Bentala Naga synopsis

A MALAYSIAN HIKAYAT LEGEND

ONCE upon a time there was a landmass shaped like a crocodile foot. Its name was Sundaland and it dwarfed the neighbouring Indian subcontinent. Here, in the birthplace of the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago, rice was first grown, bronze first smelted. (Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia (Stephen Oppenheimer, 1999)).

Between 14,000 and 7,000 years ago, geologists believe, cataclysmic floods left large parts of the Sunda continent under the sea. Many scholars now argue that Egypt and Mesopotamia were not the cradles of civilisation, as once thought, but Sundaland of which Funan, Champa, Srivijaya, Majapahit and Melaka were some archipelago kingdoms among hundreds.

When their land disappeared, the locals became seafarers, spreading their genes and stories worldwide. Many also believe that this deluge was the source of the Atlantis myth and the Great Flood. The remaining Sunda archipelago became the largest maritime civilisation in world.

Interestingly, many local communities, in the thousands of islands of the Malay Archipelago, have stories (with variations) of under-sea kingdoms and cities. Sejarah Melayu has one where Raja Suran descends into the sea in a β€œchest of glass, with a lock in the inside, and ... a chain of gold” to a land denominated Zeya”, marries Putri Mahtab-al-Bahri with whom he has three sons (who subsequently appear at Bukit Siguntang Mahameru and become the progeny of the Melayu race).

A fanciful tale? No doubt. Still, where did this idea of under-sea kingdoms originate?