HDB estate with grave links to the past

HDB estate with grave links to the past
The zinc-roofed shack in Bukit Purmei used by the graveyard’s caretaker. The kampung setting has rich flora and fauna, from hibiscus shrubs to mango trees, that encircle the compound. The hsitorical site holds historical and spiritual significance, receiving some 50 or so visitors a month.

SINGAPORE- Hidden beside a block of HDB flats and a childcare centre in Bukit Purmei Ville is a little- known graveyard with possible links to the descendants and successors of early Singapore's legendary founder, Sang Nila Utama.

Shrouded in heavy foliage, the Muslim burial ground Tanah Kubur Diraja and the compound, Keramat Bukit Kasita, are easy to miss.

Not much is known about the 200 or so tombs there - except that they belong to the Johor sultanate, which Singapore was part of between the 16th and 19th centuries. Some accounts describe how the graveyard could have been opened as early as 1530 by Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah II - the seventh descendant of Sang Nila Utama, a prince who founded the kingdom of Singapura in 1299.

But historian and archaeologist John Miksic, an associate professor at the department of South-east Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, said the graves, like those in the Radin Mas area, are not ancient and date back to the early and mid-19th century - when Singapore and Johor were part of the same sultanate under Sultan Hussein.

During the 19th century, the temenggong of Riau and his people lived near the Masjid Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim in Telok Blangah Road. They had some graves around the mosque, but others were erected at Tanah Kubor Diraja.

There are numerous legends about the graves in Radin Mas, added Professor Miksic - including one of a 16th-century princess who sacrificed her life for her father's at the foot of Mount Faber. While these are not "acceptable as historical facts", they have a role to play in the community.

The site, for instance, is regarded as a place with spiritual significance for the 50 or so devotees who visit every month to pay their respects to the dead and seek the spiritual counsel of its 62-year-old volunteer caretaker, who wanted to be known only as Mami Umi.

"They come from countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia to pay their respects," she said. "I'm also here to pray for their needs - if they are sick for example, or if they have something weighing on their minds."

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