Kandang Aceh
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
With the founding of the Samudera-Pasai Sultanate in Sumatra in the thirteenth century, a new type of gravestone was imported by Gujaratis from Cambay, India. These elaborately carved stones mark the gravesites of the first sultans, including the first Sultan Malik al-Salleh who passed away in 1297. Under the subsequent Achenese Sultanate, the period often considered to be the cultural apex of Islamic rule in the region, such gravestones began to be crafted locally and underwent a stylistic revision. The batu aceh, or "Achenese stones" have in turn influenced Islamic gravestones throughout peninsular Malayia and in Islamic segments of Thailand.

The Kandang Aceh, or Aceh Cemetary, is home to the most substantial finding of such mortuary models. Located outside the city of Banda Aceh, in the village of Kampung Pande, this cemetery dates from the sixteenth to seventeenth century and includes approximately 200 gravesites marked with both batu aceh as well as other styles of stones.

The basic structure of batu aceh consists of three vertically aligned parts with an anatomical reference. The tapered, stepped or rounded head or crown, the wider slab of the body, and the base covering the rooted foot. Achense craftsmen departed from the basic Gujarati style slab in a number of ways. Expanding on the stupa like profile of the slab, the winged arms of the sandstone slab were embellished by the addition of upward curls. Local decorative motifs referenced mountains, lotuses, achenese flowers, and spider's webs. The most novel stylistic alteration of the tombstones found at Kandang Aceh are the tombstones which did away with such wings and adapted a vertical pillar form. Such pillar forms, either square, cylindrical, (later to be found also in a prism-shape), indicated a new differentiation between the male and the female headstone, which retained the winged sides. Most forms, however, retain a distinctly Achenese ladder striation on the body which defines the text panels of Arabic calligraphic inscription.

The perhaps more well known Kandang XII nearby, similarly houses examples of these gravestones. The stones in this complex are more ornate given the royalty of their owners; in Kandang XII Sultan Ali Mughayat Shah, the first Sultan of the Acehnese Sultante, as well as his four successors, are all laid to rest. Here the gravestones are marked with dates of decease ranging from 1530-1570. The cemetery however, has only twelve graves, lending it the name Kandang XII, and thus does not entertain the diversity of style of Kandang Aceh.


Bougas, Wayne A. Islamic cemeteries in Patani, 32-34. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Historical Society, 1988.

Osman, Mohd. Taib. Islamic Civilization in the Malay World, 247-251. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka; Istanbul: Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, 1997.

Smith, Holly S. Aceh: Art and Culture, 36-37. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Yatim, Othman Mohd. Batu Aceh: Early Islamic Gravestones in Peninsular Malaysia, 28-42, 52-91. Kuala Lumpur: Museum Association of Malaysia, 1988.

See also:

Guillot, Claude and Ludvik Kalus. Les monuments funéraires et l’histoire du Sultanat de Pasai à Sumatra. Paris: Cahier d’Archipel, 2008. 

Iskandar, Teuku. "Aceh as Crucible of Muslim-Malay Culture In Mapping the Acehnese Past," edited by R. Michael Feener, Patrick Daly, Anthony Reed. Leiden: Brill, 2011, 39-64.

Kampung Pande, Banda Aceh, Indonesia
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Associated Names
16th-17th c./10th-11th c. AH
Variant Names
Acehnese Stones
Aceh Cemetery
Building Usages