Monthly Archives: July 2011

A Little Quick Note –

A little notice here – you can just visit instead of It doesn’t really matter though which site you go to, you will be redirected instantly to the new website. So, reorganize your bookmarks, dear readers!


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Study – Islamic Architecture in the Malay Peninsula – Part 2 – Sino-Eclectic

This article is the continuation of the past post, Islamic Architecture in the Malay Peninsula.

The term Sino-Eclectic comes from two different terms ; Sino, meaning Chinese, denoting the Chinese influence and Eclectic, meaning two or more different influences of architecture.

There are two forms of mosques in this category – three tiered pyramidal roof and double tier pyramidal roof. Other than these differences in roof, the two forms are basically the same. The other difference these two forms were curvature of the roof ridges.

Mosques in the Sino-eclectic were built sitting on ground, unlike the Traditional Vernacular which is raised. They were put on slabs of concrete as foundation for the buildings where stone stairs connects the ground and the main building. The floor plan of the mosques in this style is quite similar to the Traditional Vernacular where the mosque is built in a square shaped plan, with veranda either surrounding the building or on three sides. The mosques are usually surrounded with masonry fencing with a gateway similar to that of a Chinese pagoda. A masonry pool acts as an ablution area and there are almost always a cemetery patch in the mosque compound. As mosques of this style were usually built in dense urban areas,t also features a relaxing environment with shady trees and seating where worshipers can socialize or relax after prayers.

The roof ridges were sometimes decorated in vegetal motifs, while the roofs are topped with Mastaka, a sculpture that resembles the Buddhist headdress. The rrof is made out of timber, supported by four main pillars and either nine or twelve perimeter pillars. The walls are masonry, while the doors and windows frames were made of timber. Floors are made out of concrete and often tiled. Usually thre are at last three doors on each wall except for the Qibla Wall.

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Miscellany – Twitter account for Stars in Symmetry

The blog now has a new Twitter account! Have an account yourself? please follow @starsinsymmetry for real time updates of the blog, even more effective than Facebook, which is in my opinion, slower.

Also included will be an occasional personal tweets from yours truly 😉

Looking forward to you, my readers, there!

EDIT – added the twitter widget on the left side banner so you can view the latest tweets as well as click the button to follow!

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Observations – The Sword of the Prophet Muhammad and the Staff of Prophet Moses Exhibition part.4 – Ottoman Sultanate Artifacts and the Gigantic Drum

For this final part of the The Sword of the Prophet Muhammad and the Staff of Prophet Moses Exhibition article, we will look into the last section of the exhibition where they displayed Ottoman sultanate artifacts and an ancient gargantuan drum from Indonesia. Actually there is another part of the exhibition, however it only displays a few fossils and a large petrified tree, irrelevant to this blog (or do you think otherwise? tell me in the comments!)

The room is a long t-shaped one supposed to be a lobby but now housing three artifacts, the drum and two from the Ottoman Sultanate, a continuation from the previous room.

The Royal Carriage of the Turkish Ottoman Sultans

Upon approaching the large doors and looking to the left visitors are presented with the Royal Carriage of the Ottoman Sultan. It was an ornate and beautifully made carriage fit for any king of course, no one was allowed to touch the vehicle. It was probably made during the last few centuries of the Ottoman empire, presumably 18th or 19th century where European decorations are in fashion in Ottoman Turkey. the carriage were heavily decorated with Ottoman standards, with gilding and ornaments in abundant. Inside there were boxes (surely not intended to be in the display) but the floors were upholstered with scarlet velvet, the colour of the Turkish flag. the curtains were given the same treatment decorated with gold coloured tassels. The seats  were upholstered with white leather with deep buttons. In short it is an extravagant show of wealth shown on a carriage.

The Royal Litter

Next to the Royal Carriage is the Royal Litter (no not litter as in garbage or litter as in a litter of cats, but a litter as in the mode of transportation where the person being  were borne usually on the shoulders of men). This looks to be much older than the carriage, and seems to be much simpler as well as almost non existent European influence. It is made out of wood and carved with Arabesques and topped with a canopy of black velvet emblazoned with the Ottoman Empire emblem, Arabesques and tassels all in gold thread.

The Gargantuan Drum

Just in front of the Ottoman artifacts is a huge drum from Indonesia. As you can see from the picture it is big enough to fit probably a dozen people comfortably. The drum is usually installed in a mosque and beaten to mark the prayer times five times a day performed by Muslims daily along with the Azan, the vocal call of prayer. The drum, called Beduk in Malay, is a common feature of mosques in South East Asia in the old days. the drum were constructed entirely out of wood and covered with a patchwork of leather of goat or bull skin, stretched to place by the means of wooden nails and pegs around the circumference of the drum.

One side of the drum featuring the last half of the Surah Yaasin.

On either side of the drum were carvings of the Surah Yaasin, the 36th Chapter of the Al-Quran, Islam’s Holy book. One half were carved on one side of the drum and the rest were carved on the other side. The carvings are clear enough to be read, and although there are no further embellishment to the drum, the carving of the Surah is more than enough to show that the maker of the drum dedicated to his work. Following is a closeup picture of the carving.

Closeup of the carving on the drum

Outside the huge double doors beyond the room were exhibitions of fossils and a petrified tree, to show the findings of students of a local distinguished college  on their expedition. I wont  feature it here as it is irrelevant to the subject of Islamic art and architecture. With that ends the entire exhibiton of The Sword of the Prophet Muhammad and the Staff of Prophet Moses

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The Shop I went on Vacation

so the last post I referred my vacation to was two months ago, on the seventh of May. And back then I told you that I would post my finding on my vacation as soon as possible. My, how time gone by so quickly, it almost felt like I posted that article just yesterday. Well, considering the volume of posts I did these few months, I guess it could be just yesterday.

Anyway, for two weeks on the month of April, I went to the resort island of Bali, the so-called last paradise on earth Not so in my opinion. those who said this must have traveled to Bali only or stayed there – get real ; there are more places that deserve the title of last paradise on earth). I didn’t like all the beach and night scene Bali infamously offered in the tourist resorts such as Kuta and Legian, so I went to Ubud – a place that offers appreciation of Arts and Crafts, and generally the town (or city?) is more quiet and a bit more relaxed than the rest of Bali – though it is getting busier each time I went there.

I stayed in Ubud for 10 days doing nothing much but a few hours daily touring the place just how a tourist should do without looking like a tourist and avoiding tourist traps and all (also while going around town with my friend I was approached by a tourist whom asked me for directions ,without knowing she is talking to a tourist too). the repetition of the word tourist is just for the lulz.

Anyway, on the ninth day I was there, walking around town, revisiting places I went and stayed before, I came across a shop directly in front of Champlung Sari – the hotel I went the last time I stayed in Ubud. I forgot or rather just disregard the shop name as I was very excited seeing what was offered in the shop – geometric patterned textiles!

I went inside and first I thought there were no one there.thinking why would this kind of a shop I browsed a bit silently around the small shop. It is a boutique mainly catering to female clients, selling fabrics, dresses, accessories and other articles of clothing. As I looked around a small squeak came from a makeshift counter. I almost jumped out of my skin never knowing there were actually someone there!

“Hello” the clerk said. I turned around and found a small young lady drowned under the rather messy counter. I replied in Indonesian, having visited the island three times now, I got fluent in their language (not much of a difference anyway to my native tongue) and she promptly replied back. We grew silent, though in my mind there were lots of things going on. Well, actually just one – I’m in geometric pattern heaven! or something to that effect. i asked if i can take some photos for my blog and she gave the green light.

One of the fabric on sale at the shop

I looked around and checked the price tags on one of the item on sale. RP75,000, which is around USD80 or USD90. For a small scarf. Ouch. I read a pamphlet  about the items there, put next to a basket of fabrics. Apparently the textiles were hand made with batik painting technique, on all-natural organic cotton cloth. No wonder about the pricing. My attention were diverted from the pamphlet on the floor to a larger fabric on display, showing the traditional Islamic geometric pattern in blue and painted on pure white cotton fabric.

The fabric that caught my eye…though its not the actual fabric, but the exact same colour and pattern

I examined the textile and saw the price-tag – RP100,000, around US120. The pain. I picked a corner of the fabric and take a good look of the quality. It was cotton, alright. Heavy and perhaps a fabric for upholstery or maybe a wallpaper. My exclamations of awe must be very audible, for the clerk immediately approached me.

The clerk said, “ada discount mas” (I will give you a discount)

“Ini fabrik untuk apa mbak? (what is this for, miss) I replied, expecting in return that it is for curtains or upholstery for chairs

” alas meja mas”

“Alas meja? tablecloth?”

“iya mas”

I was stunned. Such beautiful art for a tablecloth? let alone the price! This is sacrilege! Such dishonour of a noble art! What disgrace!

Of course, all that in my mind.

I left the store telling the clerk that I will be back soon. On my way back to the hotel I though of buying one of the article on sale or not. Thank goodness of sidewalks because if it is not there adding with my mindless strolling, I might just be flattened by the rushing traffic of tour buses from from and to the Monkey Forest nearby.

The next day was my birthday, April 24th! since it was my last day in Ubud, and thinking of getting myself a birthday gift, i thought i should get something from that shop before i leave. And so I walked to the store at around 11 in the morning and it was pretty late and the shop should be open by now. No, there was no one in the shop, and the door said closed.


Maybe next time I guess. But another thing caught my eye – a silver ring! I went inside a store owned by a local silversmith named Nyoman Rena and bought a beautiful silver ring decorated with a dome of turquoise. It doesn’t concern this blog so I wont elaborate. So good bye Ubud, and hello silver ring and ideas!

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Study – Islamic Architecture in the Malay Peninsula – Part 1 : The Traditional Vernacular

The Malay peninsula consists of the South Asian countries which shares the same language and culture that is Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. historically The Malay Peninsula was a sea crossroad between China and the Middle East and important trade routes as well as  seaports are established in this peninsula. Hence, the Malay Peninsula and subsequently the South East Asia assimilated various cultures into their own unique culture as well as adopting various religions that came with the traders.

Islam came into the South East Asia sometime in the 11th Century when the Indian Chola navy attacked the Srivijayan kingdom of Sangrama Vijayatungavarman in Kadaram, in what is to be known later as Kedah in Malaysia. Pannai in present day Sumatra and Malaiyur somewhere in the the Malay Peninsula was soon under attack as well. As these attacks happen, the King of Kadaram, Phra Ong Mahawangsa abandoned the Hindu faith  and converted to Islam in 1136, establishing the Sultanate of Kedah. Samudera Pasai (Pannai) followed suit in 1267, and the King of Malacca, Parameswara married the princess of Samudera Pasai which then their son became the first Sultan of Malacca sometime in the 15th Century.

There are several theories on how Islam came into South East Asia and one is trade, when traders from Middle Eastern Islamic countries came into the region bringing their faith along with their goods. The second theory is the role of Islamic missionaries who spread the faith by combining Islamic ideas with existing local beliefs and religious ideas (mostly Hindu, Buddhist or Animistic ideas and beliefs). This is particularly true in Indonesia where Islam and local culture are often combined. Finally the conversion of the rulers in these region led their subjects to follow in their footsteps

Islamic Architecture in the Malay Peninsula

There are seven distinct styles that Islamic architecture in the Malay Peninsula can be classified

  1. Traditional Vernacular,
  2. Sino Eclectic ,
  3. European Classical or Colonial,
  4. North Indian,
  5. Modern Vernacular,
  6. Modernistic Expressionism, and
  7. Post-Modern Revivalism

We will first look into the Traditional Vernacular in this article.

The Traditional Vernacular

Traditional in this context means the style, practices and ideas used by the locals before colonial rule, meaning the original ideas of the local before foreign ideas were adopted. Vernacular denotes the materials and technology utilized by the locals without foreign interference. There are three forms of this particular style – Three tier pyramid roof with cuboid buildings in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth century, Two Tier Pyramid Roof in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century and Gabled Roof which is still being used today. Like most Malay (and generally South East Asian cultures) houses Mosques were raised waist to shoulder heights. The idea is so that the building will not be flooded when the tide rises.

Kampung Tuan Mosque in Kemaman Malaysia. Picture from

The material used are mainly timber. Interestingly enough, one of the defining feature of the architecture of a Mosque, the Minaret were originally absent in the buildings of these styles. Minarets were added later however some mosques still doesn’t have minarets to this day. Columns are utilized both internally and externally as means of support as well as beams.

The form of this style of Islamic architecturea re comparable to Buddhist pagodas and/or Hindu Temples. As with one of the theories noted above regarding the assimilation of Islamic ideas and local existing cultures and religious notions, it could be that the missionaries used the existing form of the Buddhist and Hindu buildings for the new religious structures as a mean to ease the people into their transition of old religion into the new one as well as to attract new converts. This idea is not merely confined to religious structures – many aspect of the local culture such as dances, poems and chants were reinvented with the new faith in mind as well as creating new ones, encouraged by the missionaries.

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Imagining Islamic Aesthetics # 44 – Tughras

Tughras (Ottoman Turkish: طغراء; Ṭuğrā) is a signature or a seal of an Ottoman Sultan used in his official documentations as well as minted on coins of his reign. Every sultan in the Ottoman empire had his own Tughra and it is drawn by the court calligrapher or nişancı. It is also used by leaders of other countries such as the former president of Russia Vladimir Putin and the Japanese Emperor Akihito. It is also used by former Turkic states such as the Khanate of Kazan.

Scanned from an image of an original document (Mulkname) in the Istanbul Topkapi Palace Museum Archives. Document from reign of Orhan I (1326-1359). This is officially the first Tughra for an Ottoman Sultan

Tughra of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520). Tughras are often heavily decorated since it is the signature of the reigning Sultan. It is also designed to be complex as to deter counterfeits of the signature.

Meskuk 500 Kuruş coin minted in Kostantiniye (Constantinople), 1336/1. Coins are minted with Tughras of the current reigning Sultan.

An Ottoman Sultan’s Tughra on a medal called the Gallipoli Star.

Detail of the Ottoman Tughra, at the Gate of Felicity in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

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