Kelantan State

Kelantan State

Arguably the most unique state in Malaysia, Kelantan is famous for its distinctive culture, a rich blend of ancient traditions and Islamic values, tinged with Thai and Buddhist influence.

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No other state in Malaysia leaves a more lasting impression on its visitors than Kelantan. Yet to experience rapid industrialization, it is a place where age old traditions and customs still hold sway, and life goes on unperturbed by the trappings of modernity. Kelantan is rather conservative, and is governed on Islamic values, something that sets its aside from the rest of Malaysia. Traditional pursuits are very much alive in this state, and are still practiced by a large number of the Kelantanese populace.

The true beauty of Kelantan lies in its difference – its culture, its people and its language. The Kelantanese speak a Malay dialect that is almost a completely different language, with its own grammar and pronunciation. Kite flying and top spinning are highly regarded art forms in the state and favourite pastimes, while traditional dances, along with the state's most unique performance, shadow puppetry, are still weekly affairs that never fail to attract an appreciative audience.

A visit to Kelantan is like a journey into a different world, where a slower and more relaxed pace of life, filled with simple pleasures, holds sway. Experience the warmth of its people as you immerse yourself in a proud culture that is both bewildering and breathtaking. Put simply, Kelantan is a place to remember.

Early Kelantan settlements, which were bordering the present day Narathiwat Province of Thailand, had links to most of regional empires of that era, including the Funan Kingdom, the Khemer Empire, Srivijaya, and most importantly, its neighbour and overlord, Siam. Kelantan rose to prominence as an important hub for trading after gaining independence from Siam in 1411. Lacking cohesion, the state was divided up and ruled by local chieftains and this was to continue for at least a couple of centuries.

Efforts to unify Kelantan began around 1775, under an aristocrat from Patani named Long Yunus. Although successful, the fledgling state of Kelantan was under constant attack from neighbouring Terengganu, and Long Yunus channeled most of his time addressing these attacks until his death in 1800. His successor, Long Muhammad, however, was finally able to settle the Terengganu threat through strategic planning and proclaimed himself ruler of Kelantan, adopting the name Sultan Muhammad I. His demise in turn sparked another power struggle that erupted into all out civil war. The matter was finally settled in 1835, when his nephew, Long Senik Mulut Merah, prevailed and ascended the throne as Sultan Muhammad II.

Using the loose alliance which Kelantan enjoyed with the Siam to his advantage, Sultan Muhammad II formed the modern Kelantan state on the eastern bank of the Kelantan River. In 1909, Siam’s influence over Kelantan ended when it had to relinquish the state to the British under the terms of the Bangkok Treaty. The state then became one of the Unfederated Malay States with a British Advisor, who was the real power in the state. Kelantan also holds the dubious honour of being the invasion point of the Japanese in their conquest of the Malay Peninsula in World War II, during which the state was placed under Siamese rule once again. The state was returned to the British at the end of World War II and was one of the founding states of the Federation of Malaya.