Parameswara (king)

Annie Lee | Apr 17, 2024

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Parameswara (b. 1344 - d. c. 1414), referred to in Malay annals as Iskandar Shah, was the last king of Singapore and the founder of Malacca. According to Malay annals, he ruled Singapore from 1389 to 1398. The king fled the island kingdom after a Majapahit naval invasion in 1398 and founded his new fortress at the mouth of the Bertam River in 1402. Within decades, the new city grew rapidly to become the capital of the Malacca Sultanate. Portuguese accounts written a hundred years after his death, however, indicate that he was from Palembang in southern Sumatra and usurped the throne of Singapura before being driven out by either the Siamese or the Majapahit and then founding Malacca.

The name Parameswara occurs in Portuguese sources such as Suma Oriental and Paramicura or Parimicura.

Parameswara is a Hindu name derived from the Sanskrit word Parameśvara (Sanskrit: परमेश्वर), a concept that literally means "Supreme Lord". The word "parama," meaning "the highest," is added to Ishvara as an intensifier. Parameśvara is also one of the names of Lord Shiva. However, the name Parameswara is not found in the Malay annals detailing the kingdoms of Singapura and Malacca. Rather, there is the name Iskandar Shah as the last ruler of Singapura and founder of Malacca. Iskandar is Persian for "Alexander" after Alexander the Great and Shah is the Persian title for a king. It is believed that the Iskandar Shah of the Malay annals may have been the same person as Parameswara due to similarities in their biographies.

The Ming Chronicle (Ming Shilu) reported that the consort of Parameswara known as Bā-ér-mí-sū-lǐ (八 兒 迷 蘇里) ('Parameswari') attended a banquet with King Bai-li-mi-su -la ('Parameswara') in the Ming court. It is more likely that 'Parameswari' ("Supreme Mistress") referred to a title rather than a given name, as is evident from its application in Malay annals to Sang Nila Utama's mother-in-law, Queen Parameswari Iskandar Shah-a fact still used today in the form of "Permaisuri" ("Queen") in Malay. Therefore, it is assumed that the name Parameswara is also a small part of a longer ruler title, which was common among Malay kings until today. Besides Parameswara, the founder of Malacca, Abu Syahid Shah, the fourth Sultan of Malacca, was also called "Raja Sri Parameswara Dewa Shah".


In Malay annals and Portuguese sources there are different accounts of the origin and life of Parameswara. The Malay annals were written in the heyday of Malacca and recompiled in 1612 by the sultan's court in Johore. They are the basis for accounts of the founding of Singapore, the succession of its rulers, and its eventual decline. According to the account in the Malay Annals, Iskandar Shah (Parameswara) was a descendant of Sang Nila Utama, who supposedly founded Singapura. However, historians doubted the accuracy and historicity of the Malay Annals in their accounts of Singapura. Portuguese sources such as the Suma Oriental by Tomé Pires were written shortly after the Portuguese conquest of Malacca and give a different account of the origin of Parameswara.

Both the Suma Oriental and the Malay annals contain similar stories about a fleeing Srijayan prince arriving in Singapore and the last king of Singapore fleeing to the west coast of the Malay Peninsula to found Malacca. However, both accounts differ significantly on the identity of the prince: the Suma Oriental identified the fleeing prince and the last king of Singapore as the same person known as "Parameswara," while the more detailed Malay annals identified the fleeing prince and the last king as two different people separated by five generations (Sang Nila Utama and Iskandar Shah). The Suma Oriental further notes that the fugitive Srivijayan prince usurped the throne of Singapura from a Siamese viceroy named Temagi around the 1390s.

Portuguese accounts by Tomé Pires and João de Barros, possibly based on a Javanese source, suggest that Parameswara was a prince from Palembang who attempted to challenge Javanese rule over Palembang shortly after 1360. In this version, the Javanese attacked and drove Parameswara from Palembang, who then fled to Singapore. Parameswara soon assassinated the local ruler with the title Sang Ali, Sangesinga. Parameswara then ruled for five years before being driven out by people from the Patani kingdom, possibly for killing Sang Ali, whose wife may have been from Patani.

Pires' report also states that Iskandar Shah was the son of Parameswara, who became the second ruler of Malacca. Many scholars believe that Parameswara and Iskandar Shah are the same person, although some have argued that Megat Iskandar Shah is the son of Parameswara.

The only first-hand Chinese account of Temasek from the 14th century (the old name for Singapore Island used before it was changed to Singapura), Dao Yi Zhi Lue, written by Wang Dayuan, indicates that Temasek (before the time of Parameswara) was ruled by a local chieftain. However, the word used by Wang indicates that the ruler of Temasek was not independent, but a vassal of another more powerful state.

The case of Singapura

Based on the account from the Malay annals, Sri Maharaja of Singapore was succeeded by his son Iskandar Shah in 1389. Despite the use of the peculiar Persian name and title, Malay annals indicated that he had converted to Islam. Reports in Malay annals trace Islamic influence in Singapore to the reign of Sri Rana Wikrama, when he first established relations with a Muslim kingdom in Sumatra, Peureulak. It is also claimed that Parameswara had a Muslim wife and converted to her religion.

The Malay annals' account of the fall of Singapore and the flight of its last king begins with Iskandar Shah's accusation of adultery against one of his concubines. As punishment, the king had her stripped naked in public. In revenge, the concubine's father, Sang Rajuna Tapa, who was also an official at Iskandar Shah's court, secretly sent a message to Wikramawardhana of Majapahit, promising his support if the king invaded Singapore. In 1398, Majapahit sent a fleet of three hundred main warriors and hundreds of smaller ships with no less than 200,000 men. The Javanese soldiers engaged the defenders in a battle outside the fortress before the defenders were forced to retreat behind the walls. The invading force laid siege to the city and repeatedly attempted to attack the fortress. However, the fortress proved to be impregnable.

After a month, the food in the fortress ran out; the defenders were on the verge of starvation. Sang Rajuna Tapa was then asked to distribute the leftover grain to the people from the royal store. Seeing this opportunity for revenge, the minister lied to the king and said that the stores were empty. The grains were not distributed and the people eventually starved. The final attack came when the gates were finally opened on the orders of the treacherous minister. The Majapahit soldiers stormed into the fortress; a terrible massacre ensued. According to Malay annals, "blood flowed like a river" and the red stains on the laterite floor of Singapore are said to be blood from this massacre. Iskandar Shah and his followers knew that defeat was imminent and fled the island.

Parameswara fled north to establish a new settlement. At Muar, Parameswara considered establishing his new kingdom at either Biawak Busuk or Kota Buruk. When he determined that the Muar site was not suitable, he continued north. On the way, he reportedly visited Sening Ujong (former name of present-day Sungai Ujong) before last reaching a fishing village at the mouth of the Bertam River (former name of the Malacca River).

This place evolved over time into the site of the present-day city of Malacca. According to Malay annals, the king saw a mouse deer luring his hunting dog into the water while resting under the Malacca tree. He liked it and remarked, "This place is excellent. Even the mouse deer is impressive. It is best if we establish a kingdom here." According to tradition, he named the settlement after the tree he was leaning against when he witnessed the event.

Today, the mouse deer is part of the modern coat of arms of Malacca. The name "Malacca" itself was derived from the fruit-bearing Malacca tree (Malay: Pokok Melaka), scientifically known as Phyllanthus emblica. Another account of the origin of the naming of Malacca states that during the reign of Muhammad Shah (1424-1444), Arab merchants called the kingdom "Malakat" (Arabic for "community of merchants") because it was home to many trading communities.

After establishing the new settlement in Malacca, Parameswara initiated the development of the site and ordered his men to cultivate the land with bananas, sugar cane, yams and other food crops. Taking advantage of the harbor, which is protected by a hill and protects ships well from the threat of strong tides, Parameswara laid the foundation for a commercial port by building storage and market facilities that serve as a meeting place for the exchange of goods. The indigenous people of Malacca and the Straits, the Orang Laut, who were also known as loyal servants of Malay rulers since the time of Singapura and Srivijaya, are said to have been the customers of the market.

The people of Singapura and Srivijaya, who were also known as loyal servants of Malay rulers, were said to have been employed by Parameswara to patrol the adjacent seas, ward off enemies and pirates, and guide traders to the port of their Malay overlords. Ironically, Orang Lauts themselves were known throughout history as fierce pirates.

Within a few years, news of Malacca becoming a trading center spread throughout the eastern part of the world and reached as far as China. The Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, who ruled from 1402 to 1424, sent his envoy known as Yin Qing to Malacca in 1405. Yin Qing's visit paved the way for friendly relations between Malacca and China. Chinese merchants called at the port of Malacca and joined other foreign traders, especially the Javanese, Indians, Chinese and Burmese, who came to establish their trading bases and settle in Malacca. During the reign of Parameswara, the population increased to 2000.

In 1411, Parameswara, his wife, son, and a royal party of 540 people traveled to China with Admiral Zheng He to pay homage to the Yongle Emperor. Yongle praised Parameswara and recognized him as the rightful ruler of Malacca. He then presented Parameswara with a seal, silk and a yellow umbrella as symbols of royalty, as well as a letter appointing Parameswara as the ruler of Malacca. Malacca was then recognized as a kingdom by the Emperor of China. The envoy returned to Malacca together with a fleet led by Zheng He.

The Chinese chronicles mention that in 1414 the son of the first ruler of Malacca visited the Ming Empire in China to inform them that his father had died. It is generally believed that he was buried on a hill in Tanjung Tuan (also known as Cape Rachado) in the Malay state of Malacca, which is near the present-day district of Port Dickson.

Parameswara was succeeded by his son Megat Iskandar Shah, who in turn ruled Malacca until 1424. It is also believed that Parameswara was buried in Bukit Larangan Park in Singapore. Some others also believe that he may have been cremated due to the Hindu ritual belief system, and thus there is no actual burial site.

It is assumed that Parameswara was a Hindu, as indicated by his Hindu name. The Persian name Iskandar Shah used in Malay annals, as well as confusion over whether Parameswara and Iskandar Shah refer to the same person in different sources, led to the assumption that Parameswara had converted to Islam and adopted a new name. In 1409, when he was sixty-five years old, he is said to have married a Muslim princess of Pasai and assumed the Persian title Iskandar Shah.

However, the 16th century Portuguese writer Tomé Pires specifically mentioned that Parameswara was succeeded by his son Chaquem Daraxa or Megat Iskandar Shah and that only the latter converted to Islam at the age of 72. Ming Chinese history also considers Megat Iskandar Shah as the son of Parameswara. This son is referred to in Malay annals only as Raja Besar Muda. According to Malay annals, the third king Muhammad Shah was the first Muslim ruler of Melaka who had converted after a dream. Scholars believe that both Parameswara and his son were given the same title, the elder named Sri Iskandar Shah and the son Megat Iskandar Shah. Based on Malay, Portuguese, and Chinese writings, Christopher Wake concludes that Parameswara never embraced Islam, but was posthumously given the title Iskandar Shah. Although there are differing views as to when the Islamization of Melaka actually took place, it is generally agreed that Islam was firmly established in the court by the reign of Muzaffar Shah.

The relationship with Ming China began in the early 15th century when Parameswara made several trips to visit the Yongle Emperor. In 1403, the first official Chinese trade ambassador arrived in Malacca under Admiral Yin Qing. Later, Parameśwara was accompanied by Zheng He and other envoys on his successful visits. Malacca's relations with the Ming Empire granted Malacca protection from Siamese and Majapahit attacks. Malacca was officially established as a protectorate of Ming China. This encouraged the development of Malacca into an important trading settlement on the trade route between China and India, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

In 1411, Parameswara and his wife, along with 540 officials from Malacca, went to China to pay homage to the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402-1424). Upon arrival, a grand welcoming ceremony with animal sacrifices was held. The historical meeting between Parameswara and the Yongle Emperor was accurately recorded in the Ming Chronicle.

Among the tributes Malacca paid to the Ming emperors were: Agate, carnelian, pearl, hawk's beak, coral, crane's beak, golden female crane's beak, suit, white cloth, western cloth, sa-ha-la, rhino horn, ivory, black bear, black monkey, white muntjac, turkey, parrot, pian-nao, rose bush, su-he oil, gardenia flower, wu-ye-ni, aromatic wood, incense, gold-silver incense.

Within decades of its founding, Malacca developed into an international trading port and ushered in the golden age of Alam Melayu. Reportedly, 80 languages were spoken in Malacca. Malacca became an important port in the Far East in the 16th century. It became so rich that the Portuguese writer and merchant Tomé Pires said, "He who is master of Malacca will have his hands on the neck of Venice." The new Malay Sultanate became the main base for the continuation of the historic struggles of its predecessors, Singapura and Srivijaya against their Java-based opponents.

By the mid-15th century, Majapahit was no longer able to control the rising power of Malacca, which began to effectively control the Straits of Malacca and extend its influence into Sumatra. Malay annals record that Malacca's territory at the height of its power after the accession of Sultan Mansur Shah in 1459 covered much of the Malay Peninsula as well as the Riau Lingga Islands and parts of the east coast of Sumatra, namely Indragiri, Kampar, Siak, Rokan, Haru, and Siantan. Malacca was still trying to expand its territory in 1506 when it conquered Kelantan.

Malacca's prosperity as an international port transformed all of maritime Southeast Asia, and its success was admired by kings from neighboring kingdoms. As an important report, Malacca attracted Muslim traders from different parts of the world and became a center of Islam, spreading the religion throughout maritime Southeast Asia. The Islamization process in the Malacca region gradually intensified between the 15th and 16th centuries through study centers in Upeh, the district on the north bank of the Malacca River. Islam spread from Malacca through Jambi, Kampar, Bengkalis, Siak, Aru, and the Karimun Islands in Sumatra across much of the Malay Peninsula, Java, and even the Philippines. The Malay annals even reveal that the Malaccan and Pasai courts posed theological questions and problems to each other. Of the so-called Wali Sanga ("nine saints") responsible for the spread of Islam in Java, at least two, Sunan Bonang and Sunan Kalijaga, are said to have studied in Malacca. The expansion of Islam into the interior of Java in the 15th century led to the gradual decline of Malacca's longtime enemy, the Hindu empire of Majapahit, before the Majapahit empire finally succumbed to rising local Muslim forces in the early 16th century.

From the time of Malacca to the age of European colonization, the Malay-Muslim sultanates ultimately dominated in trade and politics, which eventually contributed to the Malayization of the entire region.


  1. Parameswara (king)
  2. Parameswara (König)
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