Onde Mande! The antique beauty of West Sumatra’s Istana Pagaruyung

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Istana Pagaruyung
Elegant, proud Istana Pagaruyung. Photos: Nurvita Indarini

Tanah Datar, IO – See the imposing palace at Batusangkar, Tanah Datar, West Sumatra. Created in the rumah gadang gajah maharam style, it has multiple gonjong sharp tips that look like a water buffalo’s horns. See how the rich brown of its walls contrast to the green hills and blue skies in the background. I present to you, Istana Pagaruyung, Pagaruyung Palace. 

Istano Basa Pagaruyung, the Great Palace of Pagaruyung, more famously and familiarly known as Istana Pagaruyung or Pagaruyung Palace, is an archetypal example of traditional Minangkabau architecture. This thrice-rebuilt palace is a cultural preserve. It is a replica of the original Palace in Bukit Batu Patah. In 1804, the original was burnt down by the Kaum Padri or Clerics Group, the followers of national hero Tuanku Imam Bonjol, during their struggle against Dutch colonists. 

jewelry
A beautiful piece of jewelry in the Istana Pagaruyung collection.

The Palace was rebuilt, only to mysteriously burn down in 1966. Luckily, they saved most of the important documents and furnishings stored in the Palace. Unfortunately, that luck didn’t hold out when the Palace was struck by lightning in 2007. The resulting fire turned most of the Palace’s documents and heritage decorative linens, leaving only 15% of historical items safe. They are now stored in the Regency of Tanah Datar Ancient Items Office. 

The Istana Pagaruyung complex is now a Government-managed tourist attraction. Its tickets are highly affordable at IDR 15,000.00 for each adult ticket and IDR 7,500.00 for each child ticket. Once they pass through the gate, visitors can take a leisurely stroll through the Palace gardens before finally entering. You are expected to fill in the Guest Book and to remove your footwear before entering the Palace proper and exploring. 

Interior Layout 

The Istana Pagaruyung is mostly made of wood, which is long-lasting, flexible, and resistant to earthquakes. It is supported by 72 pillars and capped with 11 gonjongs, and its walls are decorated with 58 colorful motifs. The Palace has three stories, all divided into anjuangs or halls. The anjuangs of the Pagaruyung are made in the Koto Piliang style, i.e. spacious and rectangular. The anjuang on the right side is called the Anjuang Rajo Babandiang, while the one on the left side is called the Anjuang Perak. The center part straight inside from the Palace front door is the Throne Room, beautifully decorated with intricately embroidered cloths hanging from the ceiling and draping the walls. The entire floor is divided into several rooms for various bureaucratic purposes, but now they are all just display spaces filled with many glass boxes protecting precious artifacts and ancient and replica furniture. 

The second floor is called the Anjuang Pingitan. This is where the unmarried royal princesses were housed and educated. Anjuang Peranginan on the third floor is where the King and Queen lived and rested, while watching over his realm from up high. The rooms within are located right under the central gonjong of the Palace, the Gonjong Mahligai. Now, we commoners can also enjoy the view of the green meadows that these royalties enjoyed when we visit. Meanwhile, the top floor now serves as the armory. We can see spears, swords, as well as rifles dating even before the days of Dutch occupation. 

All the walls and furniture of the Palace are graced with detailed, well-made carving that shows the skills of the craftsmen of old. 

Pagaruyung Armory
Ancient weapons collected in the Pagaruyung Armory.

Minang Traditional Costumes 

One of the highlights of visiting Istana Pagaruyung is to dress up like the old royals and palace staff. The Palace sets up a costume rental filled with various colors, styles, and sizes of traditional clothing on the ground floor. It’s quite affordable at IDR 35,000.00-IDR 75,000.00 per set. As visitors are allowed to wear the costume for the duration of their visit, you can easily imagine yourself being one of the nobility or royalty of yore as you take poses in the richly furnished rooms. It’s safe – the costumes are sent out to be cleaned and disinfected after each customer uses them. Just don’t “absent-mindedly” take the costume home with you, please! (nur)