Figure 1. The first 2 pages of of the manuscript PNRI A 161, Idrāk al-Ḥaqīqah fī Takhrīj Aḥādith al-Ṭarīqah. fols.1v-2r.

Contesting sultans and the ownership of the Palembang royal manuscripts

by Alan Darmawan

Who owned the books in the royal library of the Palembang Sultanate? A general answer is not difficult to provide: royal family members owned the collection of manuscripts. However, when it comes to names during a certain historical period, this basic question about book ownership is embroiled in the sociopolitical dynamics of the kingdom. Among the momentous events that changed the course of history of the Sultanate of Palembang, the early 19th century witnessed two competing sultans, and wars against the British and Dutch that eventually brought an end to local rule. In this post, we will look at this dual sultanship through some notes in a royal manuscript.

Dual kings appeared to be a conundrum from within the sultanate, although external factors might have stimulated it to occur. Thomas Stamford Raffles (b. 1781–d. 1826), a British lieutenant in Melaka, initiated British colonial expansion in the Malay archipelago, persuading the local rulers to join him to drive away the Dutch VOC in Batavia. Despite failing to convince Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin (r. 1804-1812)1 to take the British side in 1811, Raffles successfully invaded and took over Batavia. After the fall of Batavia, an assault on the Dutch and their lodge happened in Palembang, and sultan and his son were accused of being responsible for the violence. The British in Batavia, who thought of the Dutch as under their “protection,” blamed Sultan Mahmud and sent a fleet to “punish” him, attacking the Palembang fortress and occupying the palace in April 1812. Sultan Mahmud took refuge upstream (uluan), while his brother, Pangeran Adipati, acted as the military commander and  remained in the town. Surprisingly, Pangeran Adipati took the side of Palembang’s opponent, the British, and was immediately installed as Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin by them. From that event in 1812, rivalry prevailed, with Mahmud Badaruddin and Ahmad Najamuddin taking over the throne alternately, passing it down to their respective sons, titled Pangeran Ratu and Prabu Anom, until the annihilation of the sultanate and the establishment of a Dutch colony in Palembang in 1825.

It is in this context that the scramble for the throne extended to the claims over the library collection, which are recorded in some surviving manuscripts sent to Batavia. These manuscripts came to the Batavia Society or Koninklijk Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen (KBG) through the Khatib Imam of Palembang, Kiagus Haji Abdul Malik, who presented four Arabic works to the Batavia Society in 1875 (Drewes 1977:201-2; Iskandar 1986:60-70). The khatib imam may have acquired the manuscripts from the kraton, given the patronage relationship between the royal family and the imam heading the sultan’s mosque, or they came to him through local intermediaries after the looting of the palace. These manuscripts entered the collection of the Batavia Society. Following the transfer of the items to the library of Museum Pusat in Jakarta, and then, to Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia (PNRI), they are included in the collection of Arabic manuscripts, nos. A 160-163.

Out of the four Arabic manuscripts, we take a look at A 161 entitled Idrāk al-Ḥaqīqah fī Takhrīj Aḥādith al-Ṭarīqah (Figure 1). This is a copy of the work by Ali bin Hasan bin Sadaqa al-Misri written in 1640, containing a 403-page survey of the tradition mentioned in al-Ṭarīqah al-Muḥammadiyyah’s collection of sermons and homilies by Turkish preacher and scholar Muhammad bin Pir Ali al-Birgivi or Birgili (1523–1573) (Drewes 1977: 202).  A note on the fol. 1r. appears to indicate a correspondence, probably between the copyist and an Uthmani ulama or legal authority dated AH 1157 or AD 1744, which might be considered the date of the completion of copying.2 On the same page, another note explains the owner of the manuscript, as following:

Alamat kitab Sri Paduka Susuhunan Ratu Mahmud Badaruddin ibn al-Sultan Muhammad Baha’uddin ibn Susuhunan Ahmad Najamuddin ibn al-Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin ibn al-Sultan Muhammad al-Mansur ibn Susuhunan Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Sultan Jamaluddin yang bertahta kerajaan dalam negeri Palembang Darussalam. 

Translated as:

Sign of the book of His Majesty [Senior] King Mahmud Badaruddin, son of Sultan Muhammad Baha’uddin [who is] son of [Senior] King Ahmad Najamuddin son of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin son of Sultan Muhammad Mansur son of [Senior] King Abd al-Rahman son of Sultan Jamaluddin, ruling the Sultanate of Palembang the Abode of Peace.

Figure 2. Competing statements of ownership on the fol. 1r of the manuscript PNRI A 161, Idrāk al-Ḥaqīqah fī Takhrīj Aḥādith al-Ṭarīqah. Source: photo by Alan Darmawan, courtesy of PNRI via Dr Aditia Gunawan.

The above note must have been written after 1812 when Sultan Mahmud scrambled for power against his brother. In the context of an internal conflict, another statement written to the left of the above-mentioned sign asserts the ownership of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin’s brother, then Pangeran Adipati and later to become Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin. This contender’s statement of ownership reads:

Alamat kitab Sri Paduka Susuhunan Ratu Husin Dia’uddin ibn Sultan Muhammad Baha’uddin ibn Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin ibn Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin Lemabang.

Translated as:

Sign of the book of His Majesty [Senior] King Husin Dia’uddin, son of Sultan Muhammad Baha’uddin [who is] son of Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin son of Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin [buried] in Lemabang [royal cemetery].

This note is written on the left margin diagonally. The note’s position in the marginal space indicates that it is an addition, inserted later than the existing one written right in the centre of the page. Further, “Susuhunan Husin Dia’uddin” is the title for Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin after becoming a senior king, using his birth name added with the honorific dia’uddin. As the contending claims represented by two notes ascribing the ownership of the manuscripts to two senior king (susuhunan), they must have been written, and another one added, after Mahmud Badaruddin was given the title of susuhunan in 1819 and Ahmad Najamuddin in 1821, when their sons came to the office of Sultan of Palembang, respectively Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin Pangeran Ratu (son of Susuhunan Mahmud Badaruddin) ruling in 1819-1821 and Ahmad Najamuddin Prabu Anom (son of Susuhunan Husin Dia’uddin) ruling in 1821-1825. Despite general assumption that susuhunan (senior king) is a title for a retired sultan (i.e. once his heir has been enthroned), this is not always the case in practice, as indicated by some treatises between Palembang and the VOC and this case of contestation, in which the susuhunan continues to play an active role in the affairs of the sultanate. These competing claims over manuscripts shed light on the protracted scramble for the throne to the ownership of the Palembang royal library collection.

Dr. Alan Darmawan is Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow,
SOAS University of London, United Kingdom.


  1. After 1821, Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin was back in office in Jul-Aug 1813 and Jun 1818-Dec 1819, interrupted by his brother who was in power in Apr 1812-Jul 1813 and Aug 1813-Jun 1818 as Sultan Ahmad Najamuddin .
  2. Thanks to Dr Zacky Khairul Umam for help deciphering this note.