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Mickey the Finn 28th October 2019 10:39 AM

Mudra and asana in/on keris hilts.
It's primarily (but not exclusively) Balinese hilts depicting a figure in asana which I'd like to gain some understanding of. "Mudras of India" by Carroll & Carroll (ISBN 978 1 84819 109 9) provides some insight. I'm aware of a few titles dealing with the topic of Balinese keris, but I don't know if any would treat the subject of asana and mudra as found on figural danganan in enough depth to justify the outlay. Balinese figural hilts seem to depict a very limited number of asana (when an asana is, in fact, depicted on a Balinese figural hilt). Who (social status/ profession/ occupation/ calling) uses what hilt-asana and when/ where? Are the figural hilt-asana codified to be used only with certain, specific dapur, by certain people, at certain times, in certain circumstances? If anyone could provide an exhaustively detailed, thesis-grade response, or a more-or-less gentle push or shove in the direction of a pertinent post or link here or elsewhere [in English, Bahasa Indo, Finnish, Estonian, most any of the Indo-European "centum" languages, or Sundanese, Malay, or Javanese written in or transliterated into Roman letters], I'd appreciate it. (I have done the preliminary homework of searching for "mudra" and "asana" using the forum's search function). Thank you in advance.

David 31st October 2019 05:58 PM

Welcome to the forum Mickey.
I understand that your focus is more on Balinese figural hilts, but i would not dismiss some Javanese hilts from your studies, especially the Buta hilts, many of which display rather clear mudras.
Though i do not own it myself i understand that Karsten Sejr-Jensen´s Kris Disk has a section that analyzes mudra signs as they appear of keris hilts. If you can locate that source it might be a good start for you.

A. G. Maisey 1st November 2019 08:48 PM

Mickey, these are just a clarification questions:-

1) could you please confirm that you are seeking to relate the asanas and mudras that are sometimes encountered in Balinese totogan keris handles to the hierarchical position within Balinese society of the keris custodian, or to the form (dhapur) of the keris?

2) could you please specify a time frame, that is to say, specify the period in Balinese history to which you wish this question to be considered.

3) could you please briefly outline your current understanding of the traditional socio-cultural position of the keris in Bali?

I am asking these questions because you have asked a question for which there can be no single answer, and indeed, there may be no answer at all. If there is any answer, that will depend upon a number of factors.

As David has pointed out, the relationship between Bali and Jawa does need to be taken into account.

Mickey the Finn 10th November 2019 08:11 AM

Thank you, David. I have indeed seen, and am the current custodian of, a few Javanese and/or possibly Madurese figural ukiran which depict the digits of the hands in positions which might possibly convey some esoteric meaning. I've also seen a few Tajong, and possibly Coteng hilts with similar hand/finger positioning. Sometimes the fifth digit/little finger of the left hand is greatly extended (abnormally long) across the midriff toward the right, while the thumb of the right hand points across the midriff to the left, while the other fingers are folded into the hand (like a "thumbs up" pointing to the left). The only photos I have on hand were not taken by myself, and so, cannot be posted.

Mickey the Finn 10th November 2019 10:45 AM

Mr. Maisey,
My former fiancée once became exasperated and upset with my inability to give a straight yes-or-no answer to, "[Prince] Charles will be the next king [of England], then"?
1) If, in fact, they can be related to either "the hierarchical position within Balinese society of the keris custodian, or to the form (dhapur) of the keris" [or both], then, yes. I'm often mistaken, and with respect to knowledge about keris I might be compared to a babe-in-arms, but I strongly suspect there is a relation. If there is no relation at all, then any information you have and are willing to share about asanas and mudras as depicted on figural hilts (primarily Balinese, but not to the exclusion of any others) would be greatly appreciated.
2) It would be a stretch to describe my understanding of the history of Bali as even rudimentary. My original post might convey the impression that I think of Bali as one big homogeneous lump. In an attempt to answer your second question, I have to say, "It depends". I'm thinking of a time (not the same time with respect to each of the kingdoms of Bali) when "court protocols" were still in force, and enforced. Probably not much later than 1849 for Buleleng, and not much later than 1906-1908 for other kingdoms. We could go back as far as 1293 or even before; this might be going back to before there was such a thing as a "keris Bali", but I'm okay with that.
Well, to specify a "no later than", or "court protocols enforced until, but not after" date is actually somewhat arbitrary, and possibly very misleading. I myself am the current custodian of more than one keris which, based on "stuff I've read on the internet", I have reason to believe I ought not to have in my possession, and which I would never wear inside any keraton on Java, any more than I would wear certain motif batik within these keraton, although I may possess examples of kain batik bearing such "forbidden motifs". Although I know I wouldn't be put to death for wearing a Naga Sasra with Wahyu Tumurun, I don't consider that a legitimate excuse for me to do so, neither on Pulau Jawa, nor anywhere else in this world.
3) Based on what I've read here, you choose your words, as well as their order, with care. I understand your question to be asking about my "current understanding of the traditional socio-cultural position of the keris in Bali, and not about my "understanding of the current traditional socio-cultural position of the keris in Bali". I've read your monograph "An Interpretation of the Pre-Islamic Javanese Keris", and it forms large part of my current understanding of the traditional socio-cultural position of the keris in Bali. In the event you had been asking about my "understanding of the current traditional socio-cultural position of the keris in Bali", I would have answered, "In this age when anyone at all can buy any dhapur that strikes their fancy and match it with any hulu and cincin they please, it's not what it once was".

A. G. Maisey 10th November 2019 05:47 PM

Thank you for your response Mickey.

I am currently I am in the middle of one of my periodic work cycles, I do not have time right now to spend much, if any, time on trying to give you a halfway acceptable answer to your question. My gut feeling is that there is no answer.

I know of no research on this subject, and the period when any such hierarchical stratification might have applied is long past. But I might be able to dig up something. If I can, I will post what I might find here.

Mickey the Finn 18th November 2019 12:00 PM

Thank you, Mr. Maisey. This is a development which I had not anticipated.
I believe that I've made a number of false assumptions.

A. G. Maisey 18th November 2019 07:20 PM

It is very easy to make false assumptions where the keris is concerned, Mickey.

I have generated a number of questions, and I'm still working on this, I have ordered a text on Balinese mudras in a priestly context.

I have contacted a friend in Bali, Ubud actually, who has connections in the cultural community and with both priests and people in the keris community.

When I am ready to ask sensible questions, he will ask those questions for me.

Your question seems like a good one to me. I could be wrong about this, and in the context of post puputan Bali, I probably would be wrong, but if we consider the nature of the mudra we need to consider both the internal and external factors. If we consider the mudra and perhaps the aksana, we need to consider in context. Thus the mudra in a totogan relates to what? At the moment I do not know, in fact I would not even guess. But I might eventually know. The same is true of the totogan aksana.

So, if we think of the mudra/aksana and we wonder, how much more true is it that we need to consider the totogan keris grip itself? We know a little bit about the totogan grip, the purpose is to act as guardian for the shrine that is the blade. Evil loves emptiness. The shrine of the blade is normally empty, held ready to accept the spiritual entity for which it has been prepared. The totogan of the hilt is there to guard against entry of an evil entity. But there is probably not a whole lot more than that about which we can be certain.

Good question Mickey, and we're working on it.

A. G. Maisey 26th November 2019 07:31 PM

I've been giving some attention to Mickey's question and I am slowly learning a very little bit about some things I had previously not paid very much attention to.

In past discussions about aksanas & mudras I have sometimes heard or read some seemingly very knowledgeable opinions expressed about the names and meanings of various hand positions and sitting positions shown illustrated in Javanese and Balinese figural hilts.

It would be of some assistance to me if those people who possess Javanese or Balinese hilts that they believe illustrate a particular mudra or aksana post a picture of that hilt to this thread.

Thank you.

David 27th November 2019 12:06 AM

6 Attachment(s)
Here are a few examples of figural hilts that i believe display what can be taken as mudras and at least one that seems like a yoga pose (one leg up). Though it would be extremely helpful if Mickey would upload images of his own keris as well since they would be most specific to his line of questioning. :)

A. G. Maisey 27th November 2019 03:43 AM

Thank you David.

Jean 27th November 2019 10:07 AM

5 Attachment(s)
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey

It would be of some assistance to me if those people who possess Javanese or Balinese hilts that they believe illustrate a particular mudra or aksana post a picture of that hilt to this thread.

Thank you.

Hello Alan,
I was faced with this issue while writing my hilt book and the main author of reference who addresses the subject is Karsten Sejr Jensen in his 2 books: Den Indonesiske kris and the Krisdisc. He does not mention many mudras but several aksanas (figure positions?) related to the antique Javanese hilts, namely:
. Pralambapada position (the standard squatting position of the demon hilts from NW Java, which he extends to the standard position of the Balinese togogan hilts although it is slightly different). See the first 3 pics attached.
. Rajalilasana position which he extends to the Nawasari hilts from Bali, see 4th pic.
. Maharajalilasana or Lalitasana position with the left leg flexed, see 5th pic.
. Dvarapala position (temple guardian).

PS: Sorry, the order of my pics have been inverted on my screen as compared to the original?

A. G. Maisey 27th November 2019 11:06 AM

Thank you Jean.

I actually had Mr Jensen in mind, as well as some other keris writers when I wrote para 2 of post 9 to this thread. When we get into this and related areas people tend to throw names around like jelly beans. Never did like jelly beans much.

Mickey asked a question that aroused my interest and I am now trying to formulate the questions that I need to ask in order to get sufficient information to be able to respond with some degree of understanding to Mickey's question. This is very early days.

I do have a few things running in my mind but I cannot yet formulate the questions I will need to ask.

Firstly, we are talking about pre-Islamic Jawa and Bali through to --- well, I don't yet know when.

Most Balinese mudras that are practiced by both Buddhist and Siva pedandas in Bali are not static hand postures such as we see in figural carvings, both keris hilts and otherwise, they are flowing movements that involve a number of hand, and sometimes body positions.

But then, there are various groups of people who use mudras in Bali, we have the priests, we have dancers, mudras are also associated with yoga practitioners --- and when I use the word "yoga", I am not thinking in terms of bored housewives trying to fill in their days in order to have their nights filled in for them. Yoga is actually a school of philosophy that was founded by Patanjali that has as one of its objectives the merging of self with Siva --- or perhaps with the Universal Singularity.

Others also use mudras, and not all mudras are equal or the same. To an observer the mudra appears as one thing and is understood as that, but to the practitioner there is the physical performance and the link to mind, so there are three aspects at least to the observed mudra, and since a figural representation is intended to be observed, then this relationship between practitioner and observer must be considered.

But in which sphere of practice should the figural mudra be understood? I am assuming that in-so-far as Bali is concerned it is very probably the religious sphere, this because of the base function of the figural hilt and because a major part of the reason for being of all levels of priests in Bali is to control the nature spirits, as well as the evil entities that populate the unseen world.

The mudra is only one part of a ritual, each morning a Balinese priest engages in the maveda, which is the saying of prayers and mantras that are accompanied by mudras, the mudra is the observable visualisation of the prayer or mantra, so mudras are accompanied by mantras, and those mantras express various things. The mudra is not just a stand-alone hand posture with an unpronounceable name, it means something, and that is what should be uppermost in the observer's mind, thus uniting the practitioner and the observer, and I strongly suspect, the Universal Spirit --- or maybe just Siva.

So, to the present time I am only looking at the mudra in its religious context.

But then I need to look at the actual figures used in hilts. Is there some sort of hierarchical structure attached to these figures? Perhaps some figures are only suited to K'satriya, others to Wesia, perhaps there are limitations on which totogan a Sudra may use? Or maybe any sort of structure is not related to the castes at all, perhaps if there is a hierarchical structure it is related the clans --- the Pasek , Pande, Bandesa and so on.

What about the relationship between a specific mudra --- assuming one can be identified --- and the figure performing that mudra. What are the guidelines?

All that is just gliding across the top of the problem and looking at what everybody already knows, without digging too deeply, and this digging is very much complicated by the inescapable fact that Pedandas don't talk to outsiders, this means Balinese outsiders as well as Bules.

I haven't even started to think about the aksanas yet.

It took me over 30 years from the time I had some small understanding of the true nature of the keris until I felt reasonably confident to publish on this.

Figural hilts and mudras/aksanas I would hope might take a little less time.

RSWORD 27th November 2019 05:48 PM

3 Attachment(s)
An additional reference for the picture gallery.

A. G. Maisey 27th November 2019 07:54 PM

Thank you.

A. G. Maisey 27th November 2019 08:05 PM

Jean, I've said that I have not yet begun to think about aksanas, but in trying to understand mudras, it is difficult not to encounter some comment on aksanas.

The major thing that I have come across so far with aksanas is that an aksana is not a figural position, but rather it is supposedly a comfortable way in which to sit that permits full mind focus during meditation.

This next comment is just a feeling at the moment, so don't pin me to it:- I feel that in probably most cases, the figural and hand positions that we see in all except the very oldest of hilts are not truly representative of mudras, nor aksanas but are simply artistic convention, probably generated in the distant past by attempts at true representation, but later, becoming corrupt.

David 28th November 2019 10:33 PM

Can i have some clarification gentlemen. Both Alan and Jean have mentioned "aksanas". I have assumed we are talking about yoga positions? But AFAIK the word is "asana", not "aksana". Is this a proper alternative spelling or a mistake?

A. G. Maisey 28th November 2019 11:58 PM

Asana would be correct I think, I was probably the first to give it an incorrect spelling. I was and am looking at some Buddhist ideas about unfortunate paths in life, there is a concept called "akshana/aksana", and I made a typo, Jean probably read my incorrect spelling, and not realising that I am human too --- in spite of what some detractors might think --- he followed suit, and of course I followed my earlier lead, I don't think I got it right after my first error.


Jean 29th November 2019 08:49 AM

Yeah, I questioned "aksana" too and added a question mark after "figure position" in my post #12 but I tought that it was a Javanese variation of "asana" :)
Both words apparently do not exist in bahasa Indonesia.

A. G. Maisey 29th November 2019 11:39 AM

No Jean, as I said, a typo, caused by my mind being somewhere else. I have not yet even begun to think about aksanas --- ooops, sorry, I mean Asanas.

I do not know either word in Javanese, but upon checking I find that asana is found in Old Javanese, and with a variety of meanings. It is also found in Modern Javanese, but I needed to go to the Javanese equivalent of the Oxford on Historical Principles to find it, so it is a reasonably obscure word in Javanese. Asana does not appear to be found in Balinese. I would not expect it in Bahasa Indonesia, which is based in the language of trade.

In Javanese, when associated with sitting, it actually means a place to sit, not a posture, and if we go back to Sanscrit --- asana is from Sanscrit --- we find that the original principal meaning in Sanscrit is a seat, specifically a comfortable seat that will allow a person to sit unmoving for a long time in order to concentrate upon meditation.

The modern interpretations of the word asana seem to refer to postures, and this overlaps into yoga --- ie, "yoga" as a set of physical exercises , not in its original sense of a system of philosophy.

I've only found any of this in the last ten minutes, but I believe it is obvious from only this tiny sample of data that there is one hell of a lot assumption and misunderstanding floating around when we start to scratch the surface of not just asanas, but also of mudras.

This little exercise has highlighted something that has been one of my oft repeated warnings:- the structure of a word, and the meaning and application of a word can, and does often, change over time. Thus if we are to try to understand the original, more or less accurate meaning of something, we need to go back to the time and place where that word --- or object, or practice, or whatever --- was actually used in the context that we are trying to understand. Frequently it is close to a complete waste of time to try to understand the past in terms of the present.

Earlier today somebody sent me a paper that dealt with the translation from Old Javanese of a couple of well known kakawins --- the Sutasoma, and the Nagara Kertagama. The striking thing was that several very respected scholars had translated passages in very different ways, in other words, these experts had understood the original texts to say different things, not widely different, but different, and sometimes in the context of the story being related, illogical.

So, to get back to the matter of asanas. Is that word "asana" really the correct word to use when we talk about the observed posture of sculpted figure? In the context that concerns us, we are talking about Jawa at a time when the language used was Old Javanese, and we are talking about Bali. In modern times, the word "asana" seems to have come into English, and I believe that any native English speaker who knows the word would understand it in its English language sense.

Maybe, just maybe, we are trying to understand these poses in art from the wrong direction. Maybe these poses that we see in keris hilts, and in other sculptures are to be interpreted in a way that is not really related to the spiritual, but possibly to dance, where certain postures are a part of the vocabulary of performance art.

Anyway, as I have already said, I know nothing about all this stuff yet, and I have not got enough data to even begin to think about it. But given time it might become a little bit more clear than it is now.

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