My interest in the Sultan has nothing to do with Kedah history. I am not an Historian and my knowledge of Malaysian and Kedah history is at best rudimentary. I am drawn more by his charisma and the many wonderful tales that are bandied from mouth to mouth about him being a Wali (or saint). A visitor to Alor Star may find many an Indian barber shop or a Chinese grocery adorning the wall with a potrait of the Sultan in full regalia. It is supposed to confer good luck. It is my main intention in this write-up to focus on the private life of the Sultan and in particular that part which will shed some light on his spiritual proclivities. However, information on this is very scant and I would have to resort to some conjectures.
While I would like to steer away from history, a little of it is quite inevitable since the Sultan's long reign of 61 years was a defining point - that of the transfer of suzerainty froommm Siam to the British and the gradual shift from a Monarchy system to one of Constitutional Monarch. It will aso provide a nice back drop to what I intend to do.
The ascension was confirmed by King Chulalongkorn, as Overlord on January 21st, 1882. The Sultan enjoyed very cordial relationship with the King and one is tempted to believe that there was a deeper personal friendship between the two. Be that as it may, one is quickly reminded of the harsh reality of international politics - something the Sultan would soon discover.
In 1895 the King decorated the Sultan with the Order of the White Elephant First Class and bestowed the title Chao Phya Saiburi and later the additional title of Phya Riddisongkran Bhakti. He also sent two of the Sultan's sons to Europe for education. Tunku Yusuf in fact served the King upon return and Tunku Badlishah made a brief stay in Siam after graduating in economics in Oxford.
Good relations were maintained between the two states with Kedah sending the "Bunga Emas dan Perak" triennially to the Siamese Court in Bangkok as a token of Siam's suzerainty. Till his death in 1910, King Chulalongkorn extended great affection and held the Sultan in high esteem.
On record the Sultan made four visits to Siam - in 1890, 1892, 1895 and 1903. King Chulalongkorn, on the other hand, visited Kedah in 1874, 1890, 1896 and 1904.
According to the collection of letters of the Sultan, King Chulalongkorn made one visit to Kedah in 1890.
From his ascension to the throne in 1882 till 1905, the Sultan was pretty well left alone and Siam did not interfere in the internal administration of the State. However in 1905 the State underwent a financial crisis and was forced to ask Siam for a $2,500,000 loan. The loan was extended with the proviso that a Financial Advisor from the court of Siam be accepted and a State Council be created to assist the Sultan in the administration of all public affairs. This resulted in the promulgation of a new constitution on July 29th, 1905. In the ensuing years the administration of the state was effectively ran by the State Council which was headed first by the Sultan's younger brother, the Regent Tunku Abdul Aziz (1905-1907), and then by another brother, Tunku Mahmud (1907-1914), and followed by his sons Tunku Ibrahim (1914-1934) and Tunku Badlishah (1937-1943). The formation of the State Council meant the curbing of the Sultan's power.
In 1909, in a strategic move to safeguard Siam's independence of foreign super powers (Britain and France), King Chulalongkorn signed the Anglo- Siam Treaty which transferred Siam's right of suzerainty over the four northern Malay states- Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu- to Britain. This was done without a hint of consent of the Malay rulers and must have hurt the Sultan deeply when he lamented that " I can forgive the Buyer but I cannot forgive the Seller".