‘God’s shadow on earth’

The rulers and aristocratic elite who were among the first Southeast Asians to adopt Islam created an elegant cultural heritage still evident today throughout the region. Royal patronage ensured that the most lavish art was produced for court circles. Fabulous displays gave visual expression to the Islamic notion of the sacred role of kingship.

The spectacular regalia and costume worn in court ritual was intended to emphasise the sultan’s power and promote the allegiance of his or her followers. Moreover, the validity of a ruler’s mandate over the principality depended on the possession of ancestral heirlooms, known as pusaka, in the form of ceremonial weapons, textiles and other objects.

Gold, with its rich symbolism and high worldly value, was the preferred medium for royal regalia. The colour was compared to the sun whose orb was a metaphor for the universal monarch and whose radiance was seen as akin to the light of God’s blessing. Gold objects became symbols of the prestige and wealth of the court throughout Southeast Asia.

Gowa, South Sulawesi, Indonesia Dagger, 18th–19th century, National Museum of Indonesia, Jakarta


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