ORIGIN OF THE KERIS

IV- BIRTH OF THE MODERN KERIS

The Keris as we know it today is the result of a long evolution. It has probably slowly evolved from a short blade leaf shaped dagger, to a proto Buda Keris (10th century) with some dapur characteristics, but still used as a stabbing dagger. The modern Keris is a unique thrusting dagger. It has reached its current shape during the Majapahit Realm (14th century) and its height during the Mataram Kingdom (17-18th century).

In other parts of the archipelago it has evolved in other thrusting daggers (the Badik in Sulawesi, the Rencong in Aceh, the Sewar in Minangkabau or the Kujang in West Java), they probably all have common origins.

   One of the specificity of the Keris is its connection with the serpent deity Naga. A Chinese monk, I- Ching, who lived in Java during the late 7th century noticed the local Buddhism possessed a unique characteristic: praying Naga deities. According to the tradition, the straight Keris represents a still serpent, whereas the wavy represent a moving serpent. The Naga is often represented on Keris blades. 


Bima

Candi Sukuh,the 14th century temple, has a bas-relief representing a blacksmith shop with the god Bima forging a straight Keris. The tools to make the blade are below the Keris and above there is a display of blades of different shape: 

symmetrical leaf shape with pronounced tips at the base 

asymmetrical similar to the West Java Kujang or the Kudi.

 

In the same Candi Sukuh, there is also a Lingga (a phallus) with a straight Keris blade. >>>>>>

 


Keris on the Sukuh Lingga

   Most of the information we have about the East Java kingdoms, comes from two books the Nagarakertagama (1365) and the Pararaton (early XVIth century). The first one does not mention the Keris, whereas the second tells us the story of Ken Angrok who ordered a magical Keris to the famous empu Gandrin.

   The earliest description of we believe to be a pamor blade is made by Ma Huan in "The overall survey of the ocean's shores". Ma Huan was a translator who accompanied the Chinese Admiral Zheng He. During Zheng He third expedition they visited the Majapahit kingdom in 1416 and provided the following account: "... men in Java have a pa-lak stuck in their girdle. Everybody is carrying such a weapon, from the child of three years up to the oldest man. These daggers have very thin stripes and whitish flowers and made of the very best iron alloy; the handle is of gold, rhinoceros or ivory, cut into the shape of devil faces and finished carefully". The pa-lak name applied probably both to badik or keris daggers, and according to Ma Huan, they were already very popular at the early 15th century.

 

The Yogyakarta Sonobudaya Museum, has a 15th century sculpture representing Bima with a dagger on its back. Although the blade can not be seen, the sheath, the hilt and the Mendak are characteristic of the Keris.

From the 16th century, according to European travelers the Keris is commonly worn in Java, Bali, Sumatra and Sulawesi. French sailors mention the Keris on several accounts. In 1613, the Portuguese, Godinho de Eredia, provides a detailed description of the dagger. In the 17th century it was worn at the Siamese court. Through trade and immigration, the Keris came to be known in remote places places such as Okinawa

Bima statue with a Keris in its sheath

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Revised: 2007-05-20