An Introduction to Keris

Keris blades have existed for thousands of years, yet many are uninitiated in regard to the fascinating history of these highly collectable and sought after blades. For those who know the Keris, their reported magical, supernatural and spiritual properties are famous and one of things that makes them so prized and extraordinary. Many believe that a properly made Keris, crafted by a Keris Smith who is knowledgeable in supernatural forces, will afford its owner physic protection, financial prosperity, harmony in life and elevated social status. The finest made blades are thought to possess a magical or spiritual force. This is known to Indonesian’s as “Khodam” or Servitor, Khodam is a spiritual force or intelligence which “lives” in the Keris. In this regard the Khodam provides guidance and offers protection to its owner.

Keris knives or blades are also known as Kris blades, but the proper term is Keris rather than Kris which is a European term. The word is pronounced Ker─ôse with a long e vowel sound on the second e; the word Keris comes from the Malaise language which means to “stab” or to “pierce.” Even though the origin of the name indicates that the knife was used as a weapon, it has been said that they were actually not made for combat, but rather as spiritual objects which protected their owners, warned them of impending danger and even allowed them to peek into the future. Other legends state that Keris’ were certainly made for combat and some were even made to kill a particular enemy and was “retired” after this act.

Origins of the Keris

These beautiful and mystical blades originated in the Malay Archipelago. It is reported that their creation began as in the 7th Century. Keris blades are indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines. They are similar in reverence to the natives of these countries as Samuri swords are to Japanese natives. Some scholars believe that the first Keris’ were inspired by daggers of the Dong-Son of Vietnam which existed as early as 300 B.C. More study and research is being done into the exact origins of these mysterious blades by studying early carvings found in Southeast Asia.

The Making of a Keris Blade

Keris blades are very difficult to make and this is part of what makes them so highly collectible and valuable. Keris blade smiths are called Empu and they made, and make, the blades by beating the hammer on the anvil using iron ore found in the earth and meteorites that “fall from the heavens” to represent the holy union of man and God. The two metals are beaten together in layers until a thin sheet is formed which is then shaped into either a straight or wavy form. Without this process and the use of these two metals, a blade is not considered a genuine Keris. The blade must also consist of two parts, the Wilah, which is the blade itself, and the Ganja which forms part of the base of the blade. These parts symbolize the joining of God, Eternity, Creativity and Prosperity. The bottom part of the blade (Wilah) must penetrate the Ganja during assembly; this process represents the union between male and female thus creating the “life” of the sword. The Keris is the only blade known in the art of weaponry that is made in this manner. The union of the Wilah and Ganja is considered to be a symbol of God. One final aspect that sets a Keris apart from ordinary daggers is that the Keris, when held upright should appear as though it is leaning forward and not straight up as an ordinary dagger does. This is to symbolize humility which is considered a venerated quality of a man of God. Master Keris smiths have become quite scarce in the 20th and 21st centuries and most of the best blades were made in the centuries preceding these.

Blade Shapes, Sizes and Patterns; Hilts and Sheaths

The blade portion of a Keris is usually narrow at the tip and wide at the base, the actual lengths of a Keris blade can vary from six inches to over two feet. Blades made with a “wavy” shape from helm to tip are called Dapor Loq, and are the most well known because of their unusual undulations. However, many blades were also made to be straight, and these far outnumber the Dapor Loq shape, there are also highly collectable for their stunning blade patterns. There are also blades which display straight and wavy characteristics. The waves of a Keris blade are called Undulations, Kris Cherita or “Luk” by aficionados and experts. Each wave is counted as a Luk on the blade. A popular amount of waves for ancient Indonesian sword makers was 13. While this number may be frowned upon in modern times, this was, and is considered a magical and divine number by the Indonesian people. Although most blades are made with fewer than the venerated 13 Luk the number of waves will always be an odd number.

Many blades were forged to create a Pamor, or pattern on the exterior of the blade. The wavy shape of the Keris is not for mere decoration. For those who used the blade for combat, a rarity, this shape is superior for this task than that of a straight blade. For one thing the wave of the blade will slide off bone and go deeper into its victim; the wide to narrow shape also allows the Keris to be lighter and easier to weld in combat than heaver, wider knives.

Various chemicals were used by sword smiths to create patterns on the blade. Lime juice, arsenic, and acid were all used to form beautiful etchings. The more elaborate the pattern the more desirable the Keris became.

The handle or hilt of a Keris blade can be made of smooth carved wood or they can be ornately carved and embellished. The sheaths are often decorative, many were made of wood. The original sheath of a Keris is very rare as they were often changed by their original owners according to shifting styles or social circumstances; some which were made of wood would also eventually break and would require replacement. Some sheaths are made from ivory, gold, steel and even fossilized elephants teeth. The are often made of simple smooth wood but some can be extremely valuable in their own right and may be encrusted with precious and semi-precious gems. Scabbards would also be blessed or embedded with symbols meant to increase or protect the magical properties of the Keris blade sheathed inside.

Cultural Significance of The Keris Blade

In Southeast Asia the Keris is a still significant part of the tradition, religion and culture of the native people. It remains an honored aspect of life and living in these areas of the world. A person’s Keris is considered a blessed object that brings spiritual enlightenment and physical protection to its owner. They are considered scared objects and are treated with great respect and reverence.

In ancient times Kerises were worn everyday as part of the dress code and a man was considered naked if he did not possess his blade on his person. Women also wore Kerises and these were often made to be smaller to better fit the female frame and grasp. This is similar to the way Japanese warriors would wear their Samurai swords. During war the Keris would be worn on the left side of the body for easy access. During peace time it was only worn on the right side of the body and to carry it any other way was considered an insult to others. Modern day Southeast Asian warriors will carry a Keris for blessed protection and confidence in battle, even if they are not being used in direct hand to hand combat. They are used as a protective talisman or guardian in contemporary times. Many do continue to wear their Keris on a daily basis, although the majority of modern day Keris owner’s only use them during special occasions and during ceremonies.

Some Kerises are very ancient as they were, and are, traditionally passed down from father to son or daughter and rarely leave the family circle, which is why some are very hard to obtain in this century. The blades were also offered as a dowry to the groom of an owner’s daughter. Most men owned several Keris’ and even wore as many as three at one time in battle.

Reported Legendary Mystical and Magical Properties of Keris

Legend and myth surrounding the Keris abounds. A Keris is said to embody attributes of strength and heroism of all its previous owners, so in this regard they are considered powerful magical charms.

The method of creation of each sword is in itself a process which imbues powerful mystical properties into the blade. They were only made with sacred materials and in a holy manner. Thus each blade, depending on what materials were added during its creation will posses certain attributes such as, healing, aphrodisiac, charisma, power, bravery, good luck, prosperity, wisdom, etc. The list is quite extensive as each blade was made to provide its individual owner with desired qualities.

Legends of the blade include: the ability to slay an enemy by simply pointing the weapon at that person or into the enemy’s footprints; transferring a blazing fire from one location to another by pointing the tip of the blade in another direction; the blade flying out of the sheath to attack an enemy on its own; rattling in its sheath to warn the owner of approaching danger; allowing one to see into the future via peering into small holes in the weapon; healing the battle wounds of its owner; and the most intriguing of these tales is the blades ability to give complete invulnerability to its wearer.

Acquiring or “Wedding” a Keris

The process by which one obtains a personal Keris is sacred and is called a “Wedding.” Keris’ are symbols of God and represent the holiness of the owner and maker. The suitor who wishes to marry the blade must take great care to follow the etiquette of the acquisition process. These swords are not bought and sold like ordinary blades and daggers. The one who is to marry the blade must be very cautious about choosing it carefully and well; as much time should be taken in this endeavor as one takes when choosing a life partner or best friend. One should look over several offerings before deciding on a few that seem suitable to them. You should examine the blade carefully and get a “feel” for its chemistry with your personality. Even if you cannot examine a blade in person, it is possible to get a vibration or gut instinct from the particular sword that is meant for you from a photograph. Once you have located the blade you want for personal use or for an addition to a collection, you should ask for the blade from its owner using words of courtship and marriage, it is considered rude to request to “purchase” a Keris—rather one asks for a marriage to the blade or to create a union with the blade. The “price” of a blade is not referred to using that word, the offering for the blade is called a dowry, and the marriage between man and blade or woman and blade must be conducted in the day time hours. Once you come into possession of your Keris you should examine it in the following manner, the blade should be removed from and returned to its sheath thus:

Hold the hilt still in the right hand and slowly pull the sheath off with the left hand. Do not ever pull the blade from the sheath. Hold the blade to your ear first as a sign of respect, listing to the maker of the blade for several minutes. Then you may proceed with examining the weapon. Get a feel for the weight of the item and grip in your hand and note all the details of the blade carefully. When you are done, carefully return THE SHEATH back over the blade.

You may store your blade near the threshold of your home to protect it from negative forces or, you could have a collection cabinet made to display your blades prominently in your home or office. Many follow the old traditions of a yearly “cleansing” of their blades by anointing the blade with oil as one would do with any fine blade. This serves two purposes, it keeps rust from forming on the sword and it also regenerates the mystical properties associated with it.

No matter how you choose to display or care for your blade, be sure to admire it and enjoy ownership of such a fine mystical and highly honored object which is desired by many, but owned by few.


Copyright © 2006: Zahir Karbani UK Registration Number 253932