According to ‘Sejarah Malayu’ (Malay History), Singapore, Lion City, was founded by Sang Nila Utama in or about the year 1160. According to Malay history, a certain Raja Bachitram Shah (afterwards known as Sang Seperba), with two followers, suddenly appeared at a place called Bukit Siguntang Maha Meru, in Palembang, Sumatra, and the Raja described himself as a direct descendant of Alexander the Great. The story was accepted, and Sang Seperba became a son-n-law of a local chief; but, not content with ruling over Palembang, he sailed to Java, to Bentan, where he left a son, Sang Nila Utama, and finally back to another state in Sumatra, named Menangkabau.
Sang Nila Utama, having married the daughter of the Queen of Bentan, left that island and settled in neighbouring island of Singapura, where he founded the Lion City in 1160 A.D.
Singa is Sanskrit for a lion, and pura for a city.
The fact that there are no lions in Singapore cannot disprove the statement Sang Nila Utama saw in 1160 an animal which he called by that name – an animal more particularly described by the annalist as “very swift and beautiful, its body bright red, its head jet black, its breast white, in size larger than a he-goat.” That was the Lion of Singapura, and whatever is doubtful, the name is a fact; it remains to this day, and there is no reason why the descendant of Alexander the Great should not have seen something which suggested a creature unknown either to the Malay forest or the Malay language. It is even stated, on the same authority, that Singapura had an earlier name, Tamasak (Temasek), which is explained by some to mean a place of festivals. But that word, so interpreted, is not Malay, though it has been adopted, and applied to other places which suggest festivals far less than this small tropical island may have done, even so early as the year 1160. It is obvious that the name Singapura was not given to the island by the Malays, but by colonists from India, and if there were an earlier name, Tamasak or Tamasha, that also would be of Indian origin. The fact proves that the name Singapura dates from a very early period, and strongly supports the theory that the Malays of our time are connected with a people who emigrated from Southern India to Sumatra and Java, and thence found their way into the Malay Peninsula.
It seems to be accepted that Sang Nila Utama founded or developed a famous city by the river and on the hill of Singapura, where he lived for many years, and died in 1208. He was succeeded by his lineal descendants, and the city grew and prospered, and attracted trade from West and East, till a jealous neighbour, the Raja of Majapahit, in Java, sent an expedition to attack Singapura. The attack failed miserably, and the Javanese were beaten off.
According to the annalist, in 1252, the then Raja of Singapura, one Iskandar, or Alexander, by name, publicly impaled one of his wives for a supposed offence, and the lady’s father, Sang Ranjuna Tapa, a high official named the Bendahara, was so enraged, that he invited the people of Majapahit to come over, and promised to open the gates of the citadel for them. The Raja of Majapahit eagerly accepted this offer, sent over an immense fleet and army, and, the gates being duly opened in the dead of night, the Javanese entered and put most of the inhabitants to the sword. A few escaped from the city and the island, and after wandering through the Peninsula, settled at Malacca, where they founded a new city, from which their descendants were driven by Albuquerque and the Portuguese in 1511.
It is also interesting to note that the first mention of Singapore in any ancient map is found in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Abraham Ortelius, dated Antwerp, 1570, where the island appeara as Cincapura.