Seri Menanti lies in a tranquil area amidst green stretches of paddy fields and rows of hills as its sentry. The breathtaking panorama of the area became a reason of its being made a place to live and an administrative centre of the Kings of Negeri Sembilan of yesteryear. Magnificent palaces with their intricate carvings were built here as the residence for the Yang di-Pertuans.
One of the palaces which still remains intact to this day is the Istana Lama Seri Menanti. Being lavishly unique and picturesque, the palace is also known as the icon of the Negeri Sembilan royal family. The splendid palace stays rock-solid while witnessing the waves of development and harbouring the secret past. Despite the rapid development which takes place, its originality persist as a palace which symbolises the Malay culture, magnificence and is enthralling.
The name ‘Seri Menanti' is said to have been derived from the finding of three stalks of paddy that grew in the area , known as Padi Menanti or semangat padi yang menanti (the spirit of awaiting paddy). In the Javanese language, paddy means ‘Seri', thus the name change to Seri Menanti. It was said that Istana Seri Menanti was built on the site where the three stalks of paddy were found.
The original plan for this four-storey palace was designed by two Malay craftsmen named Kahar and Taib. Kahar was conferred the title of Dato' Panglima Sultan by Tuanku Muhammad for his services rendered. The re-detailing of the plan was later undertaken by Mr Woodford, the Chief Draughtsman from the Seremban Public Works Department, and was approved in November 1902 by the State Engineer and the British Resident.
Istana Seri Menanti was built to replace Istana Pulih, which had been burnt to the grounds by British soldiers in their pursuit of Yamtuan Antah during the war of Bukit Putus. The construction of the palace began in 1902 and was completed in 1908. The cost for its construction was $45,000. The opening ceremony of the palace was officiated by DYMM Yang di-Pertuan Muhammad ibni Almarhum Yamtuan Antah.
The Yang di-Pertuan Besar desired a palace that reflected its Minangkabau roots, not only in terms of its architectural design but also with regards to the symbolic aspects of family, education, traditional arts, and others.
The design of the palace is very interesting indeed. It has four floors with each floor having special rooms. The first floor of the palace situates four rooms and a 160-foot long verandah. Meanwhile, the second floor has three rooms for the royal family. The third and fourth floors locates a room each. The third floor of the palace was reserved for Yamtuan Muhamad's private rooms. The fourth floor served as the royal treasury repository.
According to Datuk Besar Meon, no iron nails were used in the construction of the palace. It was made of wood from the pole up to the roof with the structures held together by wooden pegs called pasak.
The palace has columns measuring 19.9 metres (65 feet) high with four central pillars measuring 51.8 metres (170 feet) in height, as one straight piece. The columns are embellished with intricate carvings and motifs.
These four continuous central pillars of the palace were made of Penak wood. The wood was sourced from Bukit Pergai in Jelebu and transported to Seri Menanti by bullock carts. Three bullock carts were required to transport each of the 170-foot pillars.
There 99 pillars that buttressed the palace represent the 99 juak-juak hulubalang (warriors) of the various clans in Negeri Sembilan. According to history, the warriors held a pillar each during the construction of the palace. The four central pillars, on the other hand, signify the four palace chieftains (Orang Empat Istana).
The palace is also elevated at the wings and front with the central part consisting of three split-levels. Parts of the palace are also embellished with interesting and high quality carvings. The carvings of the various motifs reflect the skills of the Malay craftsmen in drawing inspiration from nature. They also signify the richness of the Malay culture.
Among the carving designs found in the palace are wave-like forms, drifting clouds, mangosteen hilus, semantung flower, mountains and others. This shows a strong influence of nature in the carving designs of the Malay craftsmen and demonstrates their sensitivity towards the surroundings. Every piece of carving inside the palace hall and balcony reflects the richness of the Malay ethics and fine courtesy in the old days.