Singapore has her fair share of legends and mysteries still yet to be confirmed. Besides Sang Nila Utama’s landing in Singapore, the legend of Radin Mas Ayu is the other tale tied strongly to Telok Blangah.
Radin Mas Ayu was a Javanese princess, known to be beautiful and filial, who grew up in a village located within Telok Blangah. But how did this member of Javanese royalty end up on our shores to meet her unfortunate demise?
Javanese-style gold jewellery discovered at Bukit Larangan (Fort Canning Hill), 14th century.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.
It all started with a love story between a royal and a commoner.
Pangeran Adipati Agung was a warrior much loved by the people and was the brother of a Sultan within the Javanese Kingdom. While enjoying a dance performance at the palace, he fell in love with the lead dancer of the troupe.
However, Pangeran’s status meant that he could not marry a commoner. Despite this fact, the law was unable to keep the two apart and they wedded in secret. Soon after the wedding, they bore a beautiful daughter.
They named her Radin Mas Ayu, which translates into ‘Golden Princess’.
This simple happiness came to a premature end once the Sultan found out. Furious and bent on punishment, the Sultan sent Pangeran out to battle when the kingdom was being threatened by hostile invaders. With Pangeran away, the Sultan ordered his men to burn the couple’s house down. Radin Mas was rescued by a loyal servant but the young girl lost her mother to the unforgiving flames. The dancer perished in this fire together with her hope of Pangeran and the Sultan reconciling with one another.
Upon his victorious return from the battlefield, Pangeran severed ties with the Sultan and the Kingdom once he found out what had happened. He turned his back on the place he once called home, along with Radin Mas and the loyal servant.
Arrival in Singapore
The trio landed in Singapore by ship and settled down in a village within Telok Blangah to start a new life. Pangeran’s royal lineage remained undiscovered, until he led some brave villagers to defeat a group of pirates who had been harassing the island.
View of the Temenggong's village at Telok Blangah and St. James, 1870s.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore.
This news reached the ears of the Sultan of Singapore, who invited Pangeran to the palace as a gesture of appreciation. Coincidentally, an envoy from Java happened to be at the palace at the same time and disclosed Pangeran’s identity.
This disclosure led to Pangeran’s second marriage - this time to the daughter of the Sultan of Singapore. A son, named Tengku Chik, was born to them.
While these events were all taking place, Radin Mas had grown to become a beautiful woman and her beauty sparked jealousy within her new stepmother. This jealousy was fanned even more when Pangeran took his daughter’s side when the stepmother accused Radin Mas of injuring her little stepbrother on purpose with a fallen broken plate.
Radin Mas’ youth and closeness to Pangeran will prove to be both a blessing and a curse in the events that followed.
The Marriage Plot
To get rid of Radin Mas and to make her pay for the incident, the stepmother enlisted the help of her nephew Tengku Bagus to plot against her and Pangeran.
Leveraging on Tengku Bagus’s love for Radin Mas, the stepmother plotted to marry Radin Mas off. After all, once married, Radin Mas will be out of the family and no longer able to compete for Pangeran’s affections.
Tengku Bagus set the plan into motion by intoxicating Pangeran on drugged wine and imprisoning him in an unused deep well. With this trump card in his hand, he went on to propose to Radin Mas - threatening to kill her father if she was to refuse.
From Solemnisation to Funeral
The solemnisation took place almost immediately, and everything was going according to plan. Radin Mas did as she was told and even lied that Pangeran had died when asked if she received permission to marry - all actions born out of fear for her father’s life.
However, Tengku Chik let slip that he saw Pangeran alive in an unused well. With the plot revealed and Pangeran eventually rescued, Tengku Bagus feared Pangeran’s revenge. In an attempt to avoid such a fate, he drew his kris to kill Pangeran first. But Radin Mas was the one to lose her life, as she sprung forward to shield her beloved father.
Keris, 19th century.
Collection of Asian Civilisations Museum.
Though this is where the legend ends, it is believed that her stepmother was struck by lightning when escaping during the commotion and lost her life as well.
Remembering Radin Mas
Her humble shrine, known as Keramat Radin Mas, now sits at the foot of Mount Faber, among several black-and-white bungalows which have been gazetted as heritage buildings. With only a small sign hanging at the entrance, Radin Mas’s tomb may be easy to miss.
However, she is far from forgotten - her name taking on life in the form of a primary school, community centre and an entire constituency today after Kampong Radin Mas was cleared in 1973 to make way for HDB flats.
Today, this neighbourhood named after the princess is mainly a residential area. Perhaps a reflection of the familial love that we all remember her for.