The Meaning of Yellow

Mahmoodiah Royal Mausoleum

It is not unusual to find an English person wandering around a graveyard in England because they are simply looking for the graves of their long lost ancestors! But visiting a Muslim cemetery is a bit more of a challenge if one cannot read Arabic or Malay script, so this is what I have learnt. Just as in an old English graveyard, Muslim graves are lined up in one direction. In an English graveyard, bodies are positioned with the feet oriented to the east.

This is thought to be so the body faces the new day. In a Muslim cemetery, one’s face is oriented towards the Mecca. In both places though, there is a sense of calmness in the surroundings due to the ordered nature of the graves and the placing of trees and greenery all around.

If you walk around the grounds of the Mahmoodiah Royal Mausoleum in Johor Bahru, you will see several types of graves, but as ostentation is not encouraged, the graves are all very similar. In contrast, the Mahmoodiah Royal Mausoleum itself is painted bright yellow and white, and definitely makes a statement. It was built in 1895 to house the body of Sultan Abu Bakar and his descendants.

The bodies of Sultan Abu Bakar’s father (Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim, r.1806-1825) and his grandfather (Temenggong Abdul Rahman, r.1855-1862) are not in Johor Bahru, but are housed in the yellow Johor Royal Mausoleum in Singapore, in Telok Blangah. Despite their apparent location in Singapore, they are actually on land under the jurisdiction of the State of Johor.

The graves of the family of Sultan Hussein are in the Muslim Cemetery on Jalan Kubor in Singapore. Sultan Hussein was a co-signatory with Temenggong Abdul Rahman and Sir Stamford Raffles, on the treaty which gave trading rights in Singapore to the British in 1819. The Muslim cemetery has been neglected for some time, but one can still find graves surrounded by yellow tiles, or tombstones draped in yellow cloth.

So, yellow is the traditional colour of Malay royalty and if you see the colour yellow on any Muslim graves, then these are the graves of Malay royalty. If you drive up Frasier Hill in Singapore, keep a look out for more royal graves as this land was once the family home of Temenggong Abdul Rahman.