The arch is one of the elements that showcase a nation’s artistic and cultural influences. No two arches carry the same design. What distinguishes one from another is the design and motif.
An arch can also be viewed as the yardstick to which a nation’s civilisation is measured. One can get an insight into the technique and building materials used during its construction.
In Malaysia, there is no precise date associated with the use of arches. However, based on excerpts from sources like Sulalatus Salatin (Sejarah Melayu / Malay Annals) the arch or city arch was already in use during the Hindu-Malay kingdom named Gangga Negara, with its capital in Beruas, Perak.
In Malaysia the motifs and designs are generally that of plants, calligraphy as well as geometric elements. There are also some designs that are a form of storytelling, as seen on the Chinese Arch. Here are some examples of these arches.
Istana Balai Besar arch
The main section of the arch is located by the side of the main entrance to the Istana Balai Besar in Kota Baru, Kelantan. It was built in 1844, during the reign of Sultan Muhammad II (Long Senik Long Tan). The upper part of the arch is decorated with sulur bayu (windblown tendrils) motifs, transformed into the shapes of mountains. There are also two Kala motifs at the bottom of the doors, in the floral form.
Datuk Perdana Menteri arch
This 18th Century arch, at Seni Ukir Bakawali, originated from Kelantan. The original owner was Datuk Perdana Menteri Nik Ismail Nik Mahmud, the then Menteri Besar of Kelantan. In terms of design and motif, the arch has six stupa pillars while the central part is decorated with the waterplant pot source motif. There are lotus designs along the sides. This arch, built from cengal wood, was used as a passageway to the wet laundry area in the homes of the nobility.
Originating from Hopei, China, this is also known as the “bed arch”. It is approximately 200 years old and was used by the nobility. In terms of motifs, there are engravings depicting Earth and heaven.
This is another variation of the Kelantan Arch which is used as a partition door to the bedroom. The horizontal panel is decorated with a spinach leaf motif while the vertical has the fish scale motif.
Source: National Museum