The ancient architecture of Sungai Penuh’s mosques

Bedug Larangan (“Prohibited Drums”), formerly used to call prayers and to warn in cases of emergency. It is neatly stored in a building in the front yard of the mosque. (Source: Freddy Wally)

Any visitor to the mosque will be amazed by its intricate ornamentation. There are old ceramic tiles and wood carvings across the walls and in the vents. Both the exterior and interior carry this beautiful vinesand-flowers motif. Even the wooden double front door of the mosque carries this pattern, mixed with the geometric patterns in the ceramic tiles affixed on them. 

The mimbar or lectern is 2.24 x 1.48 meters, delineated with four octagonal pillars that taper upwards. The mihrab or pulpit, which indicates the direction of the qibla or direction to face when praying, is pentagonal. Both are decorated with the same carved wood-and-ceramic ornaments. 

The mosque proper is supported by 25 octagonal wooden pillars carved with the tumpal motif, an isosceles triangle filled with curling vines meant to prevent evil and disasters. From the history of the mosque, we can’t help but feel that it works… Existing records show that the mosque’s supporting pillars were given a 4.5 meter-tall coating of cement to place colorful flora and geometric ceramic tiles on back in 1927-1928. Just the year before, in 1926, the mosque’s wooden floor was replaced with cement, and its ijuk black thatch roof was replaced with zinc sheet. 

Read: Unique Mosques: Religious Tourism in Malacca

The mosque’s overall shape is a square 27 x 27 meters, with walls made of stone and wood. It did not use a single nail in its construction, but it used usuk wooden ribs instead. Its roof is a three-layered pyramid with a mustaka topper at the peak. Its unique feature is that it does not contain an outside minaret for muezzins to call out prayer to the faithful. Instead, he must climb up a vertical ladder to the small stage right on top of the primary support pillar within the mosque proper. The small balcony-like structure is fenced with the usual wooden fence carved into vines, flowers, and fruit. 

The carvings all around the Holy Mosque represents local produce, such as mangosteens and durians. The builders used what they knew and saw all around them to express their beliefs. Perhaps they did what the Malay proverb says, “Di mana bumi dipijak, di sana langit dijunjung” – “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”!