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Crowning of 5th Johor Sultan

July 29, 1886, saw Johor creating history with the first-ever coronation of a Malay ruler witnessed in Malaya, that of Sultan Abu Bakar.

Since then, there have been two more coronation ceremonies for the Johor Sultanate.

Sultan Sir Ibrahim was crowned on Nov 2, 1895. Johor and the nation then waited 65 years for the coronation of Sultan Ismail on Feb 10, 1960.

The coronation of Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar will be held on Monday.

The 55-year gap is because the late Sultan Iskandar, who ascended the throne on May 10, 1981, and passed away on Jan 22, 2010, did not wish to be crowned.


Preparations are under way at Istana Bukit Serene in Johor Baru for the coronation
of Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar as the fifth sultan of Johor on Monday. File pic

His Royal Highness Sultan Ibrahim had chosen May 5 to reflect the fact that he was the fifth sultan of modern Johor.

A coronation is defined as an act of placing a crown on the head. Since Johor is the first Malay state to have a crown for its ruler, it is correct to assume the terminology “coronation.”

Rulers of other states undergo an installation ceremony on their accession to the throne.

States like Selangor, Kelantan and Terengganu commissioned crowns for their rulers 30 years after Johor, but do not hold a coronation ceremony.

Instead, the rulers are installed and crowned at the same time.

In Johor, the coronation of the sultan is not a legal requirement but a hereditary and customary tradition to enhance the daulat (divine element of kingship) of the ruler.

On the demise of a ruler, the Jumaah Pangkuan Negeri (Council of the Supporters of the Country) confirms and appoints the heir apparent as the new ruler, who then takes the oath of office.

Prior to the burial of the late ruler, the menteri besar proclaims the heir as sultan and sovereign ruler followed by three cries of “Daulat Tuanku” (Hail the King).

The oath as prescribed in the First Schedule of the Johor State Constitution of 1895 and the proclamation fulfil the legality of the appointment.

The coronation ceremony may be held at any time the ruler so desires.

The rulers of the ancient kingdom of Johor (Johor Lama) under the descendants of the Malacca Sultanate and the Bendahara dynasty assumed the title of “sultan”.

When he took possession and ownership of the state and government of Johor except the province of Kesang, a territory between the Kesang and Muar rivers, from Sultan Ali following a cessation agreement in 1855, Temenggong Ibrahim did not use the title “sultan” in deference to Sultan Ali, who clamoured for recognition although he no longer possessed Johor.

Abu Bakar continued to use the title of Dato’ Temenggong Sri Maharaja upon his accession to the throne, later truncating it to Maharaja.

Aware that the title of “sultan” will elevate his status and authority above the British governor and at par, if not higher, with other Malay rulers, Abu Bakar took steps to obtain the title.

The Malay rulers and the British regarded Abu Bakar as nobility, but had no right to the throne although he possessed royal lineage from the old kingdom of Johor.

Some Malay rulers shunned him at ceremonies. He was ridiculed by the descendants of Sultan Hussain, the sultan of Johor who was conveniently installed by Sir Stamford Raffles in order to fulfil British political control and trade.

The British feared that Abu Bakar as sultan may influence the Malay rulers against them. Abu Bakar sought advice from his kinsmen in Riau for use of the title. His crowning glory came in 1885 through the Treaty of Friendship, when the British recognised him and his heirs to the Johor throne as sultan of Johor, 23 years after ascending the throne.

Malay traditionalists believe as a fountain of justice, a ruler must possess an aura of sanctity, or daulat, an institutional charisma and a supreme expression of the quality of majesty to protect his command and his dignity.

Daulat is the foundation of legitimation comprising several related elements, including ownership of the state, political legitimacy and rules of succession, a legal and recognised status, a people to rule, regalia and a set of laws.

By 1879 Abu Bakar had full ownership of Johor when Kesang became a territory of the state, recognised with a legal status, a population to rule, and feudal and Islamic laws to be adhered to.

He wanted a more tangible symbol to confirm his sovereignty. He commissioned a crown and the insignias of authority as part of regalia for his coronation.

To complement the heraldry, he designed flags, a coat-of-arms and instituted two orders of chivalry, the Darjah Kerabat Yang Amat Dihormati (Most Esteemed Order of the Royal Family) and the Darjah Mahkota Johor Yang Amat Mulia (Most Honourable Order of the Crown of Johor).

On Feb 13, 1886, Abu Bakar was officially proclaimed by the Dato’ Menteri Besar Jaafar Mohammad as sultan of Johor at a simple, but historic ceremony at the Throne Room of the Istana Besar: “Here ye all who are in attendance, that His Highness Maharaja of Johor, Abu Bakar, our beloved Raja had adopted the new title of Sultan of Johor and its territory as has been acknowledged by Her Majesty Queen Victoria of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India as was dictated in the latest Treaty between the government of Her Majesty and His Highness.

“Therefore, we should all thank God of All Universe for His Blessing and, therefore, on this day it is announced and we should all know of the new title and refer His Highness Sultan for the State and Territory of Johor, and we should notify it to our family members and friends who are not in attendance today for this announcement.”

A grand coronation ceremony was held on July 29, 1886, upon his return from England. The people of Johor and Malaya gazed in awe at the glittering crown and regalia that was exhibited for the first time in the country.

The coronation was unique in many ways. Being the first ever coronation held in Johor and Malaya, there were no precedents. However, Abu Bakar and his ministers would have observed European court culture during his visits.

In spite of being handicapped by not having the experience it was indeed a commendable effort of the people of Johor then to successfully organise the event. The rituals and palace culture put in place during Abu Bakar’s coronation were adapted at the coronation of Sultan Ibrahim and Sultan Ismail, respectively.

Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli  is president of the Council of the Royal Court. An earlier version of this article was first published on Nov 6, 2013

The Royal Bathing ceremony



JOHOR BARU: Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar and his consort Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah attended the Siram Tabal (royal bath) ceremony held at Istana Besar at 3pm today.

The ceremony is a symbolic event carried out before the coronation ceremony to be held at Bukit Bintang compound at Istana Besar on Monday.

Basically, the ceremony is held to ward off bad luck and misfortunes from the Sultan and his family and ensure everything will be smooth during his reign.

The royal couple both sat on a blue dais placed on top of a seven-step staircase called Panca Persada.

The water used for the royal bath is taken from ten rivers in Johor to symbolise the ten districts in the state.

Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar and his consort Raja Zarith Sofiah Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah at the Royal Bathing ceremny. Pix by Yazit Razali

Sultan Ibrahim's eldest sister Tunku Kamariah performed the royal bath ceremony.

Also present to witness the ceremony were the Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Idris, his wife Che Puan Khaleeda Bustamam, Tunku Puteri Tun Aminah, Tunku Temenggong Johor Tengku Idris Iskandar, Tunku Panglima Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tunku Putera Johor Tunku Abu Bakar.




Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar and his consort Raja Zarith Sofiah Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah arriving at Istana Besar Johor Baru for the Royal Bathing ceremony. Pix by Khairull Azry Bidin


Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar and his consort Raja Zarith Sofiah
Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah at the Royal Bathing ceremny. Pix by Yazit Razali

A coronation steeped in Islamic, Malay traditions

HIS Highness Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar takes a personal interest in ensuring that his coronation ceremony will be exclusive and a success.

He wants the historic event to be cherished and remembered by his people as an appreciation of the initiatives of Abu Bakar, the Father of Modern Johor. He decreed the rituals and traditions as practised during the coronation of Johor sultans to be emulated, if not, improved. He makes personal inspections and is meticulous on details of the renovations at Istana Besar and Istana Bukit Serene, and the refurbishment of the Throne Room, spending hours at the venues.

Plans for the dais of the thrones, specifications for the extension of the throne room and other chambers, and the layouts of guest seats were presented for his approval. Special chairs for the Rulers were purpose built. He tested each chair for comfort, adjusting their height, design, colour and upholstery. He designed a purpose-built circular dining table for 38 guests so that they will have an unobtrusive view and can speak to each other during dinner. The design and material of the drapes and curtains, and of the plush carpets, were specially chosen, adding an air of magnificence and exclusivity.

He commissioned an exclusively-designed dinner service consisting of fine bone china in turquoise with a stylised design of pepper and gambier encrusted in gold. Each piece of the sterling silver cutlery acquired from Italy is etched with the royal cipher “S.I.” for Sultan Ibrahim. So, too, are the crystal drinking glasses and goblets. Silver plates imported from London used as under liners are engraved “Ibrahim II” in Jawi. The personalised fine linen from Vienna, Austria, is silver thread embroidered, also in the pepper and gambier motif.

Her Highness Raja Zarith Sofiah added feminine touches to the event. She was personally involved in the design of her coronation attire, and attire of the ladies-in-waiting, the penjawat peterana (maids of honour), page-boys and page-girls. She chose 14 young girls as penjawat peterana for the royal bathing ceremony. The girls, dressed in off-white baju kurung Telok Belanga with beige songket sarung and matching off-white tudung, were daughters of ranking officers of the Johor Civil Service. A yellow silk kain tetampan was worn on the right shoulder.

The coronation regalia, a group of valuable and symbolic pieces are kept secure at the vaults of the Bank Negara branch in Johor Baru. The regalia consists of the magnificent state crown commissioned by Abu Bakar in 1885 after being recognised as Sultan of Johor by the British. The oriental crown, by Crown Jewellers J. W. Benson of London, is based on England’s King Edward’s crown, but the emblems of Christianity were replaced with crescents and five-pointed stars depicting Islam. The crown is encrusted with diamonds and precious stones. It is surmounted with the words Allah and Muhammad in the Jawi script. The diadem, first made together with the crown, was redesigned in 1922 to include diamonds encrusted on platinum.

Abu Bakar had buttons, epaulettes and gorgets for his coronation uniform in gold and silver. A silver aigrette with diamond pendants, various designs and shape of rings surmounted with precious stones were made at his request. The United States ambassador wrote in 1886 that the string of diamonds and precious stones worn by Abu Bakar at his coronation was valued at US$10 million (RM35 million). Abu Bakar commissioned a pair of bracelets, a diamond tiara, diamond studded ear rings, and rings, including a marquis cut yellow diamond ring and necklaces, for his consort.

Taking a page from European royal formal attire, Abu Bakar had a robe made for his coronation. The sword used during his coronation was a present from Queen Victoria in 1866. The crown jewels and regalia have been used for the coronation of Sultan Ibrahim in 1895 and Sultan Ismail in 1960. They will be used for the coronation of HRH Sultan Ibrahim.

The coronation is an amalgamation of Malay tradition and rituals, Islamic practices and Western culture. The celebrations will be conducted in connected phases, the prayers an Islamic practice, the bathing ritual a Malay tradition, the oath, the coronation, the levee and homage, which are Western adaptations. The royal procession in the city following the coronation and the royal tour of districts that follow complete the hectic programme. A day prior to the coronation, and in keeping with royal family traditions, His Highness will pay his respects and offer prayers to his ancestors interred in the Royal Mausoleum at Mahmoodiah and at Telok Belanga in Singapore.

The Istiadat Meletak Kerja (initiation of duties ceremony), a revival of an old tradition, was held on March 16 to mark the commencement of the celebrations. The tradition saw the State ceremonial flag that was designed by Abu Bakar in 1871 hoisted at Bukit Timbalan, the hill on which the State Secretariat, the seat of government, is located.

The last time the flag was raised there was to mark the beginning of the wedding celebrations of Sultan Ibrahim’s third and youngest son, Tunku Temenggong Ahmad, in 1922. For His Highness Sultan Ibrahim’s coronation, the ceremonial flag will be raised at the Johor Monument at the Royal Botanical Gardens of the Istana Besar. The simple ceremony will start with a proclamation by the Dato’ Penghulu Istiadat (Grand Master of Ceremonies), followed by a short prayer by the mufti. A 7-gun salute will accompany the raising of the flag hoisted by men of the Johor Military Forces. The flag will be flown until the official conclusion of the celebrations, when it will be lowered accompanied with a 3-gun salute.

During the coronation of Sultan Ismail, the menteri besar presented the Sword of State to His Royal Highness. The handsome bejewelled sword was a gift from the Johor government in 1935 to mark the 40th year of Sultan Sir Ibrahim’s reign. With royal assent, a change has been made for HRH Sultan Ibrahim’s coronation. The Johor government will present a sword to Sultan Ibrahim at a separate ceremony a week before the coronation. Made of the finest sword steel by a London firm, the sword has a ivory hilt with exquisite gold floral design incorporating replicas of the crown and the sultan’s monogram.

The scabbard has a matching ornate floral design embodying the crescent and nine-pointed star, replicas of the Johor coat-of-arms, Family Order and the Order of the Crown, and the Order of Sultan Ibrahim all set in diamonds and precious stones.

A bathing ritual (istiadat siram tabal) believed to cleanse the body and soul, and to ward off misfortunes, is held the next afternoon. There was a belief the ritual is adopted from the Hindu rites of cleansing of body and spirit.

However, a fatwa issued by the Johor mufti on Nov 27, 2013, confirmed the ritual was not associated with any culture. The edict clarified that Islam encourages bathing for personal hygiene and to cleanse oneself before the performance of daily chores. An obligatory bathing is performed after intimacy to cleanse oneself, failing which prayers will not be valid.

The edict advised that as the bathing ritual is part of a Malay tradition and did not in any way influence or affect Islamic beliefs, the ceremony may be held. The ritual will be held at a nine-tier octagonal pavilion (panca persada) at Bukit Bintang within the Royal Botanical Gardens. Nine is the highest cardinal number, symbolic of leadership. The pavilion is topped by a replica of the crown.

Abu Bakar was crowned alone as Maharani Fatimah did not wish to be crowned. The bathing ceremony was held for him alone. However, he bestowed the title Sultanah on Fatimah and had it engraved on all her personal effects and dinner service. Sultanah Khatijah, the other consort of Abu Bakar, was crowned alone at Istana Zahrah, witnessed only by lady guests.

A bathing ceremony was held for Sultan Sir Ibrahim and his consort, Tunku Ampuan Maimunah, a day prior to their coronation on Nov 2, 1895. Sultan Ibrahim’s later consort, Sultanah Rugayah, was crowned alone during the twin wedding ceremony of Tunku Mahkota Tunku (later Sultan) Ismail and Tunku Aris Bendahara Abu Bakar on Aug 30, 1920.

Sultan Abu Bakar stayed in Telok Belanga and moved to Johor Baru in 1878 and resided at Istana Zahrah located within the Istana Besar gardens. Sultan Ibrahim resided at Istana Persemayaman located next to the Istana Besar. As such, the bathing ceremony for Abu Bakar and Ibrahim, respectively, was held in the grounds of the nearby Istana Besar. The bathing ceremony for Sultan Ismail and his consort, Sultanah Aminah, was witnessed by family members and was held at Istana Bukit Serene a day prior to their coronation. Istana Bukit Serene, the official residential palace of the sultan of Johor, was built in 1935.

Sultan Ibrahim will don the traditional baju Melayu Telok Belanga for the bathing ritual. Her Highness Raja Zarith has chosen a beige taffeta baju kurung. Male Malay guests are required to put on the black baju Melayu Telok Belanga with black songket in the style of berdagang luar. Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli NST Nation 21 Mar 2015

Tags: raja, sultan
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