Langkawi is an island located in the Kedah province of West Malaysia, an island surrounded by other small islands and rich in natural beauties and lovely viewpoints. Most of Langkawi’s attractions are attached to fables, as the Malay style requires. One of these, and probably the most famous one, is the legend of Mahsuri, a young princess who lived in Langkawi during the 17th century. A tale that has existed since ancient times, a story passed from generation to generation about a curse that was written even before this wonderful island was part of Malaysia.
With this in mind, one of the first thing I did after arriving on Langkawi was to organize a visit to Makam Mahsuri, or Mahsuri Tomb, a tourist attraction on the island. We made our way to Kampung Mawat, the area where the museum is located, paid the 10 Ringgit entry fee and where soon inside the complex where her crypt is, and where we were told the story of Mahsuri with great gamelan music played by the local people in the background.
According to the legend, Mahsuri was the third daughter of Pandak Mayah, a pretty maiden who lived during the Reign of Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah II who ruled what is now Kedah province between 1762 and 1800. She was one of the most beautiful women in all of Langkawi and married a warrior who soon had to depart to fight in the war with Siam. During her husband’s absence, Mahsuri befriended a young man, giving her mother-in-law, jealous of Mahsuri beauty and fame, the chance to conspire against her. She spread the rumour that Mahsuri was unfaithful to her warrior husband and this lead to her being openly accused by all the villagers of adultery and sentenced to death. Mahsuri strongly pleaded her innocence, but no one believed her and was tried and sentenced to death by the village elders. When she was finally executed with the ceremonial dagger, white blood flowed from the wound and birds flew in to cover her whole body, signifying her innocence.
The folklore believes that since she was going to die for a crime she did not commit, with her dying breath Mahsuri cursed Langkawi with seven generations of bad luck: “For this act of injustice, Langkawi shall not prosper for seven generations to come.”
Many locals of Langkawi believe the legend to be true, citing occurrences and tragedies during the decades that followed Mahsuri’s death: the Siamese conquered Kedah and invaded Langkawi, with the villagers setting fire to their crops to halt the advance of the invaders. Still to this day, legend has it that after torrential rains, traces of burned rice can be seen in nearby Padang Matsirat (which means ‘the field of burnt rice’)
It was only after the seven generations passed, at the end of the 20th century, that Langkawi prospered as a tourist destination, and this newfound success was attributed to the end of Mahsuri’s curse. In the year 2000, the Malaysian government managed to trace Mahsuri’s descendants in the Thai island of Phuket – apparently Mahsuri was the daughter of a couple who moved from their native Phuket to Langkawi in search of a better life. Mahsuri latest descendant, Wan Aishah, still occasionally returns to Langkawi to visit Mahsuri tomb. It is popularly believed that the discovery of Wan Aishah officially ended the seven generations curse.
Makam Mahsuri’s historical site includes Mahsuri’s shrine (a white slab of marble that stands in a shady garden), a reconstruction of a traditional Malay house, a theatre and a ‘diorama museum’ which houses some of Mahsuri’s jewellery and the weapon that killed her.
The legend of Mahsuri and of her execution was indeed a tragedy of dramatic proportions and her curse, whether it is myth, real story or fantasy, has had significant importance and consequences in the course of Langkawi’s history.
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 18:00
Location: Makam Mahsuri is located at Kampung Mawat (Kampung means village) 12km from Kuah.
Tel: +60 3 955 6055
Getting there: To reach Makam Mahsuri, follow the Padang Matsirat Road until you pass the Tok Senik Resort on your left, where you will cross the junction to Makam Mahsuri Road. There, turn right and follow the road until you reach the mausoleum. The signposts are in both Malay and English.
Facilities: there are food outlets outside the complex.