There have been many variations to the legend surrounding the 99 islands of the Langkawi archipelago. The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa is now one of the most sought after tropical getaway in South-east Asia, but it has not always been so. This idyllic spot is not only famous for world class resorts or its mythical tales but also for its age-old geological wonders each with a timeless story.
The most famous legend of Mahsuri, is the key to Langkawi’s success today. An innocent woman accused of adultery because of jealousy towards her beauty. She was tied to a tree and stabbed to death with a special kris (Malay dagger) and bled white blood despite her pleas of innocence. For the injustice done to her and her unborn child, Mahsuri laid a curse as she died—Langkawi was not to prosper for the next seven generations. In her honour, Mahsuri's Mausoleum was erected. The descendants of Mahsuri's family line were officially welcomed back to the island from Thailand in March 2001, by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.
In 1821 the Siamese invaded Langkawi and in order to starve the enemy, Dato Kerma Jaya ordered the village granary be burnt. Even today, remnants of the burnt rice can be seen re-surfacing from the earth on rainy days at Kampong Raja in Padang Matsirat. After this episode, the island fell into a period of obscurity and was beset by a series of smaller misfortunes.
Much local literature has been written based on the legends of Langkawi and the story of Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa is about a Garuda (a giant eagle taking a half-human form) and a princess from China. One variation of this tale involves the emperors of Rome and China who planned to marry off their children. Garuda felt that this union would threaten the smaller kingdoms and his power over the islands, so he flew to China, kidnapped the Chinese princess and her maid and hid them in a cave believed to be Gua Cerita. In a battle against Garuda, the Roman prince was swept ashore on Langkawi and finally reunited with the Chinese princess. When Garuda learnt the truth he disappeared, never to return.
The interesting tale of the two magnificent mountains of Gunung Raya and Gunung Mat Cincang tells much of Langkawi’s story. The natives believe that the mountains were two giants named Mat Raya and Mat Cincang, who ruled long ago. Very much to Mat Cincang's disapproval, Mat Raya's son was bent on marrying Mat Cincang's daughter. On the wedding day, a misunderstanding between the two giants arose. Utensils and vessels were hurled at each other and a big pot of gravy overturned is now known as Kuah (Malay for 'gravy') and is now Langkawi's main town. At Air Hangat Village a container of hot water (air hangat) also tipped over. Mat Sawar, a peaceable neighbor decided to intervene the dispute that had been going on for days. Eventually, the two giants and their neighbor were transformed into mountains. Today, Gunung Mat Cincang and Gunung Raya stand facing each other. As if separating the two, Bukit Sawar (Sawar Hill) lies in the middle. At the peak of Gunung Raya towers the MEASAT Satellite Control Centre.
The favourite bathing pool of a celestial princess named Mambang Sari was said to be Tasik Dayang Bunting (lake of the pregnant maiden). A prince, Mat Teja, fell madly in love with her and tricked her into marrying him. It did not take her long to reciprocate his love but she also could not bear to be away from her celestial home. Sadly, their child died from a mysterious illness at the age of seven days. Distraught, the grieving Mambang Sari left the child's body in the lake and returned to her heavenly abode. Today, some believe barren women who bathe in this lake will be endowed with a child. Many have claimed to be successful.
Although other legends have faded over the years, many attractions on the island serve to remind us of them. These include Gua Langsiar (cave of the banshee), Telaga Tujuh (seven wells) waterfall, Pantai Pasir Tengkorak (skull beach) and Pulau Beras Basah (island of wet rice grains).
Langkawi's development was slow up to the 1970s, when the population was still fewer than 2,000. In the mid-1980s, (and at the end of the seven generations!) the islands began to flourish with government plans to promote the archipelago as a tourist destination. Langkawi International Airport was built and more ferry services from Peninsular Malaysia were offered to cater to the escalating number of tourists. The duty-free status given in 1987 further boosted the popularity of the islands. In 1990, the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA), which is housed in the LADA Complex, was created with a mission to further develop Langkawi as a tourist hotspot and to improve the socio-economic conditions of the local people.
Today, with a population of more than 50,000, Langkawi is on the world map and has become a venue for various international events such as the Tour de Langkawi, Langkawi International Maritime & Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA), Langkawi International Motor Show and the Langkawi International Dialogue.
Mahsuri's curse has been lifted. The legends will be told, retold and continue to live in almost every place you visit on this fabled island.