Festive memories and traditions in Kuala Kangsar

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The tradition of constructing lamp structures during Ramadan is observed to this day in Kampung Ribu, Kuala Kangsar. (Persatuan Penggemar Panjut Kampung Ribu pic)

PETALING JAYA: Located approximately 40km from Ipoh, Perak is the royal town of Kuala Kangsar.

Despite exuding a quaint, small-town charm, signs of its royal status are evident everywhere, from the grand Iskandariah Palace and striking Kenangan Palace (now the Perak Royal Museum) to the stunning Ubudiah Mosque.

Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, Raja Kamar Azhar, son of former Perak Raja Muda Raja Ahmed Siffuddin, shed light on this royal town’s Ramadan and Hari Raya traditions – some still practised; others revived; and some, perhaps, lost forever.

A revived tradition

The tradition of lighting lamps, or “panjut”, during Ramadan was a grand affair when Raja Kamar Azhar was younger. Villagers would construct impressive structures with these lamps outside their homes and would regularly hold contests.

“Each house would have lamps. Even if the owners didn’t build structures, they arranged lamps on the fences. It was really beautiful,” the 54-year-old shared.

When one stood on the bank of the Perak River, the view from the opposite side would be mesmerising as the lamps lit up the night. There would even be rafts on the river fully decorated with lamps!

To save money, kids would collect milk cans to create makeshift lamps, while some villagers would use bamboo. “Simply put oil and a wick inside and it would light up,” he said.

Children loved the idea so much that they’d start collecting milk cans as soon as Hari Raya ended, in preparation for the following year!

The tradition is believed to have tapered off in the late 1980s but, happily, was revived after 2000 in Kampung Ribu, which FMT Lifestyle visited. Check back in soon for this story.

Raja Kamar Azhar has fond memories of the festive traditions in Kuala Kangsar. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Lasting traditions

One activity that has stood the test of time is “Meriam Talang”, or the firing of cannons in the paddy fields of Kampung Talang. It is believed this activity dates back to the 1930s.

These cannons were made from bamboo and, later on, iron. “The sound could be heard from miles away!” Raja Kamar Azhar said.

Another tradition still observed is the announcement of the breaking of fast, not only from mosque loudspeakers but via a siren blaring from the police station.

Lost traditions

One practice that has died with the advent of technology is the announcing of the start of Ramadan or Raya with the firing of a cannon.

“Back then, a cannon would be fired from the palace to announce the start of Ramadan or Raya the next day, because not everyone had televisions,” Raja Kamar Azhar explained.

Some might remember that Perak and Johor once celebrated Hari Raya a day earlier than the rest of the country because the moon had been sighted in some locations but not in others.

He recalled that the navy had sighted the moon in Lumut, which signified the end of Ramadan. The matter was brought to the knowledge of the mufti, who later informed the sultan.

“So, that night, the police went from one village to another to announce that on the decree of His Majesty, the Sultan of Perak, Raya would be celebrated in Perak the following day.”

‘Meriam Talang’, the firing of cannons, is still practised in Kampung Talang, Kuala Kangsar. (YouTube pic)

Another lost tradition is a game called “main ngantor”, played during Ramadan.

“One group runs and hides, while the other must find them. The ‘play’ area was all over Kuala Kangsar,” Raja Kamar Azhar shared, adding that those who were “found” would be smeared with flour!

In those days, villagers would allow players to hide and search inside their homes. It is believed that by the late 1970s, the game was no longer played.

There was also a strong sense of unity and community as villagers would go around visiting those who celebrated Hari Raya. Children, Raja Kamar Azhar said, looked forward to collecting “duit raya”.

And it would be a multicultural affair: “Back then, every Hari Raya, my mum’s Indian and Chinese friends visited us. Likewise, during Deepavali or Chinese New Year, we paid them a visit, and they would cook for us.

“These relationships are very different these days, not just in Kuala Kangsar, and it’s a loss,” Raja Kamar Azhar concluded.

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