Kelantan is a state of Malaysia. The capital and royal seat is Kota Bharu. The honorific of the state is Darul Naim (Jawi: دار النعيم, “The Blissful Abode”). Kelantan is positioned in the north-east of Peninsular Malaysia. It is bordered by Narathiwat Province of Thailand to the north, Terengganu to the south-east, Perak to the west and Pahang to the south. To the north-east of Kelantan is the South China Sea.
Kelantan is located in the north-eastern corner of the peninsula. Kelantan, which is said to translate as the “Land of Lightning” (see alternate theories below), is an agrarian state with green paddy fields, rustic fishing villages and casuarina-lined beaches. Kelantan is home to some of the most ancient archaeological discoveries in Malaysia, including several prehistoric aboriginal settlements.
Due to Kelantan’s relative isolation and largely rural lifestyle, Kelantanese culture differs somewhat from Malay culture in the rest of the peninsula; this is reflected in the cuisine, arts and the unique Kelantanese Malay language, which is unintelligible even for some speakers of standard Malay.
There are a number of suggestions for the origin of the name Kelantan. One theory, according to historian Mohd Rosli Bin Ismail, proposes that Kelantan is a corruption of gelam hutan, i.e. the Malay word for the cajuput, or swamp tea tree (Melaleuca leucadendron). Other theories claim that the name comes from the Malay word kilatan, ‘shiny/glittery’ or kolam tanah, ‘clay pool’. Kelantan was called Kalantan (Thai: กลันตัน) by the Siamese when it was under their influence.
Another occasionally quoted suggestion is that ‘Kelantan’ derived originally from the Indian ‘Kolaan Thana’ or ‘Kolaam Thana’, which meant ‘Land of Kolaan’ or ‘Land of Kolaam’, the term ‘kolaan’ or ‘kolaam’ referring to the floor paintings/diagrams in the numerous Hindu temples which dotted the land in the very ancient days. ‘Kolaan Thana’ or ‘Kolaam Thana’ gradually became ‘Kelantan’ to fit in better with the speaking dialect of the local people.
The early history of Kelantan traces distinct human settlement dating back to prehistoric times. Early Kelantan had links to the Funan Kingdom, the Khmer Empire, Sri Vijaya, Majapahit and Siam. Around 1411, Raja Kumar, the ruler of Kelantan, became independent of Siam, and Kelantan became an important centre of trade by the end of the 15th century.
In 1499, Kelantan became a vassal state of the Malacca Sultanate. With the fall of Malacca in 1511, Kelantan was divided up and ruled by petty chieftains, paying tribute to Patani, then the supreme Malay Kingdom of the eastern peninsula. By the early 17th century, most of these Kelantan chiefs became subject to Patani.
The legendary Cik Siti Wan Kembang was said to have reigned over Kelantan sometime between the 16th and 17th centuries.
Around 1760, Long Yunus, an aristocratic warlord of Patani origin succeeded in unifying the territory of present-day Kelantan and enthroned by his father-in-law Ku Tanang Wangsa, Regent of Terengganu as Yang di-Pertuan Muda or Deputy Ruler of Kelantan. Long Yunus was succeeded in 1795 by his son-in-law Tengku Muhammad Sultan Mansur of Terengganu. The enthronement of Tengku Muhammad by Terengganu was opposed by Long Yunus’ sons, thus triggering a war against Terengganu by Long Muhammad, the eldest son of Long Yunus. The pro-Terengganu faction was defeated in 1800 and Long Muhammad ruled Kelantan with the new title of Sultan as Sultan Muhammad I. Nevertheless, the death of childless Long Muhammad triggered another civil war among claimants to the throne. His nephew and son of Long Tan (Temengggong), Long Senik Mulut Merah, triumphed over his uncles and cousins and assumed the throne in 1835 as Sultan Muhammad II.
Sultan Muhammad II leveraged on his loose alliance with Siam to form the modern Kelantan state, centered in his new fort on the eastern bank of the Kelantan river, which became Kota Bharu in 1844.
Under the terms of the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909, the Thais relinquished their claims over Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis to Great Britain, and Kelantan thus became one of the Unfederated Malay States with a British Adviser.
Kelantan was where the Japanese first landed during their invasion of Malaya, on 8 December 1941. In 1943, Kelantan was transferred by the Japanese to Thailand and became a province of Thailand. Kelantan reverted to British protection upon the end of World War 2 in August 1945.
Kelantan became part of the Malayan Union in 1946 and then the Federation of Malaya on 1 February 1948, and together with other Malayan states attained independence on 31 August 1957. On 16 September 1963, Kelantan became one of the states of Malaysia.