(Information courtesy of Paul's Keris Page)
The sections are described as below:
- Details of the Blade
- Pamor types
- Keris cleaning during Muharram
The blade is called the wilah in Javanese and mata in Malay.
The prototype keris is the Keris Majapahit or Keris Sajen.
Unlike modern day hilts, the hilt of the Keris Majapahit is forged
with the blade and always in the shape of a man, slightly crouching
with his arms tucked into his side.
Keris Majapahits have long been considered a talisman;
used more as a charm than as a weapon. Hence they have been
and still are being produced after the fall of the Majapahit
Empire. Most Keris Majapahit in existence today post-date the
Empire. Real old Keris Majapahit from the Empire period are
very rare. Keris Majapahit do not have a ganja and most do not
have a kembang kacang (these will be discussed in greater
detail later). Modern or fully evolved keris follow the
general pattern of Keris Majapahit, but with greater elaboration
Details of the Blade
It is the details found at the bottom of the blade
that makes the keris a keris. The keris blade suddenly flares
asymmetrically out as it reaches the base at the tang. There
the blade meets the "Ganja", a separate piece of metal which is secured
firmly to blade by a special joint. The Ganja is taken from the
same billet as the blade in the early stages of forging. The Ganja is sharp
at one end and relatively blunt on the other; these features are called the
"Aring" and the "Degu" respectively. The tang is fitted through
the Ganja and the Ganja is merged with the blade as smoothly as possible
such that sometimes it is not noticed as separate from the blade.
Many authorities use this Ganja as the definitive structure that
characterises a blade as a keris.
Other key features at the base of the blade are the Picitan,
the depression on the blade where the blade is held between
the thumb and the fore-finger; the kembang kacang, a feature above the
picitan to give protection to the thumb and the forefinger;
the sogogan, decorative groves at the base of the blade; and
saw-like serrations along both edges called either the
janggut, if above the kembang kacang, or ri-pandan if on
or above the Aring. The janggut and ri-pandan are actually
guards, designed to catch an opponent's blade and prevent it
from reaching the hand. However, there are no fixed rules on
whether these features must be present or what forms they
Apart from these distinctive features, the keris comes in
all shapes and sizes imaginable. The Indonesian term for the
shape of the blade is "Dapur". At last count, there are about
145 listed and identified Dapur. This doesn't include the variations
in-between. While the conventional view of a keris is that it is
wavy, straight blades abound. The waves or "luk" are
always odd in number when counted in the traditional way; the
first luk starts above the picitan, and the second on the alternate side
of the blade and on and on till the tip. Some of the common dapur
are Sempana (7 luk) or Sangkelat (13 luk). Some blades,
have a lion or singa, snake or naga, or a praying man or pendita
instead of having a kembang kacang. The names of the dapur of
these blades follow the motive they have like Singabarong
The hilt of a keris is a sculpture in miniature. It is mostly carved
from wood but every conceivable material can be used from horn to ivory
to silver or gold and even fossilized mammoth tooth and Tridacna shell.
Designs, however, tend to be traditional and 20th century innovations are
rare. Keris hilts descend from lifelike representations of a man. Islamisation
has caused the evolution of the original hilts into very abstract
representations where the barest outline of a man can be discerned. Only in
Bali, which remains Hindu, do you see lifelike representations of man, gods
In Javanese, the hilt is called Ukiran while in Malay it is called Hulu.
Unlike most other blades, the hilt is not always permanently affixed to the blade.
It is secured to the blade by a strip of cloth, string or hair that is wrapped
round the tang and then inserted into the hilt. The tightness of the fit is
controlled by how much cloth you wrap round the tang. This has two
advantages; it allows the hilt to be turned to allow it to have the best
match to shape of the hand, and to allow the hilt to be changed and
varied according to the economic situation of the owner.
Sometimes a resin is used to secure the hilt to the blade. The resin,
when cold, solidifies into a strong adhesive but with heat, it softens and
allows the blade to be removed. A firm fit yet easy removal of the
hilt is possible with this resin. Many are of the view that this was the
traditional way of securing the hilt to the blade and the use of
cloth or hair is a recent development.
A working knowledge of hilt design can help you place where a
keris is from. In Central and East Java, most keris hilts are the abstract
seven plena hilts. North Java has its own keris hilt forms. In Cirebon, the
main hilt form is that of a squatting long haired demon or raksasa.
Madura has a stylised human form that is heavily decorated with foliage
either inscribed, pierced or in relief; one form maintaining the
profile of a man, another deviating away somewhat. Madura hilts have added
much Dutch influenced designs such as epaulettes, crowns, coat-of-arms,
helmets. One particular attractive Madura form is the "corn-cob", also heavily
decorated with foliage.
In Sulawesi, Sumatra and Malaya, the main form is the Jawa Demam;
the "Fevered Javanese". Many believe that it is an abstraction of the
Garuda because of its beak like projection. However, there is strong
evidence that it is an abstraction of a man as more primitive examples
clearly shows hands, feet and teeth which the Garuda lacks. If you study
early forms of the Java Demam from Palembang and Tegal, you will notice
that the "beak" is actually an elongated nose. The abstraction of the
Jawa Demam varies from highly stylised as in the case of Patani
and Palembang hilts to highly abstract in the Malay or Bugis form.
In Perak, there is a hilt form, which I think is a recent development;
a hilt in the form of a parrot. In Moro or Sulu pieces, the 'cockatoo'
pommel is well known. Some Riau sundangs have similar pommels, though
some have realistic representation of a parrot's head rather than a stylised
figure. The Perak Parrot hilt could have developed from this.
In Bali, you find a whole range of hilts from figural representations
of Demi Gods to the intriguing 11 chequered hilts to functional plain
hilts with hair wrapped around it. Balinese hilts are larger
than most and more erect given that the Balinese keris blade is
longer and larger than most and used for cutting and stabbing.
A unique part of the hilt section of a keris is the ring or cup
that comes between the hilt and the blade. In Javanese pieces, the ring
and cup are separate pieces, although sometimes they are glued or
welded together. The ring is called mendak, while the cup is called selut.
The mendak and selut can in itself be a work of art. The highest quality
are embedded with precious stones and made from gold. The same
practice applies to Balinese pieces
The Malay version is called the Pendongkok. It usually comes in one
piece either as a flat cup or a cup with the stem fixed to it. Pendongkoks
come mainly in brass or silver, sometimes ivory. Again the high quality is
made from gold but this rare because of adat restrictions. Most "gold"
pendongkoks are actually gilded silver. Many are decorated with granules
and filigree. Seldom do we see one with precious stones like that of
Bali and Java.
The rings and cups symbolizes the lotus; a link to the
Buddhist past of the Malay people. It is common practice in the
Malay and Sumatran Pendongkok to find lotus motives used as
decoration and the pendongkok itself decoratively divided into
eight panels or sections, a stylised version of the eight petal
There is a purpose to the rings. They are constructed to provide
gradual incline tapering towards the base of the blade. This allows for
a comfortable grip of the keris for the forefinger and thumb, facilitating
the effective handling of the weapon.
Like the hilt, the sheath of a keris varies from region to region
but there is a common design among the varying styles. The sheath
comprises a large cross-piece and a stem, which makes it look like a
capital T. The cross-piece is called a wrangka in Javanese
and sampir in Malay. The cross-piece is designed to take the flaring
base of the keris but on the practical side, it does away with a special
brace for carrying the keris as you just have to insert the keris into
one's sash or belt and the cross-piece provides a stable anchor.
Most of the regional difference are seen in the design of the
wrangka. In the Balinese and Javanese keris, the wrangka comes
in basically two forms, the Ladrang and the Gayaman.
In the Ladrang, the upper ends of the wrangka curl up while the
lower ends curve inward towards the stem making it look like a boat
with a swirling bow and stern. The Gayaman is flat and somewhat
oblong, like an elongated hamburger. In the Javanese gayaman, one
can still make out the outline of a boat, particularly the Gayaman
The boat is most clearly seen in the Palembang wrangka. It does
not take a lot of imagination to see the bow, stern, and the keel in
The Malayan wrangka, or sampir, is squarish or rectangular in
shape. It has very slightly upturn edges and an inward curve on the
lower edge on one side. This corresponds to the bow of a boat.
There is a belief that the wrangka or sampir is a representation
of the moonboat of Malay/Javanese legends but it could be a legacy of
fact that the Malay race, from its earliest times, is a sea-faring people.
The sheaths are in the main made of wood. Special woods with
attractive grains are chosen. The kind of wood used and its grain
is believed to have magical properties which contain or restraint the
power of the keris. Hence old keris sheaths invariably have wood
in them. Old sheaths of silver and gold are actually wooden sheaths,
covered in sheet metal. Sheaths made entirely of metal, bone, or
ivory are new developments, most likely to please foreign tourists.
In Java and Bali is Timoho or Pelet (Kleinhoven Hospita Linn).
Teak Gembol or Jati and Sono (don't know the botanical names here)
are also popular. In Malaya and Sumatra, the premier wood is
Kemuning (Murraya Paniculata Jack). In Bali, so important is Pelet
wood that even if there is a gold sleeve made for the stem,
there would be a window or two to show the wood. Most times
the metal sleeve would be restricted to the rear of the sheath so
that the entire front portion is exposed. Only in rare exceptions or
relatively new pieces is the Bali sheath completely covered sheet
Sheaths sometimes come in metal sleeves of brass, white metal,
silver or gold. This is particularly so for Javanese pieces.
In Java, the metal sleeve is called pendok. It comes in two main
forms; the bunton, which is a full metal sleeve or the blewah
which has a section almost the length of the sleeve about 8mm wide?
cut out in the front. This is to allow the wood of the sheath to
In Malaya, the sleeve is called the slorok. While the full
slorok is common, it is almost impossible to find one with a cut
like the Javanese blewah. So to show off the wood beneath the slorok,
the Malays fit the slorok in sections either two or three so that the
wood will be exposed between sections.
The most striking feature of the keris is the damascene or "Pamor".
Pamor is formed because the keris is not made from a homogenous
piece of metal but a combination of iron, steel and iron with a
high nickel content. The iron gives the keris its body, and the steel
its cutting edge. It is the nickel that gives the blade its pamor.
The pamor is brought out and made visible through a process of
washing the finished blade in a solution of arsenic and lime juice.
Base iron turns black in such a solution while the nickel remains
unaffected. Smiths or Emu (a term of respect) have learnt and
mastered the art of laying out nickel and directing the forging to
give a desired pamor. So advanced is the skill now that you can
order a blade with your name or a Koranic text in pamor.
There are basically two classes of pamor; flat "mlumah" and
Pamor mlumah lies parallel to the flat of the blade such that
if you run a finger on a blade with Pamor Mlumah, it is relatively
smooth to the touch. Common mlumah pamor are Kulit Semangka
(Watermelon Skin), and Beras Wutah (Scattered Rice Grains).
Other varieties are Bendo Sedago and Uler Lurut.
Pamor Miring, on the other hand, raises up perpendicularly or
diagonally from the flat of the blade. If you run a finger down a blade
with Pamor Miring, you will feel like your finger is going over many
tiny ridges. Most of the elaborate pamor are of the Miring class like
Blarak Ngirid (Coconut Fonds) and Ron Genduru or Bulu Ayam
Aside from this, there is also a concept of "willed" and "fated"
pamor. "Willed" or Pamor Rekan refers to pamor designs that are
pre-planned. "Fated" or Pamor Tiban is pamor left to chance, or to
the grace of God, in the process of forging. Most Pamor Tiban are of
the Mlumah class. They have very strong spiritual connotations. Some
come is shapes of animals, or a star or a circle in an unexpected
place. The most powerful are those that resemble a man.
KERIS CLEANING DURING MUHARRAM
Muharram is the traditional time of the year in the Muslim calendar
when keris owners in South-East Asia would ritually clean their blades.
Muharram is the first month of the Muslim year. In this regard, it is linked
to new life or rejuvenation. In Java, Muharram coincides with Suro which is
the Javanese Keris cleaning month.
Pamugaran Gallery follows the traditions of Javanese culture and
adheres to the practice, and the conduct, of the ritual cleansing ceremony conducted
at the Kraton (palace) of the Sultan of Yogyakarta in Central Java, Indonesia.
Cleaning a Keris is not just a matter of maintenance. There is a mystical
aspect behind the need to clean a Keris. The idea is to rejuvenate the
pamor and breathe new life into the Keris. In Javanese culture the Keris holds
a special place of significance for a number of reasons. There is a belief in the
spirit of the Keris and it is the owners responsibility to ensure that the spirit
remains with the Keris. For this reason the spirit needs constant care and attention
otherwise its power will be depleted and possibly lost. A ritual cleaning is one
of the ways to rejuvenate the power of the Keris.
Hence some collectors bring their Keris for cleaning even though they are
rust free and their pamor in good shape.