TODAY, Malaysia installs her 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong — Sultan Muhammad V, who is also Kelantan’s 29th sultan.
The title and rotational system of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is unique to Malaysia. It practises the concept of the primus inter pares — the first among all equals.
It was created as a compromise and recognition of the nine sovereign rulers of Peninsular Malaysia, formerly Malaya. It recognises the historical underpinnings of the government structures and the culture that was formed within, and as a result of the palace’s influence among the citizens in the past.
The music, attire and even personality of different states is translated into the different installations with the different Yang di-Pertuan Agong who have come and gone. The Nobat, in the context of the Kelantanese equivalent, is the “Pasukan Gendang Besar D’Raja Kelantan”. The reference signifies the differences between each state with a governing sultan.
I sat down and witnessed the Gendang D’Raja playing at annual events to celebrate the sultan’s birthday in Kelantan — they are constantly there to escort the sultan’s entrance and departure. The instruments that are being used are that of a serunai, one that I had the pleasure of touching and appreciating the details of the serunai used for the Gendang D’Raja. The presence of a rebab, too, is something that is unique and found apart from the Gendang D’Raja.
The instruments that will be accompanying the king would be over 150 years old — and possibly installed formerly two to three past Kelantanese sultan, if not the only other Kelantanese Yang di-Pertuan Agong in 1976 — Almarhum Sultan Yahya Petra.
The significance of Islam in the ceremonial rites is dominating. The Quran is placed on the king’s right, and accompanies the event, as the Quran bears witness to the proclamation and installation of Malaysia’s head of state.
The Keris Diraja in itself is significant as it is a combination of all the nine keris originating from all the nine sultanates in Malaysia. It sits on the king’s left. All of which has been combined to form one that signifies the power of the king — the first of all equals.
The coordination and planning of such an event, involving more than 10 rulers or their representatives, not only from Malaysia, but from Brunei, too, records the soft investment in preserving Malaysia’s culture, tradition and history.
The monarchy had initially been put in place to act as an additional check and balance towards ensuring the rights of the people.
More predominantly now, the sultans are not sultans to the Malays, but the Chinese and Indians, too. The monarchial institution has grown, and should grow to be an outlet to ensure the rights of the people are protected and not abused by other parties.
In Islam, leaders are reminded that, despite and because of the additional power that has been given to them upon birth, they will be judged differently, if not according to the power that has been given to them.
And, maybe this then, is the reason for such natural laws to place such importance as to be able to witness the procession of the installation of the head of state, which should be reminded of the responsibilities invested upon leaders who amass power.
One reminder, of which my mother’s father, my grandfather, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was previously the prime minister and chief minister of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu, constantly reminded himself of.
Forty-two years ago was the last time Kelantan had its sultan become the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Within that four years of Sultan Yahya Petra’s reign as the Agong, Kelantan was able to see the setting up of the Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Medical Faculty — the famous Hospital USM in Kubang Kerian — today with its purple building decorating Kelantan.
Needless to say, its presence changed the Kelantanese economic system and became reasons for non-Kelantanese to break the ice and visit Kelantan.
As my family members prepared for today’s event and were privileged enough to be invited to Istana Negara, a sense of nostalgia overcomes them — my father, aunts and uncles witnessed their grandfather become the first of all equals, while my grandaunts witnessed their father. “Zame dulu lain. Dok srupo loni” (Zaman dahulu lain, bukan serupa sekarang — It was different before, very much unlike now), my grandaunts would say.
In 1976, the installation of the king was not held at Istana Negara, but at Dewan Tunku Abdul Rahman, near Saloma restaurant in Jalan Ampang. My aunts would recollect memories of them peeking through the curtains during state banquets when they were as young as 5.
The day that his four years’ reign came to an end also felt just like yesterday, as they would recollect Sultan Yahya Petra’s last task of having to meet the then crown prince Hassan of Jordan on March 29, 1979, at 3pm. It was a normal day, where the palace would prepare for the crown prince of Jordan to seek his majesty’s audience later that afternoon.
But, as my father, his grandfather and his grandmother enjoyed their nasi dagang for lunch, and as my aunt put her tutu on to prepare for her ballet class, no one knew we would lose our
sixth Yang di-Pertuan Agong at 3.30pm that very day.
For the family, it was a day that we lost our father and grandfather, but most importantly, a uniting factor of the family — he ensured his children and grandchildren all lived under one roof. It was a shock that would still bring the family to tears after all these years.
Recollections of my aunts and uncle during the time that they resided in Istana Negara as children were filled with stories surrounding the cinema in the old Istana Negara, if not running around the fields of the old national palace, which is now the Royal Museum.
My father and his friends, family friends of other royal households, such as Perlis, have also stored memories in the beautiful colonial architecture building during the four years of Sultan Yahya Petra’s reign.
Today will be the start of another chapter for the Kelantan royal family. Malaysians have been excited and welcoming our Kelantan sultan with open arms. In the short amount of time, Sultan Muhammad V and his simplicity, as well as robes, have become an icon and a sight that most would pride themselves on bearing witness to.
The excited faces of the Kelantanese whom I have met before the swearing-in ceremony, upon confirmation of Sultan Muhammad V’s ascendancy last year, are still imprinted in my mind. As a girl who grew up in Kuala Lumpur but prefers to be identified through her Kelantanese family and roots, I am a proud Kelantanese to witness and share the much-loved, adored and admired sultan of my state.
Ask any Kelantanese, and they would proudly say the same thing, too. To say it in Kelantanese terms, “Sultan kawe, Agong demo.”
Tengku Nur Qistina Petri, a grand-daughter of former prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, is also the daughter of the Tengku Temenggong of Kelantan.