Sunday, October 17, 2010

I Bet You Didn't Know

I bet you (i.e. you Singaporeans but maybe other readers too) didn’t know that one of the earliest pieces of evidence of Buddhism in S.E.Asia is to be found in the vicinity of Singapore. The Indonesian island of Karimun Besar lies just 30 k south-west of Jurong. On a small hill on the tip of the island, from where Singapore can easily be seen, is a rock with an inscription on it. Usually called the Pasir Panjang Inscription, this brief document dates from around the 9th century and is in Sanskrit in Devanagari script. It says that the small depression next to the inscription is the footprint of ‘the venerable Gautama’ i.e. the Buddha. The depression looks like an actual footprint although it has been carved out of the rock.
Who carved this inscription and its ‘footprint’? We have no idea. Very likely it was done by a devote passenger from a passing ship – the island is right in the middle of an important shipping route. Or perhaps it was carved by a monk hoping to encourage passing ships to stop and visit the ‘shrine’. Whatever the case, it is very inspiring to think that Buddhists have been living on, in or near Singapore for so long. Perhaps some of our local Buddhists should make a trip to Karimur Besar and visit this important place. The Pasir Panjang Inscription was discovered at the end of the 19th century and translated sometime later, I think by a Dutch epigraphist. However, several words in it are obscure and Ian Caldwell and Ann Hazlewood have made an attempt to give a clearer translation in their paper ‘The Holy Footprint of the Venerable Gautama; A New Translation of the Pasir Panjang Inscription’ published in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land en Volkenkunde in 1994. I have not read this paper but look forward to doing so.
The above pictures are courtesy of The Southeast Asian Archaeology Newsblog at


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


How about the Cherok Tok Kun inscription at St. Anne's Church in Penang?

According to a tourist map:

“On the grounds of St. Anne’s Church is the stone of Cherok Tok Kun with ancient Pali inscriptions dating back to the fourth century”


According to the websites provided below:

“The Cherok Tokun Ancient Inscriptions were first documented by Colonel James Low, a British army officer, in 1845....................... They were attributed to the ancient Kingdom of Kadaaram, which flourished in northern Malaysia in the 5th to 6th centuries.”



J.W. Laidlay’s translation:

a. I acknowledge the enemies of the contented king Ramaunibha and the wicked are ever afflicted.

b. This is said by Manikatha, the protector of all great Buddhas.

c. In every form of life, knowledge becomes manifest everywhere and in every way.

d. Karma, which sports with passion, is the cause of transmigration.

The Malay Peninsula: Crossroads of the Maritime Silk Road (2001) by Michel Jacq-Hergoualc’h, Translated by Victoria Hobson; Brill Academic Publishers, p.214]


By the way, who is Manikatha? I posted this in the Malaysian Theravada yahoo discussion group in March, but did not get any response.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...


The paper that Venerable Dhammika mentioned can be found here:

Best wishes,

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Rahula,
Thanks for your most informative and helpful reply. I would be most surprised if the Cherok Tokun Inscription is really in Pali. I think this needs checking. Thanks very much for the link to Caldwell and Hazlewood’s paper. I will read it with interest. As for Manikatha, the name occurs nowhere in Pali literature. Perhaps it was the name of a local god, naga or yakkha. Ill look into it and see what I come up with.

noelbynature said...

I must add that the Karimun inscription is located in the northern end of Karimun Besar, which means one would not be able so see Singapore from that vantage point. But one would get an excellent view of the ships coming down the straits though.

Anonymous said...


Well, at least, according to Laidlay, it is Pali.

If anyone wish to read the relevant pages from "The Malay Peninsula", I could send you the scanned pages.


Laidlay JW (1848)
Note on the Inscriptions from Singapur and Province Wellesley forwarded by Hon. Col. Butterworth, CB and Col J. Low, JASB, XVII, 2:66-72

Low, J. (1848)
An Account of Several Inscriptions found in Province Wellesley, on the Peninsula of Malacca, JASB, XVII, 2:62-66

My email:

Best wishes,