Kris exhibition in Bali

A story about the Kris, or keris, the characteristic wavy-bladed knives of the Malay world, in conjunction with an exhibition in the Neka Art Museum in Bali. It’s interesting that the story notes how the blade is honoured in ceremonies involving the Hindu god, Brahma – indicative of the unique syncretism of Hinduism in Bali.

15 July 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A story about the Kris, or keris, the characteristic wavy-bladed knives of the Malay world, in conjunction with an exhibition in the Neka Art Museum in Bali. It’s interesting that the story notes how the blade is honoured in ceremonies involving the Hindu god, Brahma – indicative of the unique syncretism of Hinduism in Bali.

Magic of metal: Spiritual and physical powers of the kris

Whether created by human hands or of supernatural origin, krises are believed to be physical manifestations of invisible forces. Forged in fire but symbolic of water, a kris represents a powerful union of cosmic complementary forces.

A distinctive feature of many krises is their odd number of curves, but they also have straight blades. Krises are like naga water-serpents that are associated with irrigation canals, rivers, springs, wells, spouts, waterfalls and rainbows.

Some krises have a naga head carved near their base with the body and tail following the curves of the blade to the tip. A wavy kris is a naga in motion, aggressive and alive; a straight blade is one at rest, its power dormant but ready to come into action.

Different types of whetstones, acidic juice of citrus fruits and poisonous arsenic, bring out the contrast between the dark black iron and the light-colored silvery nickel layers that together form pamor, damascene patterns on the blade.

These motifs have specific names that indicate their special powers: udan mas (golden rain) is good for prosperity, wos wetah (unbroken rice grains) brings well-being.

The kris is an important family possession and considered to be an ancestral deity, as weapons often play critical roles in the rise and fall of families and fortunes in history.

Heirloom krises have proper names that describe their power: Ki Sudamala is Venerable Exorcist and repels negative forces, Ki Baju Rante is Venerable Coat of Armor and spiritually protects one wearing it.

In Bali, an heirloom kris and other such metal objects are presented offerings every 210 days on the day known as Tumpek Landep, which means “sharp”.

They are cleaned, displayed in temple shrines, and presented with incense, holy water, and red-colored food and flowers to honor Hindu god of fire Brahma.

This is followed by prayers for a sharp mind to Sanghyang Pasupati, the deity who empowers sacred objects and defeats ignorance.

Read more about the kris in Balinese life.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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