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Kris from Yogyakarta - Dapur Carubuk
|Place of origin||Southeast Asia|
A kris can be divided into three parts: bilah (blade), hulu (hilt), and warangka (sheath). These parts of the kris are objects of art, often carved in meticulous detail and made from various materials; metal, precious or rare types of wood, or gold or ivory. A kris's aesthetic value covers the dhapur (the form and design of the blade, with around 150 variants), the pamor (the pattern of metal alloy decoration on the blade, with around 60 variants), and tangguh referring to the age and origin of a kris..
Depending on the quality and historical value of the kris, it can fetch thousands of dollars or even more.
Both a weapon and spiritual object, kris are often considered to have an essence or presence, considered to possess magical powers, with some blades possessing good luck and others possessing bad. Kris are used for display, as talismans with magical powers, weapons, a sanctified heirloom (pusaka), auxiliary equipment for court soldiers, an accessory for ceremonial dress, an indicator of social status, a symbol of heroism, etc.
Legendary kris that possess supernatural power and extraordinary ability were mentioned in traditional folktales, such as those of Mpu Gandring, Taming Sari, and Setan Kober.
In 2005, UNESCO gave the title Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity to the kris of Indonesia. In return, UNESCO urged Indonesia to preserve their heritage.
EtymologyThe origin of the word kris derives from the old Javanese term ngiris which means to slice, wedge or sliver. "Kris" is the more frequently-used spelling in the West, but "keris" is more popular in the dagger's native lands, as exemplified by the late Bambang Harsrinuksmo's popular book entitled Ensiklopedi Keris (Keris Encyclopedia). Two notable exceptions are the Philippines, where it is usually called kalis or kris, and Thailand where it is always spelled and pronounced as kris. Other spellings used by European colonists include "cryse", "crise", "criss", "kriss" and "creese".
OriginsSoutheast Asia. It is believed that the earliest kris prototype can be traced to Dong Son bronze culture in Vietnam circa 300 BCE that spread to other parts of Southeast Asia. Another theory is that the kris was based on daggers from India.
Some of the most famous renderings of a kris appear on the bas-reliefs of Borobudur (825) and Prambanan temple (850). However from Raffles' (1817) study of the Candi Sukuh that the kris recognized today came into existence around 1361 CE in the kingdom of Majapahit, East Java.
The scene in bas relief of Sukuh Temple in Central Java dated from 15th century Majapahit era, shows the workshop of a Javanese keris blacksmith. The scene depicted Bhima as the blacksmith on the left forging the metal, Ganesha in the center, and Arjuna on the right operating the piston bellows to blow air into the furnace.
The wall behind the blacksmith displays various items manufactured in the forge, including kris. These representations of the kris in Candi Sukuh established the fact that by the year 1437 the kris had already gained an important place within Javanese culture.
The Sanghyang siksakanda ng karesian canto XVII, a Sundanese manuscript dated from Saka 1440 or 1518 CE, describes the kris as the weapon of kings, while the kujang is the weapon of farmers. There exist claims of earlier forms predating the Majapahit kris but none are verifiable. In the past, the majority of kris had straight blades but this became less frequent over time. Tomé Pires, in early 16th century, describes the importance of the kris to the Javanese: 
... every man in Java, whether he is rich or poor, must have a kris in his house .. and no man between the ages of 12 and 80 may go out of doors without a kris in his belt. They carry them at the back, as daggers used to be in Portugal...While it is commonly believed that kris were the primary weapons wielded by fighters in the past, they were actually carried by warriors as a secondary armament if they lost their main weapon, which was usually a spear.
— Tome Pires, Suma Oriental
For commoners however, kris were worn on a daily basis, especially when travelling because it might be needed for self-defense. During time of peace, people wore kris as part of ceremonial attire.
Ceremonial kris often meticulously decorated with intricate carving in gold and precious stones. Heirloom blades were handed down through successive generations and worn during special events such as weddings and other ceremonies.
Men usually wore only one kris but the famous admiral Hang Tuah is said in the Hikayat Hang Tuah to have armed himself with one short and one long kris. Women also wore kris, though usually of a smaller size than a man's.
In battle, a fighter might have carried more than one kris, some carried three kris: his own, one from his father-in-law, and one as a family heirloom. The extra two served as parrying daggers but if none were available, the sheath would serve the same purpose.
For example, a kris may have a blade from Java, a hilt from Bali and a sheath from Madura.
In many parts of Indonesia, the kris was the choice weapon for execution. The executioner's kris had a long, straight, slender blade. The condemned knelt before the executioner, who placed a wad of cotton or similar material on the subject's shoulder or clavicle area. The blade was thrust through the padding, piercing the subclavian artery and the heart. Upon withdrawal, the cotton wiped the blade clean. Death came within seconds.
In 16th century, European colonial power introduced firearms into the archipelago that contribute to the decline of kris' prominence as the weapon of choice in battle. However its spiritual and ceremonial function still continued and celebrated mainly in kraton and istana (courts) throughout Indonesia and Malaysia.
Over the past three decades, kris have lost their prominent social and spiritual meaning in society. Although active and honoured empus who produce high quality kris in the traditional way can still be found on some places such Madura, Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Makassar and Palembang, their number is dramatically decreasing, and it is more difficult for them to find successors to whom they may transmit their skills.