History and military buffs shouldn’t miss Malaysia’s National Monument during a visit to Kuala Lumpur. Tugu Negara is easy to access (and hard to miss) in the Lake Gardens on Jalan Tugu.
There are two main monuments to take note of. The first, a cenotaph — an empty tomb or monument erected to honour the dead — was originally placed in the middle of a roundabout but later moved to its present site. As such, Jalan Tugu was first known as Cenotaph Road. The inscription at the bottom, “To Our Glorious Dead (1914–1918), (1939–1945) and the Emergency (1948–1960)”, testifies to Malaysia’s involvement in a number of wars, which tourists may be unaware of.
The 10 metre-high cenotaph at the upper entrance of Tugu Negara commemorates not only the war effort during both World Wars, but also the Malayan Emergency, a guerilla war fought between the Commonwealth armed forces against the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. The Malayan Emergency was the term given by the colonial government (Britain) while the communist party coined it the Anti-British National Liberation War. Despite their defeat in 1960 and the withdrawal of Australian and British troops, the war continued sporadically until 1989.
The second monument, the current National Monument, is made up of tall, bronze soldiers supporting their fallen comrades. The seven statues represent leadership, unity, vigilance, strength, courage, sacrifice and suffering. Overall, the figures depict the victory of democracy, peace and freedom over communism and evil. Dedicated to the 11,000 people who died during the Malayan Emergency, the monument is thought to be the largest freestanding bronze grouping in the world.
Tugu Negara has suffered its own difficulties, undergoing extensive damage after an explosion was detonated by a communist rebel in 1975. The communists blamed the explosion on the Malaysian government, alleging that they needed a reason to rebuild the faces of the statues, which were perceived to have Caucasian features. The restoration took two years and now there’s a fence set up between dusk and dawn to protect the area from any further attempts at destruction.
The Central Pavilion, with its three gold domes, may not spark your interest at first, but is worth a look. The floor of the crescent-shaped pavilion is made from marble from the island of Langkawi, and below the centre dome is a vault. You’ll see it beyond the black metal grill, and inside are the names of the fallen warriors, recorded on microfilm and kept for posterity. Look up at the ceiling of the pavilion, and you’ll see the emblems of the regiments who served during World War II and the Emergency.
Until 2010, a wreath-laying ceremony took place here every July 31 on Warriors Day, when the king, heads of the military and the prime minister would pay their respects. But Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council declared the statues “un-Islamic” after that, meaning they are potentially idolatrous. A new Warriors Square is apparently set to be built in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, where the commemoration service will eventually be held instead. In the meantime, Malaysia’s history still stands remembered at Tugu Negara.
Admission is free, and the monument can be accessed daily, 07:-00-18:00. If you simply want to snap a couple of pictures, you won’t need to spend much time here, but if you enjoy war history, Tugu Negara is worth an hour or two. It’s also close to the ASEAN Gardens and Parliament House, while the Petronas Twin Towers are a short 10 minutes away by cab.
To get to Tugu Negara, hop on the KTM train and stop at Bank Negara Station. Follow the signage to Jalan Parlimen or Perdana Laka Gardens. It’ll take about 15 minutes by foot or 5 minutes by cab.
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