Join Date: Apr 2005
It seems we all agree to use the 'form follows functions' approach to address with the question DrD propose, that is the 'original' function of greneng (please separate it from ganja).
Before we go further, we must consider the function of keris itself. If we see keris as a weapon, we could compare it with other weapons from other cultures. The form of a weapon seems to evolve to the most effective and efficient form, according to the way it is used. Now we see, the form of any weapon from any culture seems to evolve to a single, or several but limited, similar shape. A Japanese sword, for example, despite it's minor differences in details, resembling only a single form. Tanto, Wakizashi and Katana, basically differ only in length. Chinese swords evolve to basically two shapes, which simply caused by how it is used: Dao and Jian. European sword has many shapes, but it 'method of employment' for each shape also differs. All in all, effectiveness and efficiency are two elements that weapon always sought after. Keris, if it only served as a weapon, must sought these two elements too while the shapes evolved. But despite evolving to a single or several, limited forms, keris, especially Javanese and Bali, had amazingly evolved to hundreds, some in bizzarre shapes, while retained virtually single mode of employment: to stab. If we see keris only as a weapon, and thus it’s elements/details (ricikan) were driven by merely ‘weapon factor’, the beneficial ricikan that proven in fight would be soon copied by another maker, e.g. if greneng effective enough to catch opponent’s blade, then all keris would have greneng. In reality, it is not. In fact, the most abundant keris shape (dhapur) perhaps is tilam upih, a very simple keris. The keris’ evolution suggests that keris might be serving another function, other than weapon. But to explain what function other than weapon keris has been serving for comprehensively, I’m afraid, would take a separate book.
Denys Lombard, a French historian, describes how Java islands lacked it source for iron, while it needed it badly to open the forest. This, according to him, explains why iron had been connected to magical properties in Java more than any other cultures and how the blacksmith earned their special status. The lack of iron also explains why Javanese prefer keris as their symbol of status and knighthood while another culture such as Japanese’s Bushido and European’s Chivalry choose sword, as keris is smaller and thus, need less iron. The Dutch soon found the Java’s iron shortage and enlisted iron as main cargo in their ships that left Europe.
Regarding original function of greneng (or Ron Dha), I’m afraid, none of us could gives satisfactory definite answer if it is what we’re looking for. Suffice to say, greneng and ron dha, in my humble opinion, serves as a symbolic form. Unfortunately, only very limited, relatively recent sources, which explained what it stand for. Serat Centhini (ca. early 19 C), described the meaning of ron dha together with kanyut, which according Serat Centhini resembling ‘Ma’ character in Javanese alphabet, so it sound ‘Dha-dha Ma’, which interpreted as ‘inside the chest, the death reside’. (Dhadha, as Mas Bram said, is chest. Ma, interpreted as Mati, is Death). Other interpretation by Widyaharja, an old Mranggi of Jogjakarta Court, describes greneng (dha-dha) as a symbol of honesty. Other book regarding keris’s symbolism, among other, is the work of Pangeran Karanggayam, supposed to be Demak Court’s poet, so it might be as early as late 16 C. Unfortunately, I haven’t read it. Ganjawulung perhaps? I would not be surprised if he wrote another interpretation. This ‘open interpretation’, while confusing to strangers, plays an important role in old Javanese art’s survival. Despite creating new form of art from the scratch when values had changed, Javanese would rather changed or ‘modify’ their interpretation of the symbolic meaning of a particular form/art. Everyone is free to interpret, as long as capable and reasonable. Thus, we see some ancient art of Java such as keris and wayang survive until now. But further survival, unfortunately, is questionable.
Regarding the first appearance of greneng, well, it could be quite hard to determine exactly when it emerged. According to the table of alphabet comparison by Sonobudoyo Museum, the ‘dha’ character emerged during Majapahit era. IF greneng really resembling ‘dha’, than it’s safe to assume that greneng might started to emerged as early as in Majapahit era, probably later, but not sooner. Serat Panangguhing Dhuwung also stated indirectly that ron dha form had been known in Majapahit and Pajajaran era (interestingly, this work, attributed to Wirasukadga, a well-known Surakarta’s empu, didn’t mention about Tangguh Singasari, Kediri, Jenggala or any other tangguh older than Pajajaran/Majapahit era. The books is enigmas in itself, as many of its terminologies, perhaps was easily understood in its era, but today is hard to be understood. A good example of how things changed). Why they choose ‘dha’ and not any other character or form and what it was originally stands for would remind a mystery, and I haven’t seen any viable method to solve it. It is also worth to note that, if I’m not mistaken, the ‘dha’ character is unknown in Bali alphabet.
Regarding the problem that Alan proposed, well, I agree no more that those problems are some of the important problem regarding keris. Regarding the first question, two elements should be identified simultaneously. The first is the keris’ features which are hard to explain in the weapon’s point of view, and the second is the time those features emerged. The first element could be answered by blade examples that exist today or indirectly by any valid old/ancient keris pictorial/illustration. The second element, naturally, would be answered by dating the blades or illustration samples. Here comes the stumbling point: dating the blades, a classic problem.
Please remind, while I proposed to see the keris from another point of view, I didn’t negate its function as a weapon. Please also bear in mind, what I wrote is mostly from Javanese keris culture point of view.