Forgotten Buildings

By Luqman Hakim

Istana Billah or Billah Palace was built based on the Mandailing architectural concept. It is also known as the “Mandailing Mansion”.

Mandailing is a traditional cultural group from the northern part of Sumatera, Indonesia. This group of entrepreneurial migrants settled in parts of Selangor and Perak.

The two-storey palace was completed in 1896 and was once the biggest structure in Papan, Perak. It was occupied by Raja Billah, the Mandailing chieftain then.

The palace’s grandeur, located atop a hill, bore testimony to Raja Billah’s connection to the royal household of Sumatera. The mansion was built for his personal use.

According to Abdul-Razzaq Lubis, an expert on Mandailing culture and history, Raja Billah and his followers settled in that part of Perak following the tin rush. However, most of his descendants left Papan in the late 1890s.

On the ground floor is a hall with eight corners and a table. The living room with a huge hall is on the second floor. The site was used by Raja Billah to celebrate weddings and special occasions as and when they occurred.

It was also a venue for residents to meet Raja Billah to discuss and exchange ideas. Meetings were normally held following Friday prayers at the Papan mosque.

Papan residents claimed that the building is spooked. The ageing structure is left to the elements without much care by either the Mandailing community or the authorities. A wire-link fence has been erected to keep trespassers away.

Locals claimed that eerie sounds of drum beats and azan (call for prayers) can be heard coming from the dilapidated mosque located next to the palace.

Billah Palace is often associated with paranormal activities and the existence of supernatural creatures. This was featured in a Malay television drama named, “Warkah Terakhir” and a documentary titled, “Penunggu Istana” shown in cinemas recently.

In February 2009, a television crew filming on location experienced something horrifying while working within the palace grounds.

The crew realised that they were not alone. Something was watching them from the first day of filming.

Paranormal activities taking place at Billah Palace are not figments of Papan residents’ imagination but were confirmed and recorded on film. This will have a profound impact on Istana Billah’s aura, hopefully.