Among all the folklore and legends that surround Langkawi, the legend about the maiden Mahsuri is the most famous, it has became a cultural icon of Malaysia.
The Mahsuri’s tomb marks the spot where she is buried, no surprises there right? The tomb is located at Kampung Mawat (Mawat Village) which is approximately 17.8 kilometers North West of Kuah town.
Also known as “Makam Mahsuri” (Mahsuri Mausoleum), the tomb was erected to pay homage to Mahsuri. If you are unfamiliar with Mahsuri’s legend, the story is about her being unjustly accused of committing adultery about 200 years ago.
There are more than a dozen versions of Mahsuri’s legend. However, the basis of the legend remains the same.
According to what is most widely believed, Mahsuri was an exceedingly beautiful woman and many of the young men of her village sought her hand in marriage, including the village chieftain who wanted to make Mahsuri his second wife. Of course, the first wife of the village chieftain objected. Mahsuri finally did marry, a young man from her village and the jealousy regarding her extraordinary beauty should have ended there but it didn’t.
Mahsuri’s Tomb – The Jealousy
One day while Mahsuri’s husband was away fighting a war, Mahsuri offered shelter to a wandering minstrel.
For that, Mahsuri was accused of committing adultery by the village chieftain’s wife. The village chieftain who was still smarting over Mahsuri’s rejection of his earlier marriage proposal, ordered Mahsuri to be condemned to death.
It was said that at her execution Mahsuri bled white blood signifying her innocence. At her last breath, Mahsuri was said to utter a curse on Langkawi for which the island will remain barren for seven generations.
Mahsuri’s Tomb – True or Not?
Whether the legend is to be believed or not is up to you. But according to recorded history, the Siamese invaded Langkawi not long after Mahsuri’s death and razed the island to the ground with a scorched earth policy. And coincidentally, Langkawi did not become a major tourist hotspot until the birth of Wan Aishah bt Wan Nawawi, the seventh generation descendant of Mahsuri. Wan Aishah's lineage to Mahsuri was ascertained by the Kedah Museum and the Kedah Historical Society.
Initially, there was no tomb or grave marker for Mahsuri’s burial site. This legend only gained prominence in today’s Malay culture when Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, the first prime minister of Malaysia (then just a district officer) had the tomb as seen today constructed.
The compound where the tomb is located includes a replica of the traditional Malay house during Mahsuri’s time. There is also a theatre where the tragic tale of Mahsuri is regularly performed by one of the leading drama groups in the country, the Kota Mahsuri Drama Group.
According to Lonely Planet, the Mahsuri tomb is described as a “complete rip off" but I wouldn’t go that far. You can hardly say that an admission fee of MYR2 (USD$0.60) would classify as a rip off when the same amount of money can only purchase a can of coke in the U.S.
We mustn’t forget that Mahsuri’s legend has very special historical significance in the Malaysian culture, so much so, that the legend has its place in the history textbooks of Malaysian high school students.