Monday, January 17, 2011

Cheng Ho Mosque of Palembang: A Tribute to the Chinese Seafarer

Silk Road stretches across two continents. One end set off in Asia at Luoyang, China, and the other one in Europe at Antioch. What most people do not realize is that there is maritime silk route that stretches across the South China Sea starting at Guangzhou, passing the Malacca strait, and to Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to various Middle East nations. The route has been popular since the 3rd century. Therefore, when a Chinese Admiral, Cheng Ho, performed his first great voyage in 1403, the route had been plied for around 12 centuries. However, it was Cheng Ho who first to become the greatest seafarer for the last 12 centuries that brought the biggest fleet traversing the route and further off.

Palembang sat at the heart of Srivijaya Kingdom, and by all means situated at the cross road of the trade route. Its auspicious position in the commercial and governmental affair in the 14th century had put it as a transiting point for Cheng Ho and his fleets. During the reign of Srivijaya in Sumatra and Majapahit in Java, commerce and education flourished. A pack of Chinese pirates led by Chen Tsu Ji, an ex-admiral from Kanton, China, swarmed in the delta and sea of Palembang.  This had troubled these Kingdoms and raised a heightening concern in Po Lin Fong, ‘The Old Port’, a place that was established by the notorious Chen Tsu Ji.

Cheng Ho was requested to abolish the upheaval and successfully restore the circumstances. Later, he was to be hailed a hero in Palembang, an honorary guest in Java, and a pride of Ming Dynasty led by Cheng Cu at that time. Seven times Cheng Ho came to ancient Indonesia to interlace religious relationships and peace. He visited various places and built mushalas, small houses of worship for Moslems. He had been revered as an admiral and a religious leader at the same time. Today, there are three Cheng Ho Mosques in Indonesia, two in Java, and one in Palembang, Sumatra.

The mosque was first built in September 2005, and officially used for the first time as a place for Friday prayer on August 22, 2008. It is there to commemorate Cheng Ho’s visit to Palembang 600 years ago. Its fading red paint is dominant, outlined by jade green paint in certain parts of the structure. It is a place of worship and a center for social activities as well. A library and a meeting hall are annexed within the 5.000 square meters complex. Not only is this place a Chinese Moslem mosque, its uniqueness has also been an attraction for tourists from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Russia.

The building might be new, but the spirit and its background story started way back 600 years ago. Located in Amen Mulia residential complex at Jakabaring, only 3 kilometer away from downtown Palembang, the mosque is a must see, to discover the interlinking history between Indonesia and China. There, your trip is extended to a level of time-travel experience as you talk with the imam of the mosque about Cheng Ho and Srivijaya.

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