Truth be told, in one of those moments of self-doubt (or was it self discovery), when I wanted to discover what I wanted to actually do with my life, I enrolled in a tourist guide course organised jointly by the powers that be. That was in 1990.
I ended that course as a licensed tourist guide, permitted to conduct tours in both English and Deutsch (German). Licensed, mind you, and with that said, it does not necessarily mean that I was an active one.
One of the core subjects that we had to learn of was the Melaka Sultanate and its history.
For me, that was a breeze. I have a natural passion for history and aside from the dates (other than 1511 that is), I know the history of Melaka (its legends, its myths, whatever you may wish to call it) like a child knowing his or her favourite story by heart. Or bedtime reading for that matter.
The course required us to go on a field trip to Melaka. That proved to be of great joy to me, to see for myself the remnants of Melaka of yesteryear, because believe it or not, that was the first time I was ACTUALLY in Melaka. Previously, I sort of passed through, not really having the time to explore Melaka.
One of the places that we visited then was the Muzium Istana Kesultanan Melaka. A mouthful for non-Malays to pronounce for a museum more commonly known as the Sultan of Melaka’s Palace or to use the Malay term, Istana Sultan Melaka (Istana is Malay for Palace and the term ‘Sultan’ needs no introduction nor clarification).
Work on the replica commenced in 1984 with the replica palace, officially designated as a museum, official opened on July 17, 1986.
It has to be said that the palace that we visited, though also made of wood, is only a replica of the original version. The site that the replica palace itself is not the exact location of the Melaka Sultan’s great palace but is approximated, with the help of old manuscripts.
It must be said that the replica of the Sultan’s Palace is modelled on the grand palace of Sultan Mansur Shah who was the 6th Sultan of Melaka and was sovereign from 1456 – 1477. His reign has often been described as being the height of the Melaka Sultanate, one of them being Tome Pires who wrote Suma Oriental.
The replica is not of the same size as the original, which is said to be far bigger than the replica. How much bigger, we can only speculate. But all the manuscripts agree, it was GRAND.
The original grand palace was destroyed during the cleansing of Melaka after its capture by the Portuguese in 1511 and with its destruction, the most important symbol of the Melaka Sultanate was erased and denied – please refer to Malaysia (Melaka) : The Kampung Hulu Mosque (https://shahscorner.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/malaysia-melaka-the-kampung-hulu-mosque).
Replica it may be, it is, nevertheless, no less impressive especially if you allow yourself be taken back in time through the ages to when the great Melaka Sultans held court with that kingmaker extraordinaire Tun Perak (who counselled four different sovereigns), the ever loyal Tun Tuah and his sworn blood brothers Tun Jebat, Tun Kasturi, Tun Lekir and Tun Lekiu in attendance, together with other important high-ranking officials of the royal court, granting audience to trade and diplomatic delegations from lands as far as the Middle East, India, China and the Nusantara (the Malay / Indonesian archipelago).
Imagine yourself, dressed in your best threads, being admitted into the grounds of the great palace of the Melaka Sultans, and as you make your way to the great palace, escorted of course, you take in the sounds, the sights and the smells of the royal grounds, the goings-on if you will, before arriving at the grand entrance of the great palace.
And imagine that as you make your way to the palace, escorted by the royal guards, you caught a glimpse of the vast gardens of the great palace, preceded by the many fragrances and scents of the various flora and fauna, lovingly and carefully tended to by the palace gardeners.
Upon arrival at the entrance of the grand palace, you are then escorted to the anteroom where you’ll await your turn, nervously I might add, before being called and admitted to the royal court for an audience with the Sultan himself.
And imagine that after your audience with the Sultan, as you make your way out of the palace grounds, you are again greeted by the sight of the royal gardens and your senses again assailed by the many colours and fragrances emanating from the royal gardens, adding another lasting impression to the many that had already being created, before you depart the royal grounds.
For history to come alive, a lot of imagination is and will be required. Otherwise the royal palace of the Melaka Sultans, replica as this one may be, will be just another royal household made of wood, as are the ruins of ancient castles in Europe be just buildings made of stone, as the castles of the great Japanese Daimyos be just buildings made of wood, as are the grand palaces of the Chinese Emperors be just big buildings with extraordinary decor and carvings.
And when that happens, it will be a pity. And a tragedy.
The Istana Kesultanan Melaka musuem is opened every day from 9am – 5.30pm with entrance charges at RM2.00 (USD0.60) for adults and RM1.00 (USD0.30) for children (presumably under 12) and students.