last Durbar in 1939, there were twelve meetings altogether, including two meetings which included Rulers from the Unfederated Malay States which was known as the All-Malaya Durbar.

1st Durbar: 14-17 July 1897 in Kuala Kangsar. Seated from left: Hugh Clifford (Resident of Pahang), J.P.Rodger (Resident of Selangor), F.A.Swettenham (Resident General), Sultan Ahmad of Pahang, Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor, Sir Charles Mitchell (High Commissioner), Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah of Perak), Tuanku Muhammad of Negeri Sembilan and W.H.Treacher (Resident of Perak). Immediately behind Sultan Abdul Samad was Raja Muda Sulaiman. (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

There was a 24-year gap between the second and third Durbar as the British assumed that the Durbar was no longer relevant as all the FMS Rulers became members of the Federal Council in 1909.  However, the Malay Rulers felt that the Federal Council offered them less say than the Durbar. In 1927, the FMS Rulers withdrew from the Federal Council and third Durbar was re-convened.

The minutes of the 1st Durbar. (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

It was reported that during the second Durbar in 1903, Sultan of Perak, Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah spoke out against the British centralisation of power in the Federated Malay States. Sultan Idris realised that under centralisation the four states would gradually lose their powers to the federal government. Sultan Idris then sought decentralisation. His son, Sultan Iskandar Shah, pushed for drastic decentralisation in 1924.  A major reform was made a year later in 1925 which includes the devolution of powers of the Federal Secretariat to the Residents, state councils and federal heads.

2nd Durbar: July 1903 in Kuala Lumpur. Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah can be seen seated 6th from left. (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

6th Durbar: August 1931 in Seri Menanti, Negeri Sembilan. Seated from left: Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, Sultan Iskandar Shah of Perak, Sir Cecil Clementi, (British High Commissioner), Tuanku Muhammad of Negeri Sembilan, Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman of Selangor . Standing from left: Raja Uda (ADC to the High Commissioner), H.G.R. Leonard (British Resident Pahang), B.W. Ellis, (British Resident, Perak), A. Caldecott (Acting Chief Secretary to Goverment, F.M.S.), J.W.W. Hughes (Acting British Resident, Negeri Sembilan), J.S. Macpherson (Acting District Officer, Kuala Pilah, Secretary to the Durbar). (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

7th Durbar: Pekan, Pahang. Group photo taken at Balairong Seri, Istana Kuning, Pekan, Pahang on 28 April 1932. Seated from left: Tuanku Muhammadof Negeri Sembilan, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, Sir Cecil Clementi (British High Commisioner), Sultan Iskandar Shah of Perak, Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman Shah of Selangor. (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

Probably Durbar held between 1932-1937. Seated from left: Sultan Abdul Aziz of Perak, Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman of Selangor, Sir Cecil Clementi (British High Commisioner), Tuanku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan and Sultan Abu Bakar of Pahang. (Photo: Arkib Negara Malaysia)

1. Arkib Negara Malaysia
2. M.A. Fawzi Basri. Cempaka Sari: Sejarah Kesultanan Negeri Perak. Yayasan Perak; 1986.
3. The Encylopedia of Malaysia. Volume 7: Early Modern History [1800-1940], Archipelago Press, 2001.

12 thoughts on “Durbar: predecessor to the Majlis Raja-Raja

  1. Dear Engku Editors,

    In the last photo, (the last Durbar), the archive states that the picture was taken in November 1939.

    Correct me if I’m wrong. Almarhum Sultan Iskandar of Perak died on 14th October 1938. Sultan Alaeddin Sulaiman Shah of Selangor died in the same year (1938) but earlier than Sultan Iskandar (31st March 1938). Therefore, the date of the picture taken cannot be in November 1939 as Sultan Sulaiman of Selangor died in 1938.

    Most probably in this picture, Raja Muda Abdul Aziz represented the Sultan of Perak. The date taken must be before 31st March 1938.



    • Thank you Megat for highlighting.

      You are right, my bad. On second glance, Sir Cecil Clementi was the High Commissioner from February 1930 to November 1934. Now, is it possible that the photo was taken during the 8th Durbar, in Kuala Kangsar? If yes, big question, where was Tuanku Iskandar at that time? or It was Sir Shenton Thomas instead of Sir Cecil Clementi. Any idea???


    • Salam. Dalam gambar Durbar yg pertama 1897, salah seorang pengiring dari Pahang yang memegang keris adalah datuk kepada Dato’ Aripin Said, yang sekarang tinggal di Bangi.

  2. Pingback: geopractice :: Persidangan Durbar :: June :: 2011

  3. Dear Sir, The note to photo of 7th Durbar referred the High Commissioner as Sir Cecil Clementi Smith. The name should be Sir Cecil Clementi and not Sir Cecil Clementi Smith who retired in 1893.

  4. Salam.
    I would like to correct the name of the Pahang ruler in the 1st Durbar Conference. He was my great grandpa, Bendahara Wan Ahmad ( who became the 1st Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Muazzam Shah in 1882)
    Thank you.

  5. Salam,

    In the photo of the 2nd Durbar: July 1903 in Kuala Lumpur, there is a turban sikh punjabi man who strongly resembles my grandfather’s brother (click to enlarge). I know this because I have inherited photos of him in a similar british uniform from my father’s elder brother. As my father and his elder brother have long been deceased, I now have no history of his life in Malaya or even his name as he never permanently resided in Malaya returning to his native country. I remember that I had also seen pictures of him in the tingkatan satu or dua (1979 or 1980) history (sejarah) text book in group photographs with Sultan Idris Murshidul Azzam Shah (28th Sultan of Perak) during secondary schooling in Taiping (King Edward VII).

    Any information would be very much appreciated.

    Ravinderpal Singh Gill

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