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Pannai Kingdom
11th century–14th century
Capital Pannai
Religion Vajrayana Buddhism
Government Monarchy
• Established
11th century
• Disestablished
14th century
Today part of  Indonesia

Pannai, Panai or Pane is a Buddhist kingdom existed around 11th to 14th century located on east coast of Northern Sumatra.[1] The kingdom was located on the Barumun River and Panai River valleys, today located in Labuhan Batu Regency and South Tapanuli Regency, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Because of the scarcity of inscriptions and historical records, this kingdom is among the mysterious and least known polity in Indonesian history. Historian suggested that the Pannai kingdom was probably a principality or a vassal allied under the Srivijayan mandala and later to Dharmasraya kingdom.[2] The historical records mentioning this kingdom can be found from Indian and Javanese sources.

Panai among ancient Melayu kingdoms realm.

Despite the lack of local historical records, on the upstream of these rivers however, 16 Buddhist Vajrayana temples were discovered. These temples today are known as Padanglawas temple compounds, one of them are Bahal temple. Experts suggest that the existence of the temples is related to the Kingdom of Pannai. The temples is the traces of Vajranaya Buddhism in Sumatra.[2] The place is most probably a religious-complex for warrior-monks of and had a key role, being located mid-way in the Strait of Malacca in policing the trade within the area and repelling invading forces as well as providing spiritual guidance to any pilgrim from China, India or within the archipelago.

The state of Pannai, according to inscriptions found in India, fell after a surprise attack from the rear. Pannai did not suspect an attack from a Chola occupied Srivijaya, the mandala's capital.


Buddha Amitabha bronze statue from Pamutung in Padang Lawas. One of a few artifact linked to Pannai Kingdom

The existence of this kingdom was first mentioned in Tanjore inscription written in Tamil dated from 1025 and 1030. The inscription created by Rajendra Chola I, king of Cholamandala kingdom, Chola Dynasty, in South India, mentioned about Chola invasion of Srivijaya. This inscription mentioned Pannai with its water ponds was among the conquered cities during Rajendra Chola I campaign against Srivijaya.[3] For most of its history Pannai was successful in policing and defending the strait of Malacca for the Mandala of Srivijaya against Arab, Chinese and Indian invaders, until the Chola invasion of Srivijaya occurred, wherein a surprise attack from behind, originating from the occupied capital, rendered the militant-state of Pannai vulnerable from an unprotected assault from the back flank.

Other than Pannai, the Chola invasion also claimed Malaiyur, Ilongasogam, Madamalingam, Ilamuri-Desam, and Kadaram. The inclusion of Pannai together with other port cities being invaded during Chola campaign against Srivijaya suggested that Pannai was a member of the Srivijayan mandala.

Three centuries later, the name of the kingdom reappeared in Javanese source, the Nagarakretagama, written by Mpu Prapanca from Majapahit Empire dated 1365 (or 1287 Saka year). In Nagarakretagama canto 13, Pane is mentioned as one of Sumatran kingdoms held under Majapahit influence. Javanese overlordship upon Malay states in Sumatra was probably initiated through Singhasari’s Pamalayu expedition that pull Malayu Dharmasraya into Singhasari mandala orbit. Therefore, all of Dharmasraya’s vassal states were also recruited within Javanese Singhasari mandala. These states includes Palembang, Teba, Kandis, Kahwas, Minangkabau, Siak, Rokan, Kampar, Pane, Kampe, Haru, Mandailing, Tamiyang, Perlak, Padang Lawas, Samudra, Lamuri, Batan, Lampung and Barus, all were under Singhasari influence later inherited by its successor state, Majapahit.

Historical sites

Bahal temple I, in Padang Lawas, North Sumatra. One of the remnants of Pannai Kingdom.

Historians and archaeology experts tried to locate the kingdom mentioned in these historical sources. The similar-sounding names directing them into the estuarine of Panai River and also nearby Barumun River on the east coast of today North Sumatra province, facing Malacca Strait. In 1846 Franz Junghuhn, a geology expert under Commission of Dutch East Indies authority reported the discovery of temple compound in Padanglawas area, upstream of Barumun River. This vast and empty savanna-like area dotted with Biaro, a local name for temple, obviously derived from Sanskrit vihara. These red brick structures — most of them are in ruins — was once the spiritual center of Pannai Kingdom.[4] The most well-preserved temple within this Padanglawas temple compounds is Bahal temple.

Padanglawas area is a dry lowland basin with savanna-like climate. It is unlikely that this area was once support a dense habitation, and probably only used for religious purposes. Although this area is quite accessible by river or land routes, the dry climate of Padanglawas could not support agriculture villages. Therefore, it is suggested that the habitation area of the people that supported Padanglawas culture was located elsewhere. Probably near the estuarine of Barumun and Panai river and not located near these temples.[4] It is suggested that the center of Pannai Kingdom was located in the more fertile area and much closer to maritime trade route of Malacca Strait, which pointing into the estuarine of Panai and Barumun river.

Despite its rich archaeological value, unlike the popular temples of Java, the Padanglawas temples are mostly neglected and in the state of ruins.[1] There are some attempts to promote the temples as a tourism attraction, however because of its remote location and poor infrastructure, promotion and tourism activity is limited.

Other than the temple complex, some archaeological artifact has been discovered in the area. A bronze statue of Buddha Amitabha was found in the main temple of Pamutung, Padang Lawas. This bronze image demonstrate Sri Lankan style, it was presumably imported from Sri Lanka to Sumatra. This is one of a few artifacts linked to the Pannai Kingdom. This statue is now a collection of Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands.

Possible connection with Panay

The similarity of names between Pannai kingdom and Panay island in the Philippines has raised some suggestions that the two might be related. This suggestion however, is hard to prove due to lack of historical evidences. According to Visayan legends and epics, the people of the island of Panay and the Visayans of the Philippines, trace their ancestry from the state of Pannai which the island of Panay is said to have been named after.[5] The Visayans themselves being descendants of the Sri-Vijayan datus who refused to bow to the Tamil occupation of Maharajah Rajendra Chola or the Hindu rule of the Rajahs that came thereafter.[5]

Panay island in the Philippines is said to have been named after the state of Pannai,[5] of which Visayan (descendants of Srivijayans) oral legends recount that their 10 Datus or Datuks (in Malay) that transited from Borneo, rebelled against the Rajah named Makatunao.[6] Thus, mirroring the situation in Pannai-proper, which fell under the Hindu Chola dynasty,[5] to whom the Datus of the Visayan legend (Maragtas) refused to bow. Instead of bowing to the Maharajah's and his puppet rajah's domination, these Datus set out to other islands, together with their constituent nobles, soldiers and scholars, and never again to return.[7][5] The Kedatuan of Madja-as may be thus considered as the successor-nation to the Pannai-state, since this previous State itself underwent dissolution after the siege and eventual annexation by the indianized Majapahit Empire.

P. Francisco Colin, S.J., a Spanish historian during the early years of Iberian colonization of the Philippines (c.1605), recorded the following account of his visit to Sumatra, which preserved certain fragments of what happened to the State of Pannai in the previous centuries:

"In the middle of Sumatra, there is a spacious and extensive lake (presumably Lake Toba near Pannai), around the shore of which many and several ethnic groups settle, [and] from where, in the past, there was a forced exodus of inhabitants [constraining them] to sail to and to settle in various islands. One of these ethnic groups was subjugated there and they were unable to flee for various circumstances. Someone speaking pampango (which I heard before) found out that they were not speaking pampango among themselves, but they (the Malays of Sumatra) donned the old pampango ethnic costume. And when he addressed an old man among them, the [old man] replied: You are descendants of the lost, that in times past left this place to settle in other lands, and nothing was heard about them again." So, Colin concluded that the Tagalogs and Pampangos, and other political or ethnic groups (meaning: Visayans and other relatively civilized groups), by symbols used in expressing language, by color of dress and costume, one can believe that these came from parts of Borneo and Sumatra.[8]


  1. ^ a b "Candi di Padang Lawas Kurang Terawat". Kompas (in Indonesian). 17 April 2009. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The Temples Of Bahal (Portibi): Traces of Vajranaya Buddhism in Sumatra". Wonderful Indonesia. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  3. ^ Sastri, K.A.N., (1949). History of Sri Vijaya. University of Madras.
  4. ^ a b Bambang Budi Utomo. "Percandian Padanglawas" (PDF). Pusat Penelitian dan Pengembangan Arkeologi Nasional. Retrieved 17 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e Francisco Colin, S.J., Labor evangélica, Madrid:1663.
  6. ^ G. Nye Steiger, H. Otley Beyer, Conrado Benitez, A History of the Orient, Oxford: 1929, Ginn and Company, pp. 120–121.
  7. ^ Isabelo de los Reyes y Florentino, Las Islas Visayas en la Época de la Conquista (Segunda edición), Manila: 1889, Tipo-Litografía de Chofké y C.a, p. 71.
  8. ^ Isabelo de los Reyes y Florentino, Las Islas Visayas en la Época de la Conquista (Segunda edición), Manila: 1889, Tipo-Litografía de Chofké y C.a, p. 71.

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