Last Updated on February 21, 2023 by Kirsten Raccuia
Everyone knows the Disney tales. Some are all fluff, others are a bit dark, and some border on grim. But Malaysian legends are just as juicy, twisted, and ghastly.
I’m not surprised these legends have stood the test of time. This is the Malaysian folklore that is told around fires or before bedtime when surrounded by family.
Maybe times have changed, but who doesn’t love a good story? Here are my fave Malaysian legends to get you started.
Grab a glass of wine, tuck yourself in. It’s storytime my friends…
The Malaysian Legend of Mahsuri (a woman wronged)
This legend takes place on the island of Langkawi. And supposedly, this is a true story. Not just folklore.
But I’m failing to see how, you’ll learn why in a minute… keep reading.
The story begins with this total babe Mahsuri, a ravishing maiden who lived more than 400 years ago. She was the most stunning woman in all of Langkawi.
Mahsuri captured the heart of Mat Deris, the son of the ruler of Langkawi, and they wed. Not long after, he had to go to war against Thailand (then Siam). So, he left his beautiful wife behind to toil and wonder if she’d ever see her hubs again.
It didn’t take long for her to make friends with a traveling minstrel named Deramang. The town didn’t take kindly to her hanging with this new guy, and rumors started flying.
Mahsuri’s own mother-in-law instigated those rumors out of jealousy. Oh, and also because she thought her hubs wanted a little Mahsuri side-action. So, the jealous bitch started rumors that Mahsuri and Deramang were having an illicit affair.
When Mat Deris’ dad got wind of Mahsuri’s adultery, he ordered her death. (Smart way to throw his wife off the scent, huh? Screams of guilt to me.)
Mahsuri pleaded her innocence, but no one listened. She was tied to a tree and stabbed repeatedly.
“Wait. Don’t stab me with that. Go get the death blade.”
(Here is where the true story fell off the rails.)
Regardless of all the stabbings, she remained unscathed and alive. But she was exhausted from the ordeal and knew that the villagers wouldn’t let her go. She decided to put herself out of misery.
She told them where to find the proper death blade. And so, they fetched the sword and stabbed her to death.
Wait for it.
Her blood flowed white, which signified her innocence.
With her dying breath, she cursed the island for seven future generations.
Apparently, the gods were listening to her curse because shortly after her death, Siam invaded Langkawi.
In not the brightest of moves, the island leader ordered the locals to burn their rice paddies. Better to destroy the food then let those lowly Siamese eat it. ((Psst…hey leader, ya ding-a-ling – that’s your food too.)
But it didn’t matter because he was killed by the Siamese, and soon, the islanders were faced with starvation.
Now Langkawi is thriving (the curse ended in the ’80s), and you can visit Mahsuri’s tomb. A shrine, a Malay house, and a museum showcase her jewelry and the sword that killed her.
You can also visit the Field of Burnt Rice. Which shockingly looks like a field where rice used to be. But there is a plaque, so it’s official.
What say you? Legend or true story?
Bidasari and the Goldfish
One day, a king and a very pregnant queen narrowly escaped an attack by a garuda, a mythical bird-like creature. They ran to the forest, and not long after, the Queen gave birth by the river. As her little princess took her first breaths and wailed, the King spotted a goldfish in the water.
It was such a tame goldfish, he picked it up, and the baby stopped crying. When he tossed Goldi back into the water, the princess began wailing again. This cycle went on a couple times until the King realized that somehow his daughter, who they named Bidasari, was inexplicably tied to Goldi.
The King put Goldi in a royal golden bowl so it and Bidasari could bond. However, the royal couple knew they couldn’t keep Bidasari because they had no idea what danger was in store for them.
They popped Bidasari and her bud Goldi onto a float and sent the pair downstream. Luckily for them, some wealthy merchants found Bidasari and took her and Goldi in.
Confused about Goldi, they took it out of the bowl to get a closer look, and Bidasari stopped breathing. They put it back in the water, and all was right with the little bundle of joy.
Someone’s Playing Possum
Flash forward 16 years, and Bidasari is the most beautiful maiden in all the land. The Queen was the jealous sort and wanted that beautiful enemy to live in the palace where she could keep an eye on her.
She sent for Bidasari under the guise of kindness and companionship. As soon as she arrived (sans Goldi), the Queen made her a servant. She was starved and forced to clean the royal chamber pots.
The Queen thought that by making Bidasari do the grossest things, she would become ugly. But of course, that didn’t happen. So what’s a queen to do? Find Goldi and keep it for herself.
The minute her spies stole the fish, Bidasari fell to the ground as if dead. The Queen kept Goldi, but since Bidasari was no threat dead, she sent her body back to her parents. Nice, huh?
Bidasari’s parents knew better and built her a house in a secluded garden in the middle of the forest.
One day, the King was out hunting and found Bidasari. At the very same time, Goldi escaped. Shocking, I know.
The minute Goldi was in the river, Bidasari, who was just playing possum, woke up to see the King. Like any woman who had been sleeping for weeks, she had many things to say and excitedly told the whole story to the King.
The King was shocked that his Queen would do something so terrible. But not that shocked because he banished her and married Bidasari.
And they lived happily ever after. A Malaysian legend with a happy ending (not that kind)!
Puteri Gunung Ledang (a Sultan scorned). My fave legend of Malaysia.
There was a beautiful fairy princess (Puteri) who lived on Gunung Ledang, a mountain near Malacca. Tales of her beauty and mystical powers reached the Sultan of Malacca. He was all over her like a monkey on a banana.
Just like any Sultan who wants something, he ordered his fave warrior and wingman to go get her. Hang Tuah and his warrior buddies had to explain how wonderful the Sultan was and that he wanted to marry her.
The Sultan, being a sultan, assumed he would get what he wanted. I mean, who in their right mind would turn down a sultan?
Well. Guess who? This badass princess.
She could have just said no, but where’s the fun in that?
How Deep is Your Love?
The princess decided to make a list of seven demands. The Sultan needed to fulfill each one before she would agree to marry him.
I could just see how this convo went down…
Hang Tuah: “You must marry the Sultan. He’s super cool. You’ll love him.”
Princess: “Hmmm. I kind of like my life up here.”
Hang Tuah: “But he really loves you.”
Princess: “Really? Well ok. But first, have him prove his love by doing these seven small favors for me. Okay?”
So, she didn’t give him a “No.” She gave him a “Maybe later?”
- Build her a golden walkway from Melaka to her mountain (Gunung Ledang)
- Build her a silver walkway from Gunung Ledang to Melaka (why walk on anything less than silver and gold?)
- Bring her seven trays filled with mosquito hearts (even back then, those buzzy bastards sucked – get it? see what I did there?)
- Bring her seven trays of the hearts of germs (trying to eradicate disease?)
- Bring her seven barrels of young betel nut juice for her to bathe in (bathe in, year right. Doesn’t that stuff get you kind of high?)
- Bring her seven barrels of virgin tears also for her to bathe in (it’s sweltering in Malaysia – a girls gotta stay clean)
And last but not least,
7. Bring her a silver cup with the blood from the Sultan’s son
A Hard Bargain or Hard to Get?
The Sultan tried his damnedest to fulfill her demands.
He achieved six out of the seven but stopped short of the mosquito hearts. He just couldn’t catch those little bastards.
Ha! Just kidding.
He couldn’t bring himself to sacrifice his son, his only child, and heir to his kingdom — what a wuss. I mean, hello, haven’t you heard of bloodletting?
Anyway, legend has it that the Sultan was too proud to recognize that the princess made those conditions unobtainable, as a not-so-subtle way of rejecting him. Or, I think, he was just a clueless dude with a thick skull.
Either way, no cup of blood meant no princess booty (yeah, I went there).
He drove his kingdom into ruins trying to get the girl. And she said, “Thank you, next.”
Until they made it into a movie.
The Real End (of My Malaysian Legends Post)
Legends, fairy tales, or folklore.
Whatever you call them. They make up the fabric of a culture. Kids learn the rights from wrongs. They learn to believe in a little magic and of fairies and princesses. But also, that greed kills, and danger is everywhere.
Call them what you will. These Malaysian legends have withstood the test of time and will for future centuries.
Come on, Disney, there is some good stuff here.
PS: I recognize this blog was a departure from my normal stuff. But sometimes we all need a break from the norm, right? Do you like this kind of stuff? Want more? Tell me in the comments below.
PPS: If you want to know more useless but fascinating info about this country, check out my blog on some mind-blowing facts about Malaysia.
Love your Malaysian tales Kirsten. You got the modern take on Grimms Fairy Tales. I loved fairy tales as a kid. Both scary and happy endings.
Hi Heather! So glad you like them! It was def fun to research and write.
Very entertaining and seem so different from the culture we live in now! Great idea!!
Haha! Thank you, Patti! It was so interesting researching these stories.
Great stories. It’s always fascinating to learn more about my adopted home. 🙂
Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed.