Any country could “have” batik, and the material could be found around the world, like in African or Indian batik.
“Again, the value of batik is its intangible heritage, like how it is made, and it is still widely used for rituals, like wedding ceremonies. So it’s more about the meaning behind batik, the philosophy.”
A paper presented during the recent discussion with UNESCO, organized by KADIN, explored the close connection between the Javanese philosophy of life and batik, which includes gamelan traditional orchestra, court dances, religion, wayang puppet shows and dance drama.
The paper — which included contributions by noted designer Iwan Tirta and batik collector and writer Asmoro Damais as members of the Indonesia Batik Museum Institution — found the connection between gamelan and batik showed in that many batik patterns share similar names with certain gamelan melodies, like Gending Pandelori, Srikaton, Pisanbali, Kawung and Gambirsawit.
Batik is also inseparable from Javanese life — annual offerings to the guardians of Java’s main volcanoes and the Goddess of the South Sea still include pieces of batik cloth.
In weddings throughout Central Java, the patterns of sidomukti, sidoluhur, sidoasih, sidomulyo,wirasat and truntum are used to bless newly married couples and their parents.
The rulers of Yogyakarta and Surakarta Palaces always use prescribed patterns like the parang design.
Batik worn during dress rehearsal of the sacred Bedaya Ketawang dance is always the kampuh parang rusak, while for other Bedaya and Serimpi dances, the batik is always a parang pattern, in this caseparang curigo latar putih, parang rusak or parang kusumo.
Various characters in wayang kulit (shadow puppet), wayang golek (wooden puppet) and the most recent wayang orang puppet theater, wear prescribed batik patterns that suit the characters’ personality — the third brother of the Pandawas, Raden Arjuna and his devoted wife Dewi Sumbadra, always wear a parang rusak klitik pattern.
There is also a belief that certain patterns bring bad luck if worn on unsuitable occasions, such as thetambal pattern, which is avoided by a bridal couples as it is feared to bring in patchy luck, like the material’s patchwork pattern, while the kawung pattern should not be used to cover the body of a person who dies on a Saturday.
Yogyakarta Sultan, for instance, never wears the kawung pattern since it is considered to be a forbidden pattern for royalty.
The museum members said batik had a legacy that married the tangible — the cloth and the income — with the intangible: the moral teachings and religious beliefs of Javanese philosophy.
“It has been lifted to a national iconic art, and it is still going strong,” the museum members said.
My introduction to Iwan Tirta
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Iwan Tirta, except that he was a highly respectable batik designer in Indonesia. As I learned more about him, I found out that his batik collection has been known internationally and his profile has been written in so many international media. Wow. I felt so lucky to have had a chance to be at this event.
I arrived at the venue right on time, 7 pm, after rushing back from work – thank God for ojek! Turns out, registration still went on and guests, who were all wrapped in batik, were mingling at the ballroom lobby. The faces were all unfamiliar to me as this really wasn’t my circle. I overheard a man talking about his oil company and such. Enough said.
I took my time taking pictures of the batik collection, displayed at the lobby. They were all designed by Iwan Tirta, but are owned by others, some are well-known Indonesians. There was two ladies batiking at a corner, undisturbed by anything nor anyone. Then I sat and looked around at the beautiful people in their beautiful batik. I almost swore that if I was ever going to buy another batik, it would have to be a hand-drawn batik and definitely not a mass product! Until I realize the number in my saving account…
Gong!! The Royal Dinner and Javanese Opera wearing batik by Iwan Tirta
The sound of gong indicated that royal dinner was to be started. It was 45 minutes late than the scheduled – something I didn’t think was going to happen in a high-profile event. These people paid USD 150 – 400 for a seat. I couldn’t help but wondering “what do these people do for a living??”
The opera then opened with a line of men in Javanese clothes, complete with the keris(Indonesian dagger) slipped in the waist line on their back, and a few ladies in kebaya. They were the gamelan players and pesinden (Javanese singers). They sang and made music harmoniously. While enjoying the music, I couldn’t help wondering, “Did they get the gong and gamelan from Mr. Supoyo?”
Then the dancers came in and started to perform in a really slow motion, as predicted from aSurakarta-based traditional dance. I used to underrate Javanese dances, to be honest. I couldn’t see what was the beauty and the excitement of it. But now that I’ve started taking yoga classes, I realize… slow movements of body parts is nowhere near easy. Try to bend your knees and stand like that for a minute and do it repeatedly, see how tired your muscles would get. And these dancers do it a lot in the routine, yet they do it gracefully, in harmony with the gamelan, no shaky legs, with the whole attire! *bowing down*
Having said that, I enjoyed the second performance more. Not because it was performed by shirtless men, but because it was more dynamic in music and movement. I didn’t fully understand what the actors, who were mostly staged in a back corner, were saying in Javanese, but I think this part of the opera was about the battle between the legendary Damarwulan against Prabu Menakjinggo, to help the Queen Kencana Wungu maintain the power of Majapahit Kingdom. (Please correct me if I’m wrong)
It was a splendid performance. The dancers didn’t just move their bodies according to the routines, but they acted, they became the characters. Steps were taken with certainty, jaws were square and voices were roaring in anger scenes, and they looked like they were hurting each other for real in fighting scenes! I salute them, who have came all the way fromYogyakarta and Solo and performed very well.
All of these performances were utilized Iwan Tirta’s batik collection as the wardrobe. I thought, “Aren’t they afraid they’re gonna accidentally rip or smudge the cloth??” I hope they didn’t. Here’s another cool thing I just found out about Iwan Tirta is that he actually preferred to embed his collection in Javanese traditional dances rather than showcasing them on fashion shows. According to what I read about the man, his preference was based on the way batik was originally utilized in the old kingdom days. I have nothing against the usual fashion shows on catwalk, but I definitely respect Iwan Tirta for integrating the form of traditional art with his creativity.
The show ended with standing ovation from the guests. The cast lined up on stage along with the Kushardjanto couple from Gelar, choreographer Elly D. Luthan and music composer Prof. Dr. Rahayu Supanggah, S.Kar, who are both have made high achievements in respective field. And though I had a little problem finding a cab outside of the hotel, I went home satisfied and looking forward for more chances to enjoy Indonesian traditional performances taken very seriously
Kudos Ladies! I follow your trail through your website religiously and wish you all great adventures in life and on earth in general !