The Meaning of Javanese Keris

Keris is Malay weapon and initiated to use since 600 years ago. This weapon is unique and can be found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Thailand, Mindanao (The Philippines) and Brunei. Keris is used for self defense or as royal weapon  of Malay. The most popular keris is Taming Sari, the weapon of Hang Tuah, a very well known Malay hero.

Keris originally is from Java, and keris has been used since 9th and 14th century. This weapon is divided into 3 parts: the blade, the handle and the vessel. In the past,  Keris is related to mystical things by Malay. It said that keris has a spirit itself.

As Javanese belief that someone’s dignity is also shown by the way he/she dress, for a Javanese usually wears keris in wedding costume. In Java, Keris is symbol of masculinity. And sometimes if the groom could not present, keris can represent him.

This philosophy has been centuries in Java. The beginning of human was originated from agriculture philosophy, the united of man and woman elements. In this world God creates male and females, for human, animals or plants.  This philosophy based family of Java keraton such as Jogja and Surakarta. This belief was originally from Hinduism followed by Javanese in the past. Then emerging belief about bapa angkasa (father sky) and ibu pertiwi or bumi.(mother earth). The philosophy can be seen in weapons parade on Sura month in Javanese calendar, where Java palace parades their weapons such as spear, bendho, The parade usually encurcle palace and the participants concentrate and say prayer for protection, happiness and prosperity.

The main function of weapons in the past was for defense from enemy , animals or to murder enemy. But later, the function altered. In peace people use weapon in occations like wedding or royal ceremony. Keris then is decorated with diamonds on the handle and the vessel is also decorated beautifully with gold, as the owner’s pride. Keris becomes a business opportunity. Tosan Aji or weapon in Java is not just keris and spears but in Indonesia there are various typical weapons such as in rencong from Aceh, badik from Makasar, sword, trisula, Bali kris and many more.

When Sultan AGung attacked Pati using strategy of Garudha Nglayang, Supit Urang, Wukir Jaladri or Dirada Meta, the soldiers used spears that is carved with kalacakra decorations. Royal Keris or Spears are main weapons that are not made of steel, iron, nikel and sometimes mixed with meteorite  material that made them strong, and the making process was accompanied by prayer to God by the crafter, empu, who usually has high spiritual knowledge. The spiritual power of God was believed to be the magical power to influence enemy to be afraid to the weapon bearer. There was a scientific research to royal keris and the result was the keris emited invisible power. Keris worn by Javanese groom is decorated with flower of jasmine and attached to the handle. This symbolizes that human should not have aggressive or selfish behavior, like Arya Penangsang.

Arya Penangsang fought against Sutawijaya. Arya Penangsang was wounded and his intestine was spilled out. Arya Penangsang was emotional and wanted to make revenge so he draped his intestine to his keris behind him and kept attacking his enemy. At one point Penangsang would stab his opponent with a his keris,Kyai Satan Kober, he took his Keris and forgot that his intestine was draped there. He died. That was the idea of creating groom keris decorated with jasmines and roses. Weapons can create courage to the bearer. People call it as piyandel or to increase confident. Even kings gave weapon to his trusted men. But when his trusted men had bad behavior he would take the weapon back.

Keris and its vessel is philosophically have a close relation, united to reach harmony in this world. Then emerged philosophy ‘manunggaling kawula Gusti’, the united between the king and his people, human to the creator, people to their leader, to reach peace, prosperity, happiness.  Todays, weapons as national arts contains various aspects in Javanese life is fading for the evolving of technology.

The craftsmen of keris are called empu. Empu is called before the original name, and known as an honor nickname, such as Empu Sedah or Empu Panuluh. Tangguh is a knowledge to recognize keris, its creator, material, making process. Here are the stages of keris history.

1. Old Period (125 M – 1125 M), consists of kingdoms such as Purwacarita, Medang Siwanda, medang Kamulan, Tulisan, Gilingwesi, Mamenang, Penggiling Wiraradya, Kahuripan and Kediri.

2. Old Medieval (1126 M – 1250 M), consists of kingdoms such as Jenggala, Kediri, Pajajaran and Cirebon.

3. Old Medieval (1251 M – 1459 M), consists of kingdoms such as Kediri, Tuban, Madura, Majapahit, Blambangan.

4. Mid Medieval (1460 M – 1613 M), consists of kingdoms such as Demak, Pajang, Madiun and Mataram.

5. New Period (1614 M – Now), Keraton Solo and Yogyakarta.

Keris made by empu has its own typical characteristics. The characteristics seen on the method and iron quality. Pamor used in that period was meteorite and made in few stages. Empu pounded the meteorite until it yielded powder or titanium.  Titanium is very tough and stain-less.

After wayang, Keris was also has been admitted as one of world heritage by UNESCO in 2005. Keris still lives in the heart of locals unlike samurai from Japan.

  Keris is kept deep in Javanese culture. In Javanese society, keris or curiga is one of culture weapons and to complete the tradition. The symbolical power of keris originated from pamor made of meteorite contains iron and nickel. Pamor is a meteor fallen from the sky. Most popular pamor is Pamor Prambanan , and it is called so as the meteor fell in Prambanan in 1784 in the period of Susuhunan Paku Buwana III in Surakarta. The pamor is stored in Keraton Surakarta and named as Kiai pamor. Expert found that pamor contains 94.5% iron and 5% nickel. Other pamor type is Pamor Luwu from Luwu, South Sulawesi. Regarding the keris raw material, the making process of keris is symbolically as a unity concept between ‘bapa angkasa and ibu pertiwi’ (father sky and mother earth). The iron is from earth and the meteorite or pamor is from the sky.

Keris Design:

Pulang Geni is a popular keris  and commonly know by people. Pulang Geni means incense. Human should have good smell (good name) , by having good behavior, helpful and filling days with useful activities. If someone has good name when he or she dies will be remembered by others. That is why Pulang Geni keris usually has heroes name.

Kidang Soka means the mourning deer. Human will always sad and mourning, yet human should be warned to to get drifted in sad situations they face. Life must go on and it takes spirit.  This keris is processed as Majapahit, only pamor and the iron are not categorized as in keris made in Majapahit period. This keris is estimated made in Mataram period.

Sabuk Inten is one of typical keris simbolozes  prosperity and luxury. From philosophy aspect, Sabuk Inten design symbolizes  prosperity and luxury owned by capital owner, or traders. This kind of keris is popular, not because of its legend but also there is a popular fictions Naga Sasra Sabuk Inten written by SH Mintardja in the 70s.

Naga Sasra is one of keris design with 13 luks with Gandik made of dragon head and the dragon body is the blade of keris. The most popular design is Naga Sasra Tangguh Tua. Commonly Naga Sasra is decorated with gold that its looks wise and tough. This keris usually has Mataram Senopaten style and the blade is slim just like Majapahit keris. Perhaps this kind of keris was made in the era of Mataram Kingdom from 15th to the early of 16th century.  This keris was decorated in Kamarongan (gold), and as the age, the decoration fading. But entirely, the blade usually is still have intact gold. Naga Sasra means thousands of snakes or also popular as Siwik Sewu. For Javanese, Naga or Dragon is likened as a guardian. Dragon can be found on the entrance of temples. As a guardian, dragon also has a high prestige. This keris is considered as higher than other keris.

Sengkelat is one of keris from the period of Sultan Agung from Mataram (early of 17th century). This design is very neat and refined. The blade is wider than Majapahit keris, but slimmer than general Mataram keris in Sultan Agung era. THe blade is 38 cm, longer than Sengkelat Tangguh Mataram Sultan Agung in general. The luk is more curvy. Gonjo used for this keris is Gonjo Wulung (without pamor), with shape of sharp pointed and long Sirah Cecak with shrimp tail. Raga Pasung means something used as a tribute. In this life, human life is a tribute to God, that human should serve God and worship Him. Human should remember that this life is owned by God. Bethok Brojol is one of Keris Tangguh Tua usually found in Tangguh Tua such as Kediri, Singosari or Majapahit. Bethok Brojol derives from keris shape that is short and simple.

Puthut Kembar is called as Keris Umphyang by common people. This keris is categorized as new as there is no keris history about the empu write his name as trade mark on keris.  Puthut means Cantrik or student of priest or mpu in the past. It said that Puthut shape stem from legend of cantrik who was asked to make a weapon by his Pandhita or priest. Student was also asked to pray and be close spiritually to God. The shape of Gelungan or bun of hair shown the past custom. An opinion mentioned that Keris Puthut was made by Empu Umpyang lived in the early of Pajang Kingdom. But this is not supported by proof.

Keris Lurus Sumelang Gandring. Sumelang in Javanese means anxiety about a matter. Gandring means loyal or faithful in serving country. Sumelang Gandring means a form of anxiety for disloyalty for a change. This keris has plain gandik, sogokan 1 and usually very shallow and narrow, sraweyan and tingil. This type is considered as rare in keris world. It said that the royal weapon of Majapahit was Kanjeng Kyai Sumelang Gandring, it is lost from weapon store room. King then ordered Empu Supo Mandangi to seek the lost weapon.

Tilam Upih style. Tilam means plait to sleep. This term was meeant to show the prosperity of a family or household. This keris is handed down from generation to generation. This shows hope from elders to their children and descendants to gain prosperity in family. Pamor on keris is Udan Mas Tiban (rain of gold), and named so as seems like the pamor was not planned by the empu. Different than Udan Mas Rekan that is more neat, Udan Mas Tiban is irregular decoration with pattern of 2-1-1. Pamor Udan Mas is considered to have virtue that makes the owner easy to make a good living and good family. Lar Gangsir derives from gelasr agemaning siro means having position in this world is just a costume. That one day the costume should be taken off. So if someone has a position or wealth in this life, then do not be arogant or in Javanese ojo dumeh.