A new study made by Australian researcher Dr Iain Sinclair suggests that Singapore may be 1,000 years old instead of the generally accepted 700 years by scholars. He announced his findings early this month (7 Dec) at a conference at the Singapore Indian Heritage Centre.
Dr Sinclair has been studying the enigmatic Singapore Stone – a fragment of an ancient sandstone slab – over the past half a year. The Singapore Stone was actually a boulder stood at the mouth of the Singapore River for ages. The British blew it up in 1843 to clear and widen the passage for boats traveling up and down the Singapore River then.
There were ancient inscriptions carved on the boulder. When the British blew it up, only one of the fragments was retrieved and kept. The inscriptions on the fragment, now called the Singapore Stone, has puzzled scholars, academics and historians, including Sir Stamford Raffles ever since. No one could successfully and precisely decipher the inscribed text, recognized to be Kawi – a script used in the pre-Islamic Malay Archipelago.
Dr Sinclair managed to identify the phrase “kesariva” in the inscriptions which he said was part of the word “parakesarivarman” – a title used by several kings of the Tamil Chola dynasty in India. It suggests Tamil connections with the Strait of Singapore as far back as 1,000 years ago, thus redefining the island’s historical timeline. While researching, he opined that the stone could have been created at the beginning of the 11th century.
Dr Sinclair said he was encouraged by Ms Nalina Gopal, a curator at the Singapore Indian Heritage Centre, to take a shot at deciphering the Singapore Stone. They met at a seminar he conducted in July on the Chola invasion of the Malay world.
Indian expert describes findings as “enlightening”
Ms Gopal described Dr Sinclair’s findings as “enlightening”. She said that the findings remind Singaporeans that as a post-colonial nation, aspects of history and heritage “could be revisited for fresh interpretations”.
In an interview with Straits Times last year, Ms Gopal revealed she was born in Chennai and studied history at the University of Madras before moving to Singapore in 2008. She is now a PR.
She said that her great-grandfather deciphered inscriptions on temple walls and she inherited the taste for the historical from him. She added that she was drawn to the Singapore Indian Heritage Centre because of its unusual status as a diaspora museum that focuses on the stories of the migrant community.
In one of the exhibitions last year, she brought in craftsmen from across India to demonstrate their vanishing trades – from leather shadow puppet making to scroll painting. Also in the exhibition was the oldest object displayed in the museum thus far: a 3,000BC Indus Valley square seal from India. It was on loan from the National Museum of India. She said that she had received envious messages from friends from India, who had not had the chance to see it themselves.
“I am myself a member of the diaspora,” she told ST. “To be able to tell the story of this diaspora, to connect people with their culture in a way that is rarely done, is a rare opportunity. I love doing it.”