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Old 17th January 2022, 11:38 AM   #1
jagabuwana
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Default Kala and the carvings on a keris hilt

From keris glossary on Alan's website:
"Cecekan -The small areas of carving (normally 2) on a Central Javanese planar ukiran which are said to be the stylised representation of a kala face."
(source: http://www.kerisattosanaji.com/keris-glossary)

If I'm not mistaken, a kala is a demon form in the Javanese and Hindu belief system.

Kala also means "time" in sanskrit. Kala the personality is a Batara, a god, and is the god of time.
  • We know that demons are often represented in figural hilts, and they make for good guardians to temples, shrines and consequently kerises. But why is it kalas specifically that are present and ubiquitously symbolised through the cecekan, as opposed to other demons or raksasas more generically?
  • Is there a relationship between kalas and Kala?
  • Am I right in thinking that kalas a veiled way of representing Kala the god without doing so directly, in the same way that the keris represents or depicts Siva and Sivaistic elements?

Last edited by jagabuwana; 17th January 2022 at 11:39 AM. Reason: added link/source
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Old 17th January 2022, 08:12 PM   #2
A. G. Maisey
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That is just my terminology Jaga. Others before me might have used "kala" to refer to these little carvings, I don't know. I could have copied other usage, or it might just be a convenient word that popped into my head at the time.

If you're not comfortable with "kala", just use "demon". In Balinese & Javanese "kala" is one of the generics for "demon". Siwa created two forms of low, earth-bound demons, kalas and bhutas. They are both low ranked entities, and although by nature they are pretty dangerous, unpleasant & disruptive, if you give them the right offerings they can become protective. As protective entities they appear on keris hilts, as well as in monumental images. There are lots of Kalas, even Siwa in one of his aspects is a Kala :- Kala Rudra.

Supposedly the Central Javanese planar hilt first appeared amongst nobles along the North Coast, probably Demak, the earlier Hindu-Buddhist hilt forms that often incorporated figural representations were disappearing under the influence of Islam, and the changes made to these earlier forms were usually achieved by burying the recognisable features of Bhutas & Kalas & other Raksasas & Demons under foliage, so these hilts then became Patra hilts, "patra" is literary (Kawi, Sanscrit) for "leaf". The North Coast and Madura hilts with figures disguised under carvings of foliage are what we finished up with through this substitution.

Somebody around this time thought it would be a good idea if things were simplified by keeping just a vague reference to the Hindu-Buddhist demons, rather than spending time & money on elaboration --- in any case, bling is frowned upon in Islam --- so the foliage was reduced to just a couple of little "leaves" that could be interpreted as the faces of demons. Another way of thinking about this new planar hilt form is that it is just one more of the multitude of changes made to the keris under Islam that were designed to strip the keris of its original cultural, religious & societal nature. If a new philosophy is introduced to a society it is best that the elements of the old philosophy are not swept away, but rather altered to sit more comfortably into the new paradigm.

I think one of the Wali Songo was credited with this initiative, but I forget who. In any case, the Wali himself was unlikely to have actually made the first, it would have been designed & made by people who were under his leadership and administration.


One of the other names for cecekan is "patra" = "leaf".
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Old 18th January 2022, 01:01 AM   #3
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Thank you Alan. I feel it's a real shame that depictions of these demons were abstracted and reduced to this point. But such is history and maybe I should view it more neutrally.

Regarding bling in Islam, yes it is in some cases frowned upon, but there doesn't seem to be an issue with it when it comes to very elaborate and complex geometry in art. In my opinion the problem is with detailed or closer-to-life-like depictions of the natural world. According to the letter of its law this is forbidden, but is usually only extended to human beings and animals. But I guess the sentiment got extended to nature given that the pre-Islamic culture related to nature a way that is idolatrous to Islam.
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Old 18th January 2022, 02:14 AM   #4
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Jaga, I am not Muslim, you are, and accordingly I bow to your opinions in this matter of bling.

However, my personal experience with friends and acquaintances who are Muslim, some of whom are very committed & observant Muslims, is that there is a rather wide variation in what people of the Muslim faith believe to be correct.

There was the Muslim gentleman who did some engraving for me, in his office he had a number of very good carvings of birds, a couple in particular were really excellent, they were falcons.

I commented on them and asked if it was acceptable for a man of his beliefs to possess such things.

I should have kept my mouth shut.

I got a 20 minute lecture from him about lifelike images, complete with quotes from al Quran. Apparently my understanding of prohibitions on the making of images was totally incorrect, and only those with a deficient understanding of the teachings had this belief in prohibition of living beings in art.

The truly devout Muslims I know in Indonesia go out of their way to appear humble and unostentatious, although they might ride around in Mercedes Benzes, they invariably dress in a very plain style and never wear jewellery.

I rather feel that Islam, as in virtually all religious belief systems is open to interpretations on exactly what is correct and what is not correct, according to the ideas of the interpreter.
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Old 18th January 2022, 02:41 AM   #5
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That tracks Alan, I agree with you completely. Please don't bow to my opinion on this, it is no more valid than yours. Anyway by most criteria I have qualified myself out of the faith.

Islam is at its heart, I think, an ascetic and sober religion, so anything rousing to the senses is treated with caution. That so happens to cover the joys of music, the topic of which seems to get the same kind of reaction from many Muslims that your engraver had about his carvings. There are many prohibitions in Islam that many a believer will find very uncomfortable and when confronted with it will find a way to reconcile it. I am happy the keris and at least some of its elements were reconciled because from what I understand about Islam it could have just as easily been erased. Maybe the guardians on the hilts did their jobs well.
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Old 18th January 2022, 04:49 AM   #6
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The thing that gets me about the all faiths of The Book is that at their core they are are all the same, all worship the same One God, and at their absolute root all come from the same source, but all the variations seem to believe that their own interpretation is the only correct one.

One God, but many interpretations, and the interpretations are from Man, not from God.

Then if we factor in the Hindu faith we find that once again we only have one Supreme Being, or one God with a capital "G":- Ishvara.

The multitude of deities being no more than aspects of Ishvara.

I reckon God must cry sometimes to see the mess that His creation, Man has made of things.
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Old 18th January 2022, 06:51 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey View Post
The thing that gets me about the all faiths of The Book is that at their core they are are all the same, all worship the same One God, and at their absolute root all come from the same source, but all the variations seem to believe that their own interpretation is the only correct one.

One God, but many interpretations, and the interpretations are from Man, not from God.

Then if we factor in the Hindu faith we find that once again we only have one Supreme Being, or one God with a capital "G":- Ishvara.

The multitude of deities being no more than aspects of Ishvara.

I reckon God must cry sometimes to see the mess that His creation, Man has made of things.
I absolutely agreed with you Alan. I do sometimes think of these issues as well and why mankind loves to create complications.
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Old 18th January 2022, 09:42 AM   #8
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Anthony, I feel that it is rather that man loves power, certainly the gaining and retention of that power will create complication.
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