Sitting on a cover crop-filled small hilltop and well-hidden among blocks of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats at Bukit Purmei, the Keramat Bukit Kasita remains a low profile and mysterious Muslim graveyard that is possibly linked to Sang Nila Utama, the legendary founder of Singapura kingdom several centuries ago.
Sang Nila Utama was said to have arrived and established the kingdom of Singapura in 1299. More than 200 years later, Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah II, Sang Nila Utama’s seventh descendant, founded the Johor Sultanate, after Melaka had fallen into the hands of the Portuguese. The island of Singapore was part of the Johor Sultanate between the 16th and 19th century. In around 1530, the sultan established the Keramat Bukit Kasita, referring it as a sacred hill.
The southern part of Singapore was a hilly area; spanning across the vicinity were several small hill such as Telok Blangah Hill, Mount Washington, Bukit Radin Mas, Bukit Chermin, Berlayer Hill, Bukit Teresa and Bukit Purmei. Living at the foot of the hill range in the early 19th century was the settlement of Temenggong Abdul Rahman, grandfather of Sultan Abu Bakar, who had ruled Johor from 1862 till his death in 1895. Sultan Abu Bakar himself was born in Telok Banglah in 1833.
By 1824, Temenggong Abdul Rahman’s subjects had grown to almost 10,000, and were living in Malay villages at Kampong Bahru, Kampong Bukit Kasita, Kampong Bukit Mawla, Kampong Jagoh, Kampong Pahang, Kampong Pantai Chermin, Kampong Radin Mas, Kampong Rochor, Kampong Telok Blangah and Kampong Ulu.
Today, there are about 200 tombs at the ruins of Keramat Bukit Kasita; the oldest could be traced back to as early as 1721. Many of the graves were draped in yellow clothes that represents Malay royalty. Hence, the site is otherwise also known as Tanah Kubor diRaja, which means Royal Burial Ground in Malay.
But due to a lack of official records, there are debates regarding the history of Keramat Bukit Kasita. Some historians pointed out that the tombs, like the other graves found at the nearby Radin Mas and Telok Banglah areas, dated back to only the 19th century, when Sultan Hussien was the ruler of the Johor Sultanate.
Keramat Bukit Kasita is currently being looked after by a volunteer caretaker. Each month, there are 50 or more devotees from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia coming to pay their respects. Others seek spiritual enlightenment – in Islam, it is believed that praying and mediating at keramats help Muslims to attain a state of calm and peacefulness, and in the process, they can communicate with God more directly.
The keramat site at the Bukit Purmei housing estate is categorised as a reserve site under the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Master Plan. There are neither conservation nor demolition plans of Keramat Bukit Kasita in the near future but the historical site is definitely worth considered to be preserved as it is one of the few places left in Singapore that has links to the country’s pre-colonial history.
Published: 11 March 2017