Keris - Javanese Blade
The kris or keris is a prized asymmetrical dagger most strongly associated with the culture of Indonesia, but also indigenous to Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Singapore. It is known as kalis in the southern Philippines. The kris is famous for its distinctive wavy blade, although many have straight blades as well.
A kris can be divided into three parts: bilah (blade), hulu (hilt), and warangka (sheath). These parts of the kris are objects of art, often carved in meticulous detail and made from various materials: metal, precious or rare types of wood, or gold or ivory. A kris’s aesthetic value covers the dhapur (the form and design of the blade, with around 150 variants), the pamor (the pattern of metal alloy decoration on the blade, with around 60 variants), and tangguh referring to the age and origin of a kris. Depending on the quality and historical value of the kris, it can fetch thousands of dollars or even more.
Both a weapon and spiritual object, kris are often considered to have an essence or presence, considered to possess magical powers, with some blades possessing good luck and others possessing bad. Kris are used for display, as talismans with magical powers, weapons, a sanctified heirloom (pusaka), auxiliary equipment for court soldiers, an accessory for ceremonial dress, an indicator of social status, a symbol of heroism, etc. Legendary kris that possess supernatural power and extraordinary ability were mentioned in traditional folktales, such as those of Mpu Gandring, Taming Sari, and Setan Kober.
Kris history is generally traced through the study of carvings and bas-relief panels found in Southeast Asia. It is believed that the earliest kris prototype can be traced to Dong Son bronze culture in Vietnam circa 300 BC that spread to other parts of Southeast Asia. Another theory is that the kris was based on daggers from India. Some of the most famous renderings of a kris appear on the bas-reliefs of Borobudur (825) and Prambanan temple (850). However from Raffles’ (1817) study of the Candi Sukuh that the kris recognized today came into existence around 1361 AD in the kingdom of Majapahit, East Java. The scene in bas relief of Sukuh Temple in Central Java dated from 15th century Majapahit era, shows the workshop of a Javanese keris blacksmith. The scene depicted Bhima as the blacksmith on the left forging the metal, Ganesha in the center, and Arjuna on the right operating the piston bellows to blow air into the furnace. The wall behind the blacksmith displays various items manufactured in the forge, including kris.
These representations of the kris in Candi Sukuh established the fact that by the year 1437 the kris had already gained an important place within Javanese culture. While it is commonly believed that kris were the primary weapons wielded by fighters in the past, they were actually carried by warriors as a secondary armament if they lost their main weapon, which was usually a spear. For commoners however, kris were worn on a daily basis, especially when travelling because it might be needed for self-defense. During time of peace, people wore kris as part of ceremonial attire.
Ceremonial kris were often meticulously decorated with intricate carving in gold and precious stones. Heirloom blades were handed down through successive generations and worn during special events such as weddings and other ceremonies. Men usually wore only one kris but the famous admiral Hang Tuah is said in the Hikayat Hang Tuah to have armed himself with one short and one long kris. Women also wore kris, though usually of a smaller size than a man’s. In battle, a fighter might have carried more than one kris, some carried three kris: his own, one from his father-in-law, and one as a family heirloom. The extra two served as parrying daggers but if none were available, the sheath would serve the same purpose.
Kris were often broken in battle and required repairs. Yearly cleanings, required as part of the spirituality and mythology surrounding the weapon, often left ancient blades worn and thin. The repair materials depended on location and it is quite usual to find a weapon with fittings from several areas. For example, a kris may have a blade from Java, a hilt from Bali and a sheath from Madura.
In general, Keris is divided to two important parts, the blade (Wilah) and the scabbard (Warangka), to protect the blade. The process of the making of the blade in the old days may last one year only for one Keris. Only the respectable Empus could make a high quality Keris, physically and spiritually. Empu has to do some spiritual deeds to prepare a Keris, like fasting, not sleeping for several days and nights, meditation, etc.
Despite its physical characteristic, keris contain a spiritual mission. The original spiritual power is the wishes of the Empu, the maker. While preparing and making a keris, the Empu, in the holy state, solemnly pray to God Almighty, the Keris should contain spiritual wishes as requested by the Empu or the consumer. It depends who is going to use the Keris, the mission should be different, for instance, for a King, Begawan (priest), generals, high ranking officials, farmers, traders, fishermen, workers, soldiers, etc. So, it could be easy to understand that a Keris which good for a King , may be not good for a farmer. The additional and/or other spiritual power of Keris. The Keris could be filled with spiritual beings, unseen by ordinary people, such as a genie, (jin or qodam) in order to protect or to help the Keris owner.