ORIGIN OF THE KERIS

III- KERIS AND SIVAISM

   Early Indonesian kingdoms (6th13th centuries A.C.) were heavily influenced by  Buddhist and Hindu culture. Temples in central Java are an excellent source of representation of these cultures. What is most striking is that very little testimony is made of the Keris. Most daggers seem to be part of the old Indian leaf shaped blades. For instance the early 9th century Borobodur Buddhist temple does not show, on its 1460 bas-reliefs, any dagger similar to a Keris.

  In the Prambanan complex (early 10th century), a few bas-relief have leaf-shaped bladed daggers, which have some commonality with the Keris Buda:  a short heavy and broad blade, a separate piece at its base like a ganja and a central ridge. One dagger has a slight asymmetry at its base. These daggers may be considered as proto Keris.

   It should be noted that representations of the proto Keris seem to be related to the cult of Siva. In East Java, some Siva and Durga 13th century statues, are represented with a proto Keris. Although the Prambanan dagger straight hilt is designed for stabbing, the Durga  statue dagger has a slightly angled hilt, which could indicate a thrust use, like the modern Keris.

 



Durga  
East Java, Pasuruan district, Candi Jawi, c 1300
Mpu Tantular Museum, Surabaya


   Durga, the wife of Siva holds a dagger in one of its hand. The dagger is shinning like a pamor blade.

   The shape is very similar to the daggers that can be seen on Candi Siva at the Prambanan complex.



Siva Bhairava  
East Java, Malang district, Singosari complex, c 1300
Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden

 

 

 

 



   The origin of the Keris is closely connected to the dissemination of Sivaism in Java.

   This Singgaraja statue shows Siva holding in one hand a dagger with a jambiya shape, similar to one of the 10th century unearthed daggers, and in the other hand a Khatvanga.
   

 Vajra Flagstaff
 Khatvanga pole 
Singasari, East Java
Second half of the 13th century

Central Museum, Jakarta

   

   The Vajra shaped Khatvanga pole is another possible source of influence for the Keris. The Vajra (the thunderbolt) is an attribute of several gods, including Siva.

   Several Khatvanga poles, with Keris shaped spear points, can be seen at the Jakarta Central Museum and at the N.Y. Metropolitan Museum.

Read Next Chapter: Birth of the modern Keris

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Revised: 2009-04-18