THE KERIS OF INDONESIA

One of the things which symbolizes the culture custom and tradition of Indonesia is the Keris.

It is the most valued, revered and treasured of all heirlooms passed down through the generations to the Javanese man and compliments him in his best traditional attire.

The Keris is regarded as a sacred personal weapon and an object of great spiritual attachment, serving his protection, performing rites, conferring good luck, fulfilling his desires and being a symbol of social status.

The Keris is a traditional dagger made from iron, metal, alloy and meteorite nickel. Its componentss are the handle, sheath and blade.  Each blade has a series of waves, always odd in number.

The nickel is most sought from the great meteorite which crashed in Prambanan, central Java in 1729.

The remains of the meteorite are today in a museum in the city of Surakarta.

In fact, a traditional Keris may have its blade from Java, its handle from Bali and its sheath from Madura.

A typical Keris measures about 12 to 15 inches in length.

It is most distinctive for its curved handle and its assymetrical blade which means one side of the blade is wider than the other.

The Hilt is the handle of the Keris.    It is gripped at waist level with the blade parallel to the ground.

The hereditary symbolism of the Keris is seen on the curved shape of the Hilt and the Sheath which are decorated with the design of a mythical bird, beast or plant and engraved with a motif.

The Empu is the Lord and Master of the Keris.

He indujlges in spiritual deeds such as fasting, meditation and entering into a trance to fashion the Keris with his bare hands over the red hot fire.

The Empu’s knowledge of literature, history and occult science help to  perfect the Keris for his commissioner,shaping the Hilt to fit smugly into his (and only his) hand while using the mystique of fragrances, oils, poison from plants and venom from snakes to endorse its magical powers.

The Empu also calls upon the mythical spirit of the Rhodem, Jinn and Genie to help make and keep the power of the Keris which is endorsed over time by the ritual bathing of the Keris with jasmine, lime, sandalwood  or apple blossom.

Hence the concept that it is a stabbing weapon and not a knife or a sword and its potency is feared by anyone who is confronted by it or who seeks to take what is not his.

The stabbing effect is never better illustrated than in the folklore tale of when Princess Kirana, disguised as a man in combat against Prince Panjji, her betrothed,  mistakenly stabs him with a Keris in the heat of battle.

A Keris is an uncomparable work of art.  Yet compare the time it takes an artist to paint a masterpiece and an Empu to finish a Keris.

The keeper and the Keris are as one and the same.  The Keris can be anthromorphic and be depicted as a living thing in place of its keeper.

All culture faces an almighty challenge against weather, time, theft, vandalism and peoples general indifference to things of the past.

And who today wants to be an Empu in the modern era when they can make a living in an office, factory or on the internet?

The age of the master craftsman may well have passed forever but the era and aura of the Keris can never leave the Indonesian people or the Javanese heartland where it all started and the Malay archaepeligo to which it later spread.

Nature takes cares of its own.

 

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