The Royal Bathing Ceremony by the four primary courtiers (Orang Empat Istana) is one of the unique Royal traditions observed in the state of Negeri Sembilan. Seremban, the State Capital about an hour’s drive south of Kuala Lumpur. However, the Royal town of Seri Menanti is a further drive to the east of Seremban, which takes about an hour. You can skip straight to the Royal Bathing Ceremony, but reading about the State’s history and unique Royal traditions first, gives you the background.
Kampung Buyau, 71550 Seri Menanti, Negeri Sembilan
Negeri Sembilan’s unique Royal traditions
Negeri Sembilan is literally N9 – made up of nine districts, each led by a chief (chiefdoms). The culture of Negeri Sembilan is unique in Malaysia with regard to food, architecture and cultural practices. They owe this to the connection with the Minang people of the Minangkabau Highlands of West Sumatra in Indonesia. Their first three Grand Rulers, known as Rajas, were from Sumatra, and the first local born Yamtuan was Yamtuan Radin who held the position from 1824 until he died in 1861.
Yamtuan, also known officially as Yang di-Pertuan Besar and unofficially as Grand Ruler, is the royal title of the ruler of the state of Negeri Sembilan. The Yamtuan of Negeri Sembilan is elected by a council of four ruling chiefs (Putera Yang Empat) in the state, known as the Undangs. This royal practice has been followed since 1773.
The Undangs themselves cannot stand for election and their choice of a ruler is limited to a male Muslim who is Malay and also a “lawfully begotten descendant of Raja Radin ibni Raja Lenggang”, the 4th Yamtuan.
Tuanku Muhammad Shah became the 7th Yang diPertuan Besar of the Sri Menanti Confederacy in 1888 and ruled for 45 years. On 29th April 1898, he was installed as the Yang diPertuan Besar (Yamtuan) of Negeri Sembilan with the formal adoption of a State Constitution.
At the same time, the chiefs (penghulu luak) of the territories of Jelebu, Johol, Sungai Ujong and Rembau were officially elevated to the status of Undang, with the Yamtuan having control over the districts of Gunung Pasir, Ineh, Jempol, Terachi & Ulu Muar. There are three smaller districts (luak) under the direct control of the Yang diPertuan Besar. These three penghulu luak, from Gemencheh, Pesaka Air Kuning and Linggi must renew their allegiance to the Yam Tuan every three years. The most recent ceremony was held from 17th to19th November 2023 as the final part of a three day celebration held in the Royal town of Seri Menanti. The first and third days are private events, but the Royal Bathing Ceremony (Istiadat Bersiram) held at the Panca Persada close to the Istana Lama on the second day was open to the public. We were privileged to be able to observe this colourful and ceremonial event.
The current incumbent, selected by the Undangs in 2008 is Tuanku Muhriz ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir the The 11th Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan.
This ceremony, held on the second day, saw us arriving bright and early for a ‘good spot’ on the stands set up in front of the gate. This gave us a good view of the approaching procession and the ceremony itself. We also had a great view of all the arriving guests, dressed up in traditional attire. The styling of many of the men’s sampin was particularly impressive. Many also carried their kris tucked in the waist. We were also able to enjoy the traditional gamelan music as the guests arrived.
The guests were all in place and the band in position as we heard the first canon blast. Soon we could see the procession moving towards us past the flag waving school children along the roadside.
Pulled by 99 Palace officials, the Takhta Rencana (Royal carriage with a throne) drew up to the gate as the last canon fired, followed by three of the four Senior Princes.
Upon arrival at the gate, the Yamtuan and his Consort were greeted by the Orang Empat Istana (four primary courtiers) who would perform the ceremony. They were lead by the Dato’ Seri Diraja, who had the honour of carrying the urn with the ‘water’, a mixture of water, mortar and lime. This is the Cupu Bedak Limau.
Once the Yamtuan and his Consort have made their way to the thrones placed on the dais, the four courtiers will circumambulate the dais seven times, each time stopping for Their Royal Highnesses to dip their hands into the mixture in the urn, to symbolically acknowledge the bathing ceremony.
Once they have completed the ritual, the Royal couple are entertained with a cultural performance, which ends the ceremony.
After the performance, they make their way back to the Takhta Rencana to the sound of the State Anthem. The procession set off on the sound of the first of of eight canon blasts, followed on foot, as on arrival, by the Senior Princes and other honoured guests.