Keris is a dagger-like weapon used mainly by the warriors, rulers and commoners alike in early Malay Kingdoms in the Malay Archipelago. It is the most recognised symbol of the Nusantara. It is famous for it’s folklore from the Taming Sari of Hang Tuah and the infamous story of Laksamana Bentan stabbing the Sultan of Johor on a pedestal which is called “Sultan Mahmud Mangkat Dijulang”. It can be also seen on many coat of arms such as the Malaysia Army (Tentera Darat) and the Royal Malaysian Police Force (Polis Diraja Malaysia). However in modern times, the Keris seems to be dying of its main use beside traditional ceremonies. With the invention of gunpowder and the modern gun, swords and daggers, including Keris is no longer relevant for use of war. To understand deeper about this traditional weapon of war we met with Mr. Ainnuddin, a passionate Keris maker from Shah Alam. We had the chance to interview him about Keris Warisan. Here are the 5 things you didn’t know about it.
1. The Keris is a Symbol of Social Class
The Keris is seen as a symbol of an identity, grandeur and supremacy of a person. It also shows the attitude and social standing of the owner by just looking at the type of Keris that is owned by the person. Only high ranking officials, army leaders and Sultans has their Keris’s named. The most famous is the Taming Sari which is believed to be the Keris of Hang Tuah when he was named Laksamana (Admiral) by the Sultan of Melaka. Today, the Taming Sari is now part of the Sultan of Perak’s Royal Regalia (Alat Kebesaran Diraja). Besides that, the Keris symbolizes the fighting spirit within the malay culture and their heroism back in the olden days. That’s why Keris is a popular addition in many coat of arms, most obviously the National Coat of Arms. It also the most common identity of the Malay culture.
2. Once Upon a Time Ago, It Took A Whole Year to Finish Making a Keris
Back then, making a keris took up to almost 1 year as there is no improvement in technology. Blacksmithing tools were very archaic, hence the difficulty and the laborious work in making it. However, in modern days, with the inventions of automated blacksmithing appliances it takes only 1 to 2 weeks.
In the Malay world, there are many names that describe a Keris Maker. In Malaysia, a person who is an expert on making a keris is called “Pandai Keris” while an expert in making only the blade of a keris is called “Pandai Bilah”. In our neighbouring country Indonesia, they are called “Empu”.
3. A Keris is Made by Exquisite and Selected Materials and Has Strict Guidelines.
The Keris has three main components which are Hulu, Bilah and Sarung. Mainly, the type of wood used is “kayu kemuning” or known as the black gold wood. However, at times they use “kayu sena”. Back in the olden days, a Sultan’s Keris would have an elephant’s tusk or ivory for its frame and a buffalo’s horn as its hilt. The frame of a keris are considered as its ‘clothes’ while the blade is like its ‘body’. The blade must be forged with three different metals to make it worthy as a Keris. It is believed that a part of the Taming Sari’s metal composition is made out of 21 types of different metal. The curves or Lok, on the blade symbolises the status of its owner. For example, a 3 curved Keris is for commoners but the 9 curved Keris are only exclusive for Rulers/Sultans. And another thing, the curves are only in odd numbers, because odd shows imperfection, compared to the perfection of God and His supreme power over its subjects. The Keris blade should be tilted 75-80. The Keris then should be forged by folding and not through a cast.
4. A Keris May Be Possessed by Spirits
Certainly it does not possess evil spirits but in certain cases evil spirits do enter in a keris. This happens when the owner itself summons the evil spirit in. However, in ancient times, they summoned Jinns in their keris as a form of protection. Unfortunately, people nowadays have the wrong idea of summoning a jinn to enter in their keris and that causes them the feeling of unpleasantness. It is believed that it is better to not summon anything to be one with our keris if we do not know how to control it and have the sufficient amount of knowledge or ‘ilm’. In Bali Hindu mythology, a Keris is believed to have a sacred spirit that makes the Keris an important weapon against evil. Some may use keris to ward of evil spirits and used as a tool for Traditional Medicine. Now, with the advancement of Islam in Nusantara, such belief is akin to Syirik and Khurafat which is sinful in Islam.
5. There is a seniority protocol when handing over a Keris
The keris handover ceremony is symbolic of handing over authority from a leader to another or handing over of a heirloom of family. In Malay culture, handing over the royal keris to a Sultan symbolises transfer of supreme authority and power to a new Sultan and the new responsibility of the new Sultan. In common events such as a silat competition, the handing over of keris to a VIP means the silat competition has officially started which is called Penyerahan Keris Kuasa. It is done by holding the keris horizontally and presented to the Sultan. It’s called Penyerahan Keris Angkat. If it’s among family members, it’s called Penyerahan Keris Pusaka.
There is one message from Mr. Ainuddin before we left. He wished that the youth, especially Malays will not forget about the importance of Keris so that it will not wash away through the winds of time and forgotten because of irrelevance. Despite no longer being used as an object of war, the heavy symbolism of the Keris is what make it is so important to Malay and Nusantara culture as a whole. Never forget our roots, no matter how high we fly in this world!