Tan Talanai

Who’s this Man with Many Name Variations?

(Calanai; Tan Talanai; Tun Talanai; Telanai)

On the northwest part of the City of Jambi, south of the Batanghari River, is a district of the city named Telanaipura. This district evidently derived its name from a legendary figure who was said to have lived anywhere between the 1100’s till the 1400’s.

It must be understood that historical documentation concerning this man is no longer in existence. All assumptions about who this person was are noble attempts in trying to piece together a historic jigsaw puzzle that has almost all the pieces missing. Attempting to read all the theories and variations of oral legends about this man are endless.

The name “Calanai,” who some identify as Talanai, was said to have been found chiseled into a stone tablet of a Buddhist statue in the year 1183. Though the Buddhist statue and this writing are no longer in existence, the writing on the ancient stone was said to have indicated that there was a great commander-in-chief with the name Calanai. From legends, he is believed to have become one of the Jambi kings. Some say he ruled Jambi during the 1400’s. The distance from 1183 to the 1400’s is a considerable span of time. Trying to piece together history from these oral legends is impossible.

Our translation of one one legend of Tun Talanai can be read by clicking this link. The legend we translated appears to have been adapted for children, since it shows Talanai and his son being reunited, after having been separated for many years. Other versions of the legend shows the son killing his father. Another legend shows a completely different story of this man–and our translation of that legend can be read by clicking this link.  Another legend has this man proposing to a famous and beautiful young lady from the village of Koto Rayo, the people who now make up the Batin 5, in the area of Rantau Panjang.

There are multiple theories of what position Tun Talanai occupied. The theories vary widely, and they include: an ambassador; an admiral; a commander-in-chief; a Jambi King; etc., etc. One legend we translated illustrates he was originally from the country of Turkey, whereas, theories from historians indicate he was either from Malaysia; Siam; or Java, etc., etc.

One of the above historians indicated that Talanai was a Hindu from the Javanese Mataram Kingdom. It was said that Tan Talanai, being a Hindu, had statues erected on the island now known as Pulau Berhala (Statue Island). After him, another legendary figure came and destroyed all those statues in his efforts to spread Islam. The man who had them all destroyed, and who is accredited as being an Islamic missionary, is variously recorded as having the names and title of: Ahmad Salim; Ahmad Barus; or, Ahmad Barus II; and the title of…. “Datuk Paduko Berhalo,” or in Bahasa Indonesia, “Datuk Paduka Berhala.”

The “Tun,” and “Tan” was a title that frequently appears before the name “Talanai.” The title “Tan” was used before the name of noblemen. Some have tried to promote the title “Tun” as having been an abbreviation for “Sultan,” although its questionable whether Islam had entered Jambi at the period of time Talanai was living.

Who was Tan Talanai? You decide!