The Mythic Indonesian Blade
Among the litany of artefacts of various forms, purposes and histories disgorged from the brackish waters of the past onto the shores of the present, where antiques collectors stalk the rubble seeking treasures to add to their bounty, there is an object that stands out for its lethal and sacred power: the “kris”, a dagger believed to bestow protection and prosperity to its owner.
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To retrace the kris’ genealogy, we descend the rungs of Suvarnabhumi’s history, through the boom and bust of kingdoms, landing in Ancient Indonesia, where the dagger known as “keris” (the Malay word for “short sword”) was first forged. The etymology of keris begins with the old Javanese word ngiris, which means to slice or wedge.
Considered both a weapon and a sacred object, the kris is depicted on the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world at Borobodur temple, and mentions of it abound in inscriptions on ancient Javanese ruins and monuments.
Though the kris encountered Hindu and Islamic influences from neighbouring kingdoms over the centuries, its distinctive shape and serpentine curves remain unchanged. The kris, which has served as a vessel of mystical powers for centuries, is indelibly enshrined in contemporary Indonesian culture and its longstanding centrality has bred a tradition of craftsmanship that fashions each dagger like a work of art lavished in detail and splendour.
Crafting the Kris
The standard length of a kris is around 30-40 cm (Indonesian kris tend to be longer and heavier). The dagger, crafted from a range of materials such as iron, gold, ivory and rare species of wood, is divided into three components: the blade (wilah), hilt (hulu) and sheath (warangka).
A special term, dhapur, refers to the form and design of the blade, which has accrued a library of 60 variants, while the pamor is the decoration embossed on the blade’s surface of iron and nickel, indexed into 150 variants that are named after the metalsmith that authored it. The designs that wreath the body of the kris from tip to hilt are believed to be vested with sacred power, and this composition of motifs, considered in unison with the kris’s origin and age (tangguh), determines its value.
Today, kris are a well-conserved artefact that can be found in many museums throughout the world. In 2008, the kris was recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO and soon after designated a national symbol by the Indonesian government.
By way of Thailand’s economic and political relations with maritime Southeast Asia and proximity with Indonesia, the kris was introduced to the kingdom during the Ayutthaya period as evidenced by its appearances in paintings, engravings on temple doors and other relics from the time. In the Siamese court, the kris was incorporated into official accoutrement: in a painting of a diplomatic mission to France during the reign of King Narai the Great, each member of the company carries a kris bequeathed by the sovereign himself.
Lot 31: A very finely carved Balinese Kris (Keris), the hilt is in the form of Dewa decorated with precious stone (1 pc.)
This kris was crafted by Balinese artisans. The blade is made of an iron alloy and has a “nine waves” (gao kod) design. The decoration consists of an engraved pattern of auspicious symbols, deities and intricate foliage, and is covered in embossed sheets of gold. The hilt– carved and decorated with a gold sheet in the figure of a giant (Dewa) – is inlaid with a precious stone. The sheath is inscribed with auspicious designs and overlaid in embossed gold and embedded with precious stone.
Dimensions: W 18 cm L 66 cm
Circa: 19-20th Century