This is adapted from an article written by Muzaffar Tate, a local historian. Millennium Markers is a series that looks at events and happenings that shaped Malaysia and the surrounding region over the last 1,000 years.
IT IS a story of court politics, intrigue and conspiracy at the highest level. It is also the story of the end of the traditional Hindu-Buddhist Malay world, the legacy of Sri Vijaya, which had lasted for the best part of a thousand years. In its place came Islam, carried across the ocean by Arab and Indian traders over three centuries before and now with a foothold in Malacca itself.
The palace revolution that took place in Malacca in 1446 was an affair of one short night. But the outcome was the conversion of the Malays to Islam for ever.
It all began with the arrival in Malacca of a wealthy Tamil-Muslim merchant Mani Purindan during the reign of Sri Maharaja, Malacca's third ruler and a Hindu. The merchant claimed to be the son-in-law of the ruler of Pasai, one of the first centres of Islam in the region and an important centre of trade.
Sri Maharaja (a Hindu), who had just returned from a two-year stay in China, the last to be made by any ruler of Malacca, received the merchant well and, presumably influenced by his wealth and pedigree, bestowed upon him the rank of mentri (minister).
Not long after this Sri Maharaja himself became a convert to Islam and took the name of Muhammad Shah, still the third Sultan of Malacca.
The conversion greatly strengthened the Tamil Muslim faction at the Malaccan court and, in particular, marked the rise of Baginda Mani Purindan, as the merchant was now styled.
Mani Purindan married into the Malay establishment by taking Tun Ratna Sandari, a daughter of the powerful Tun Perpateh Besar, as his wife. Since the Tun's elder daughter, Tun Ratna Wati, was Muhammad Shah's consort, Mani Purindan became one of the most influential figures in Malacca.
About 10 years later, i.e. circa 1445, Muhammad Shah (Sri Maharaja) died, leaving behind two serious claimants to the throne. One was Raja Kassim, his son by his marriage to Tun Ratna Wati. Raja Kassim was hence Mani Purindan's nephew. This was the Muslim faction in the Malacca Court.
The other claimant was Raja Kassim's younger half-brother, Raja Ibrahim, still a minor, and son by Muhammad Shah's second consort, a Hindu princess from Rokan in Sumatra. Rokan was a stronghold of the traditional Hindu-Buddhist Malay order. This was the Hindu faction in the Malacca Court.
The Raja of Rokan, the princess's cousin, had come to reside at the Malaccan court some time before Muhammad Shah's death obviously in order to strenghten the Hindu-Buddhist faction in Malacca.
After the ruler's death, he made sure that it was Raja Ibrahim who ascended the throne with himself as regent during the boy's minority. The Raja of Rokan left no doubt as to who now controlled Malacca by summarily stripping Raja Kassim of all his royal prerogatives and condemning him to the life of an ordinary fisherman.
This turn of events was a serious blow to Muslim influence in Malacca. It also upset many of the Malaccan nobility who resented the rise of the Hindu Raja of Rokan's power. None were more aggrieved than Raja Kassim himself and his cousin Tun Ali son of Mani Purindan and Tun Ratna Sandari.
Tun Ali regarded the Hindu Raja of Rokan as the main obstacle to the cause of Islam and his own ambitions.
After 17 months of being a fisherman, Raja Kassim decided to act. He approached Tun Ali, who needed no urging to rally supporters. The two of them then secured the backing of the Bendahara (prime minister), Tun Perpateh Sandang, which was crucial to their success.
Then, one dark night, they launched a surprise attack on the astana (palace) and quickly forced their way in. In the fray, the Raja of Rokan and Raja Ibrahim were both killed. Raja Kassim now became the fifth ruler of Malacca, taking the name Muzaffar Shah.
However, this is not quite the end of the story. Soon after Muzaffar's victory, the old Bendahara committed suicide or perhaps he was murdered, it's an open question.
The death was rather convenient because it enabled Muzaffar Shah to make Tun Ali (representing the Muslim faction) the new Bendahara of Malacca. Also, Muzaffar wed the ``incredibly beautiful'' Tun Kudu, the late Bendahara's daughter.
Tun Perak, her brother, was apparently regarded as a threat and withdrew to Klang where he eventually became its penghulu (chieftain). But he did not stay away long. Probably through his sister's influence, Tun Perak was restored to favour and was granted the prestigious title of Paduka Raja.
When not long after this he successfully defeated a Siamese (as the Thais were known then) naval attack, his influence became so great that it threatened to overshadow that of his cousin Tun Ali, the new Bendahara. Malacca was now on the brink of another power struggle.
But compromise won the day. Tun Ali was persuaded to step down as Bendahara with Tun Perak taking his place; but Sultan Muzaffar Shah had to divorce Tun Kudu so that Tun Ali could marry her!
After this episode ``the Sri Nara di Raja (Tun Ali) was reconciled with the Paduka Raja (Tun Perak) and they became as fond of each other as twin brothers.''
There are several variants to this complicated tale, but the essential points remain the same. Its main significance is that it indicates how Islam became supreme in the Malacca court, leading to the eventual conversion of all the Malay world.
For although Parameswara, Malacca's founder, had embraced Islam, Hindu-Buddhist traditions still remained strong. Parameswara's conversion, in his old age and near the end of his reign, could have been little more than a personal one and probably very few of the nobility followed suit. His son, Megat Iskandar Shah, bore a Muslim title and, no doubt, under him Muslim influence increased somewhat.
However, Muhammad Shah (Sri Maharaja) who followed, obviously adopted the style of a Hindu king. He did, after all, begin his reign with the name Sri Maharaja. He is credited with having established the traditional hierarchy and court protocol of the Hindu Sri Vijaya.
Though he embraced Islam later in his reign, his marriage to the princess of Rokan, a stronghold of the Hindu traditions, suggests a resurgence of Hindu-Buddhist influences in Malacca. Their son was called Raja Ibrahim but he would actually represent the Hindu faction in Malacca.
This Hindu influence became very marked when the Raja of Rokan seized power, on Muhammad Shah's death, and gave his nephew Raja Ibrahim, the almost purely Hindu title of Sri Parameswara Dewa Shah.
The Raja of Rokan's actions brought matters to a head. The mastermind behind the palace revolution of 1446 was unmistakably Tun Ali, leader of the Muslim faction at the Malacca Court.
The feud between the Muslim and Hindu camps had to be ended if Malacca was to continue to prosper and also withstand the threat of its rivals, especially the Siamese. Hence the reconciliation which involved a reshuffle of top positions and which included a beautiful woman (Tun Kudu) as part of the bargain.
Beyond these manoeuvrings lay still more basic realities. Muhammad Shah (Sri Maharaja) had spent two years in China because there was no boat to take him back home. By the mid-1430s the far-reaching Ming voyages had come to an end and the Chinese were reverting to their traditional self-sufficiency. This was a very serious matter for Malacca which, from the very beginning, had relied on Chinese patronage and protection in order to survive.
On the other hand, the influence of the Muslim traders in the Straits of Malacca was steadily on the rise and Malacca itself was swiftly emerging as the natural entrepot for a trade which would embrace the whole archipelago. This was a trend to be encouraged and offered the best hope for Malacca's future prosperity and greatness.
The palace revolution of 1446 and the accession of Muzaffar Shah (Raja Kassim) with the assistance of his cousin and Tamil Muslim mastermind Tun Ali was indeed a turning point in our history, a real millennium marker. It marked the permanence of Islamic influence in the Malay Sultanate.