The keris, or traditional dagger, is an Indonesian heritage that dates back centuries and is considered an important cultural identity for the different regions of the archipelago. The main function of the keris was as a weapon to protect the bearer from danger. Used predominantly by males, the keris was a symbol of social status worn on a belt around the waist or sometimes concealed on other parts of the body.
It is common belief in Indonesia that keris possess sacred powers used for protective, magical, and mystical purposes. Depending on the circumstances, this simple weapon had the ability to bring its owner incredible strength and self-confidence in times of trouble. With close links to the unknown world of the supernatural, the keris was a safeguard against attack of a physical and metaphysical nature.
Since the ancient era when Indonesia was divided into individual kingdoms, keris making was always an esteemed metal working skill performed by artisans known as empu. For the production of keris, the empu required great expertise and a sense of artistry with the ability to manufacture metal, sculpt, carve and interpret different symbolisms. Closely associated with religious elements, each keris produced was accompanied by a complex series of prayers and rituals.
Typically the blade of a keris is of asymmetric form, with the blade wider on one side than the other. The blade can be either straight or with an uneven number of waves. The most remarkable feature of the keris is the pamor: the pattern at the surface of the blade. This pattern is produced during the forging process, and it is formed because the keris is not made from a homogenous piece of metal, but a combination of iron, steel and nickel contents in a unusual sandwiching technique.
Balinese keris, although not as decorative those found in Java, are considered family heirlooms that are passed down through each successive generation symbolizing ancestral pride and honour. Keris are revered and ritually respected in Bali. This small traditional dagger is part of the Balinese wedding day attire for grooms and there is even a special day on the religious calendar, known as Tumpek Landep, which is dedicated to this unique weapon. Ceremonial cleaning, prayer and a sprinkle of holy water is believed to be just one of the ways to rejuvenate the power of the keris.