HAILING from the Coromandel Coast of South India, the Chulia are a race of people who migrated to Penang in order to trade goods such as kain pelikat and pepper in the 19th century.

These Tamil-speaking Muslims settled down in Penang and built mosques, cemeteries, water tanks and conducted celebratory processions. Kapitan Keling Cauder Mohudden, a descendant of the Merican family, ordered the construction of Masjid Kapitan Keling in 1801.


This mosque soon became the centre of all socio-cultural activities for the Chulia, resulting in a history vividly coloured by the relationship between the iconic mosque and its people.


The Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) is currently housing a new exhibition titled The Chulia in Penang 1based on The Chulia in Penang: Patronage and Place-Making around the Kapitan Kling Mosque, a book written by Penang-born Khoo Salma Nasution.

Running until 28 March, the exhibition provides viewers a glimpse of Penang’s rich heritage, during a time when the Chulia community was thriving.

The Chulia in Penang basically summarises Khoo’s informative writings with aid from relevant pictures and descriptive annotations for insight into this unique race of people who played an important part in Penang’s vibrancy as diversity.

The exhibition also touches on the latest restoration of the 200-year old mosque led by Think City , interracial marriages between the Chulia and the Malays, as well as their forms of entertainment and publications.

It’s source material meanwhile took Khoo a whopping 17 years to write.

She started the project back in 1996, and admitted that there were some low points over the years when she felt like giving up. After being entrusted by the chairman of Masjid Kapitan Keling to write a book about the mosque however, she felt like it would be an injustice to call it quits.

Khoo’s book was eventually awarded with the 2015 ICAS Colleagues’ Choice Award — a category under The ICAS Book Prize which recognises the best English-language books and dissertations in Asian Studies.

Instrumental in George Town’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, Khoo currently serves on the Penang Heritage Trust as Vice President.

A documentary of the Kapitan Keling Mosque directed by Jasmin Abdul Wahab and funded byNational Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) will also be screened in the exhibition gallery.

In the first collaboration of its nature, celebrated Indian composer, A. R. Rahman will be providing music for the doucmentary. This marks the first time a Malaysian film has collaborated with theGrammy and Academy Award winner.

Be sure to check out the exhibition out with friends and family to get a glimpse of life in old Penang! Just head over to the Open Space Area of the museum any day from 10:00am to 6:00pm.