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A legendary character said to have given Singapore its name. His name is pronouced as "sahng nee-lah ooh-tah-mah"

Sang Nila Utama was a prince of the Sri Vijaya empire, which has its roots in Palembang, Sumatra (an Indonesian island). This kingdom was the dominant power in maritime trade and ruled the Straits of Malacca and the Sunda Straits from about 650 AD (when it was founded) to the time it was defeated by the Majapahit empire in 1290 AD.

A version of the legend on the Internet reads:

     Ages ago, Singapore was called Temasek, meaning
'sea-town'. One day, Prince Sang Nila Utama sailed out 
to sea with his men to explore some islands. He stopped 
at one of the Riau islands, where he had a feast by the
generous queen1 of the island. He went hunting, and tried 
to run after the deer they had saw. Sang Nila Utama 
climbed a big rock to see where the deer went and he 
happened to look across the sea. He spotted an island, 
and its sandy shore was pure white2. His men had told him 
that was the island of Temasek, and Sang Nila Utama 
wanted to visit it. They set sail for Temasek after 
thanking the queen for her kindness. A storm broke out 
while they were at sea and the ship was tossed about. 
Sang Nila Utama decided to listen to the advice of one 
of his men to throw his crown into the sea. The storm
immediately died down and was calm again3. Sang Nila 
Utama landed on the island and saw a beast with a 
black head, red tawny body and white breast, which 
ran away at the sight of the men4. When asked what it 
was, an old man told Sang Nila Utama that it was a 
lion5. Sang Nila Utama thought this was a sign of good 
fortune thus deciding to stay on and become the king of
Temasek. He renamed it "Singapura" or "Lion-City". 
This was how Singapore got her name. Sang Nila Utama 
was the first king of Singapore6 and he ruled wisely 
for 48 years. 

In another version of the legend which I heard when I was a child did not tell of how Sang Nila Utama came to be on the island. It did say that the first animal he saw was the lion, which he did not recognise. He then asked his men what animal it was, but none of them could tell him. Finally he asked an old wise man who had come with him. The old man told him that the animal was a lion and that it was a good omen that the prince had seen one.




Comments on the legend of Sang Nila Utama:

1 Seeing how the marine trade along the Straits of Malacca and the Sunda Straits was controlled by the Sri Vijaya empire at that point in time, I seriously doubt that His Highness would have allowed a queen (apart from one of his own relatives) to have such great power so near his territory.

2 Singapore had (and still has) few beaches, and the present beaches which fall on reclaimed land are certainly not pure white. Most of the coastline of Temasek would have been mangrove swamp. However, there is not a shadow of doubt that he probably could see Singapore from the Riau Islands.

3 Having the sea calm down after throwing a precious object into it is a legend found around the world. It usually means or implies that a deity or a higher power was at work.

4 The animal described as having a "black head, red tawny body and white breast" sounds like a mythological creature. Neither tigers (a common predator in tropical forests) nor lions (both the non-extinct African and Asiatic breeds) fit this description.

5 Most people think of lions as roaming wide grassy plains, not prowling in tropical forests. However, lions used to populate many places in the world, and the Asiatic subspecies (currently endangered) are known to roam forests. It is possible that he saw an Asiatic lion, perhaps of a sub-subspecies that is now extinct.

6 There are currently no historical records about "King" Sang Nila Utama of Singapura.

Legend quoted from http://www.rgs.edu.sg/aec/legends.html
Thanks to liveforever who asked me to give the source of the quotation.

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