Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
David has just raised a question that I have answered that probably requires a little further explanation.
Guwaya has also commented in respect of the principle of numerical assignment on the basis of gender :- "--- interpretation of uneven numbers of a javanese keris-blade as a symbol for the male princip of the keris is in my eyes or after my understanding an overinterpretation---"
The modern keris made its appearance in Jawa at a time when the dominant philosophy and religious system in Jawa was Hindu. Thus, although the keris is beyond doubt a product of Javanese thought, it is Javanese thought under the influence of Hindu culture.
Hindu culture cannot be understood in the absence of an understanding of numerology and astrology. These are basic principles in the organization of Hindu society. Thus, if we are to understand the nature of the keris at the time of its development to the modern form, we need to understand it within the parameters of Hindu culture in Jawa. This understanding necessarily involves an understanding of Hindu principles of numerology in their Javanese context.
It also involves an understanding of duality as this applies within Hindu and Javanese thought.
The keris can be understood in a purely numerological context, but with Hindu numerology the interpretation of the numbers involved requires an understanding of the basic matrix governing the thing that is to be evaluated.
In the case of the keris, we have an object that is undeniably a symbol of the male, but an object that in some circumstances can be a symbol of the family, community or society.
In its incarnation as a male symbol it requires assessment within a purely male matrix, but in its assessment as family symbol, that matrix alters, as it does for assessment as a community or society symbol.
For example, keris waves in a Javanese keris normally range between 1 and 13. The numbers from 3 to 9 are undeniably male numbers, however, when we come to the compound numbers of 11 and 13, these can be interpreted as either 1 + 1 and 1 + 3, or 2 and 4. The number 1 can be read as an absolute, thus representative of the divine, or it can be read as male. The way the interpretation is applied is dependent upon the factors influencing the interpretation.
If we consider the nature of the numbers from 1 to 5, we will see that there is an overwhelming spiritual tone to a reading, however, when we move beyond 5 we find that there is a tendency to move towards the material.
Thus, although the primary interpretation of gender assignment to the keris must always be male, a much deeper knowledge of applicable factors may introduce elements of the female as a part of the male. In Hindu thought no man is complete in the absence of a woman, no woman is complete in the absence of a man:- the two together make the whole, and that whole forms the basis for the fabric of society.
Thus, consideration of the keris itself, that is, the blade, must always be within the male matrix, however, when that blade gains a hilt and a scabbard we are looking at the addition of things which contribute to completeness, and the complete keris is thus able to considered within a matrix that incorporates the female element, just as family and society incorporate the female element.
The above attempt at explanation is an extremely simplistic one, but I have tried to keep it within parameters that I hope will be easily understood.
Alan G. Maisey:
It is true that the "modern keris made its appearance in Jawa at a time when the dominant philosophy and religious system in Jawa was Hindu. Thus, although the keris is beyond doubt a product of Javanese thought, it is Javanese thought under the influence of Hindu culture
But even if we have to see the context with the hinduistic culture we shouldn't forget the 'old-jawanese' cultural elements. Those indigenious based cultural elements I for myself
attribute more importance to then to those of a culture which came later and met upon an already existing own culture and was in some way adapted into this already existing thinkings. The balinese hinduism is a woderfull sample herefore.
If somebody is interested into the keris he naturaly has to understand the hinduistic culture but in my eyes more so about the old-jawanese elements as this is the basis. You can compare it somehow with the todays wayang performances with those some years ago. Nowadays you will often find islamic elements integrated into the stories and Hardionagoro once spoke to me in that direction: "we have to accept the influences of these islamic elements into thejawanese traditional art, otherwise we will loose the control over it competly".
Before I continue I would like to clear the two terms od DUALISM and POLARISM, as polarism is often confounded with dualism.
DUALISM means to build mutually exclusive opposites (yes - no; black - white; top - bottom etc.).
POLARISM bears not only two conditions but three, with a neutral centre between two mutually dependent poles. The polarism you can say closes the dualism and is an implement for the understanding of the world.
Under this aspect the jawanese culture doesn't follow the concept of duality, it follows the concept of polarism which implies the duality - but is a difference.
If you see the jawanese culture (or the keris in as one representant of this culture) it is of great importance to display the polaristic aspect and it is impossible to see isolated just one of these two opposites as they need each other and only together they build an entire. (There is the upperworld and the underworld and between those two is the middle world with the humans who have to arrange their life in that way that not one of the opposites become stronger than the otherone. Both sides have to be kept in balance, to keep the middleworld in harmony).
This concept you will find in in every part of the traditional jawanese culture (and not only the jawanese), and it is very clear if special elements of the material culture are attributed to one of the opposite sides (weapons = male - textiles = female) and going into the details you will find it inside one item of material culture again. The combination of both opposites then again become the symbol of the totality, of the over all standing and everything unifying entirety.
If anybody is looking or real interested into the symbolik of the material cultural object of the keris I only can warn to see it to much under the aspect of indian influence - more important, in my eyes
, are the old-jawanese aspects as far as they can be still researched. But even if they cannot be researched or requested again it is better to leave a questionmark than to force an answer in a hinduistic direction because it is easier to receive information - otherise we run into a situation what Hardionagoro meant when he said: "we have to accept the islamic influence in the jawanese art but we ghave to watch it critically, if we don't, the influence will still go on but without any chance for us to react."
THE JAWANESE KERIS IS NOT INDIA - elements (a lot) are adapted, but it is not all, although many western like to reduce it to this theme, possibly because it is easy as you can reduce your researches upon literature studies.
Under this, my personal view, I can hardly find an interpretation which attributes the uneven numbers of luk to the male princip of the keris. I am aware about the fact that in some literature is postulated that the term keris from the Jawanese is used for the keris in its completness as well as just for the blade. For myself I don't have any proof of the correctness of this statement and it must be allowed to doubt it.
I am always afraid of overinterpretations brought into mostly from members of an outside culture. Unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult to receive serious research results about such questions - if it is not already too late.
I cannot see any weapon, whereever, which is called sword, dagger, keris etc. without a handle. Blades are generally called what they are, sword blade, knife blade, keris blade or better "wilah". Hence, regarding the theme of symbolism of the keris it would possibly better to take a keris pesi iras as we here better can see an clearify the concept of opposite pairs and tho over all standing concept of polarism.
I think that this is a theme going much to far for a platform like here as it is so complex and you could fill a complete semester or more of studying such questions.
Taking a keris pesi iras is a good way to introduce this polaristic concept as we have the blade (snake = female and the hilt = representing an ancestor or anthropomorphic figure = male). Both controll via the theoretical concept of the polarism each other and finally build the entirety.
The main thing is to understand or let us better say to try to understand the importance of the polaristic aspect and organisation of the traditional jawanese and south-east-asian world view in genral. We western educated and grown up people are to fast gliding into the thinking of a "black- and white" sheme. South-east asia with its completely different religious believing system - which besides is much much older than judaism, christianity or islam - is completely different, different in thinking, different in acting etc. and I for myself, I really hope and wish that it will survive.
Already here I apologize myself for the closer future if answering late - but I have to feed my wife and myself and I am "sibuk with cari uang."