KELANTAN, which translates as the "Land of Lightning", is a veritable treasure trove of delights - rustic fishing villages, verdant padi fields and languid, palm-fringed beaches.
Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Peninsular Malaysia, the people of Kelantan have managed to keep alive age-old customs and traditions, thus earning the State a reputation as the Cradle of Malay Culture.
Rustic settings of picturesque kampungs amidst padi fields give insights into a way of life that has endured the passing of time. Modern buildings jostle alongside landmarks from another era while colourfully decorated trishaws ply the streets. Here, colourful kites soar upwards defying gravity and giant drums reverberate. Shadow puppets mesmerise audiences and giant tops provide hours of endless fun.
Kelantan has a population of about 1.4 million, 95 per cent Malay with Chinese, Indians, Thais and Orang Asli making up the rest. Kelantanese are renowned for their warmth and friendliness.
Kelantan's history dates back to between 8000 to 3000 BC. Chinese historical documents chronicle the existence of a government which maintained links with China. Kelantan was subsequently referred to as "Ho-lo-tan", "Chih-Tu" and "Tan-Tan" in these records. In the 18th Century, the provinces came under a powerful warrior Long Yunus, whose descendants currently make up the Royal House of Kelantan. In today's Kota Baru, a must-visit is the Gelanggang Seni, a cultural centre in the heart of town.
All traditional arts of Kelantan can be seen here - kite-flying, rebana (giant drums), silat (martial arts), giant top spinning, wayang kulit (shadow play) and much more. Located in Jalan Mahmood, the Cultural Centre is open from February to October except during the fasting month.
In Kelantan they are usually assembled in groups of six but are not of uniform sizes - often there is a large pair, a medium sized pair and a small one.Group of rebana ubi performers come together to join in a wedding celebration or to compete against one another after a rice harvest. They are always played outdoors and usually accompanied by a seruling . Thirty years ago men used their hands to beat the rebana ubi but players in their impetuous enthusiasm are oblivious to the fact that the palms of their hands were cut or bruised. This interfered with their work, thus padded drumsticks are now used interchangeably.
It is an ancient dance-theatre form incorporating elements of ritual, stylised dance and acting, vocal and instrumental music, story, song, formal as well as improvised spoken text and performed principally in Kelantan.Many theories have been advanced to explain the genre's origins. Its roots obviously sink deep into animism as well as shamanism. In mak yong, the male lead role (pak yong) is conventionally played by female performers. In addition there are the following roles - the female lead (mak yong), a pair of clowns (peran), a pair of female attendants (inang) as well as a wide range of lesser roles including those of gods and spirits, ogres or giants, palace functionaries and animals. In today's Kelantan, mak yong has been banned from public view but fans can usually catch performances staged out of State.
Although "wau bulan" is the most popular, they come in all shapes and sizes - hence in a variety of names. Some are called wau katak, wau kucing, wau ikan, wau puyuh and wau bayan.The beauty of the kite when it is in flight is enhanced by the humming sound it makes - a wau kucing is made to hum like a cat. Wau bulan is named so because its tail resemble the crescent. It is made to fly high and is stable in varying winds.Kite flying is seasonal - immediately after the rice harvest, fine weather and a spirit of general well-being set the mood for kite-making and flying. For decorative competition, the kites are judged solely on their beauty, the intricacy of the design, combination of colours and the neatness of the whole workmanship.
In the olden days, the coconut husk percussion or kertok is made from a large coconut with its top sliced off and a piece of wooden bar fastened across the mouth to form a sounding board.Each part of the sounding board will produce different melodies when struck with a wooden stick bound with cloth at one end. Today, villagers have come up with many ideas and creations. Some of the modern kertok are made of wood and other materials. Colourful penants are usually attached for decoration and painted in gaily colours. It used to be played after the rice harvesting season but these days it is mostly played as a pastime game and during special occasions or State functions.During a kertok competition, each team will use its own variety of beats without other accompaniment.
Silat ia a highly stylised performance. The word silat is applied to the various sequences of graceful demonstration of how one may defend oneself without the use of weapons.At one time, it was a necessary part of a young man's education. The young are encouraged to learn silat for the physical and spiritual displinary elements while acquiring the skills.Today, the young take to "bersilat" as an artistic form of physical exercise. It is often staged at weddings and other ceremonies where the silat expert or "pendekar" entertains the audience with his highly practised routine of sparring and kicking.For those who want to try a hand at this, the Gelanggang Seni provides a perfect avenue for fun participation.
Gasing or top spinning has been an adult form of recreation among Malays in rural areas for hundreds of years. A typical gasing is about the size of a dinner plate and may weigh about 5.5kg. Spinning gasing is hardly child's play as it requires strength, great dexterity and precise timing. Before it can be spun, a rope must be tighty wound round the spindle until it covers the whole of the smooth upper surface. The other end of the rope and the upper surface are held lightly together.After launch, the gasing is quickly scooped off the ground with a thin wooden bat and transferred to a metal receptacle on a short wooden post. An expert spinner can make a perfectly balanced gasing spin for as long as two hours at a stretch. According to local beliefs, a gasing will spin for 24 hours or more if a spirit enters it.
By road: There is an excellent network of roads linking major towns in Peninsular Malaysia to Kelantan. From Kuala Lumpur, the overland route takes one eastward along the Karak Highway to Kuantan in Pahang, a journey of three hours. From Kuantan to Kota Baru takes about four-and-a-half hours. The route along the coast passes through picturesque villages. The inland route veers off Karak Highway at Bentong and proceeds to Raub and then to Gua Musang, before reaching Kota Baru. An alternative route exits Karak Highway at Temerloh and passes through Jerantut, Benta and Gua Musang enroute to Kota Baru. From Penang, get to Grik via Sungai Petani in Kedah and travel along the scenic East-West Highway to Jeli in Kelantan before continuing to Kota Baru. There are regular air-conditioned express bus services from Kuala Lumpur and major towns to Kota Baru. Once in Kota Baru, it is relatively easy to get to nearby districts using regular bus and taxi services from the main bus terminal. Those interested in visiting the interior of Kelantan are advised to enquire with the Kelantan Tourist Information centre or any registered travel agent. Kelantan is still covered by vast stretches of tropical forests. Its southeastern corner forms part of the Taman Negara National Park.
By rail: Train services from Kuala Lumpur to Kelantan terminate at Wakaf Baru and Tumpat. From these two points, get on to Kota Baru by taxi or bus. Stopover points include Gua Musang, Kuala Krai, Tanah Merah and Pasir Mas.By air: Malaysia Airlines operates daily flights to Kota Baru from Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Pelangi Air also flies daily to Kota Baru from Kuala Lumpur