The town of Muar was very much in the news lately. Not only was the 54th birthday celebrations of HRH The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim ibni AlMarhum Sultan Iskandar, held in Muar but the town of Muar itself was officially proclaimed as Bandar DiRaja (literally translated as Royal Town) during the celebrations.
Plans for the proclamation of Muar as Bandar DiRaja was first announced by His Royal Highness, in February 2012, with the official proclamation officiated by HRH The Sultan on 24 November 2012.
Personally, when it was first announced by HRH The Sultan of Johor that Muar was to be being proclaimed as Bandar DiRaja it did come as a surprise to me.
Ever since I was a child, it has always been understood that whilst Johor Bahru is the capital of the State of Johor, Muar, on the other hand, is the Bandar DiRaja or the royal town of Johor.
Such as it is, reference is always being made to the existence of a socio-political axis that is the Johor Bahru (JB)-Muar axis, although it has never being proven that such an axis exists. This reference is basically attributed to the many notable personalities, either at state level or at national level, being either from Johor Bahru or Muar.
That and maybe it’s because the districts of Johor Bahru and Muar were two of the original four districts as portrayed by the stars on the Johor State coat-of-arms. Whatever it is, I am saying this with no disrespect to the other parts of Johor. Totally.
Although I identify strongly with my father’s Johor Bahru (as it also my birthplace as well as my sons’), I can also identify with Muar, the hometown of my mother, as well. The same applies to my wife, with her family tree going back to Muar as well.
Although I have been to Muar on many previous occasions, either for work and/or family reasons or just passing through, I have never ever really looked at Muar from the eyes of a visitor. Typical that. Maybe its due to the family ties that I have with Muar, and so I sort of took Muar for granted. And if truth be told, I wasn’t actually looking and Muar did not actually hit me.
How Muar got its name depends on your source of reference. If you go by Hikayat Malim Deman, an old Malay text, Muar was formerly known as Teluk Dalam (literally translated as Deep Bay) due to its location at the estuary of the Sungai Muar (Muar River). There are also sources that say that Muar derived its name from the shortened version of the word MUARA (river mouth). Like it was mentioned, it depends on your source of reference.
Historically, Muar has been mentioned as early as in 1361, in the ancient text of Nagarakertagama, as being a colony of the ancient empire of Majapahit. This was narrated by a Buddhist monk who was also a priest in the Majapahit Palace, Prapanca.
What is of note is that Prapanca lived in the times of Hayam Wuruk and Majapahit’s most famous of prime ministers, Patih Gajah Mada and that said, Majapahit was THE empire in the region during those times.
Muar is also mentioned, amongst others, by Joao de Barros’, who in 1553 wrote Decadas da Asia (Decades of Asia), a history of the Portuguese in Asia, as well as in Tun Sri Lanang’s Sejarah Melayu (The Malay Annals).
Tun Sri Lanang himself was a court official of the highest order, being a Bendahara (similar to that of the modern-day Prime Minister) of the Johor Sultanate, which was founded after the fall of the Melaka to the Portuguese in 1511.
Modern day Muar was however founded by an official of the Royal Court of the modern Johor Sultanate, Dato’ Bentara Luar, Muhamad Salleh bin Perang in 1885.
History also recorded that Maharaja Abu Bakar, in 1887, then proclaimed Muar as Bandar Maharani (or in English, Town of The Empress) in honour of his consort, Maharani Fatimah, and made Bandar Maharani Muar a showpiece of his administration.
Maharaja Abu Bakar later ascended the throne of the Johor Sultanate and was installed as Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor, and is widely acknowledged as the Father of Modern Johor.
Getting to Muar via the North South Expressway (NSE) means exiting the NSE at Pagoh or Tangkak, and from there travel by trunk roads to Muar itself. However, if the adventurer in you takes you over, you can also get to Muar by way of Batu Pahat via either Jalan Darat (translated as the inland road) or Jalan Laut (translated as the coastal road).
Both approaches, however, will mean travelling on trunk roads, passing through various villages and settlements, and that itself is an adventure. Life around here is a bit laid back as compared to that of Johor Bahru, with everything having its own place and at its own time.
Looking closely, Muar and its surrounding areas do have much to offer. One of the more popular spots has to be Tanjung Emas (literally, Cape of Gold or Golden Cape or Gold Cape, depends on how you translate it). The main attraction of Tanjung Emas is that it fronts Sungai Muar or the Muar River, with Dataran Tanjung Emas (or Tanjung Emas Square) being the main feature of the riverfront.
When HRH The Sultan of Johor officially proclaimed Bandar Maharani Muar as the royal town of Johor, HRH The Sultan also placed a time capsule at the Dataran Tanjung Emas to commemorate the occasion.
For prosperity’s sake, the time capsule contained a copy of the declaration proclaiming Muar as the Royal Town, a copy of the constitution of the State of Johor, and a replica of the Muar State Commissioner’s flag.
The ceremony has been described to have mirrored a similar gesture made by Maharaja Abu Bakar (later Sultan Abu Bakar) when he proclaimed Muar as Bandar Maharani in 1887.
As you walk along the riverfront at Tanjung Emas, you will find a mosque named Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim. For the uninitiated, the term Masjid Jamek can be literally translated a public mosque.
History has it that the first Masjid Jamek Muar was completed in 1887. However, a committee was formed in the 1920s to consider the building of a new Masjid Jamek. For that purpose, funds were raised from the public, all in all about RM10,000 worth. In the 1920s, RM10,000 was a lot of money then.
Royal consent was sought from the then ruling Sultan of Johor, HRH Sultan Ibrahim ibni AlMarhum Sultan Abu Bakar, the son of HRH Sultan Abu Bakar. With the royal consent granted, work to build the new mosque commenced in 1925, and was finally completed in 1930.
Named as Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim, the mosque was officially opened by the then Menteri Besar of Johor (translated as Chief Minister, and at that time, similar in status to the present day Prime Minister).
The interesting fact is that if we were to look across Sungai Muar (Muar River), we will find an exact replica of Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim on the other side of the river.
The mosque on the other side of the river is named Masjid Jamek Sultan Ismail, officially opened in 2003 and was named after the reigning monarch’s grandfather, HRH AlMarhum Sultan Ismail ibni AlMarhum Sultan Ibrahim.
With both mosques having the same design, it creates a mirror image effect that one can only notice and appreciate if one is made aware of the effect. Otherwise, one would only see two mosques on opposite banks of Sungai Muar.
In line with Muar officially proclaimed as Bandar DiRaja (Royal Town), we can surely expect more beautification and development projects in Bandar Maharani Muar. That plus the fact they do serve a mean plate of satay (and I do mean a mean plate of satay!) and a mee bandung that is to die for, It makes the next visit even more interesting, wouldn’t you say?
Date : 17 December 2012