During the recent school holidays, 75 Nalanda Dhamma School students from Sri Serdang and Johor Bahru were privileged to go on a study tour of Kedah’s historical sites and learn about the state’s amazing connection with early Buddhism, going back some 2,100 years! The tour, which ran from 7 – 10 June, was led by Bro. Tan, an acknowledged expert on Buddhist history. Among the interesting places visited were Semeling Jetty Complex; Bujang Valley Archaeological Museum in Merbok; as well as Wat Nikrodharam and Rumah Merdeka in Alor Setar.
Indeed with his superb knowledge of local geography, Bro. Tan brought to life the history of Bujang Valley and the surrounding Kuala Muda District when he vividly described how ancient traders sailed from India across the Bay of Bengal and built settlements in Bujang Valley. Artefacts such as stone caskets with inscriptions, stone tablets, ceramics, metal tools and statuettes which were found at archaeological sites in the area are on display in the local museum. There are also numerous ‘candi’ which had been unearthed in the valley and relocated to the vicinity of the museum.
In Semeling, the students also visited the Mangrove Forest Museum to get a closer look at the mangrove ecosystem. On the long canopy walk built over the swamp, Bro. Tan gave an interesting, spontaneous illustration on how we can relate the Dhamma to our daily activities.
Another interesting destination was Wat Nikrodharam in Alor Setar. The trees which surround the temple make it a shady oasis in the city centre; it also provides spiritual shelter to Buddhists from their worldly concerns. The architecture at Wat Nikrodharam is a quaint mixture of strong Thai elements and Chinese motifs. Both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions are cherished at the temple. While there, Bro. Tan shared the story of Vessantara Jataka and reminded students of the practice of non-attachment.
Lastly, the students visited Rumah Merdeka, home to Malaysia’s first Prime Minister – the late Tunku Abdul Rahman. It houses a collection of the Tunku’s mementos and is well maintained by the National Archives Department as a historical building.
The facilitators and students of Nalanda Dhamma School were grateful to Bro. Tan for sharing his great understanding and passion for history and cultural heritage with them. The journey had taken them back in time and given everyone deeper knowledge and appreciation of our local history and glorious past, which cannot be replicated in a classroom. Sadhu anumodana!