Join Date: May 2006
Jean, thank you very much for your detailed analysis of Dresden 2886 and the Athanase keris, the comparison of these two keris opens the way for a ten thousand word paper, and clearly this Forum is not the place to publish such a lengthy treatise, so I am going to make my comments here as concise as possible, and hope that those comments may make the way in which the Javanese system of keris classification is used just a little bit more easily understood. I have succeeded in restricting these comments to not much over 2000 words, and that means that I have left a lot unsaid. I am happy to try to respond to any specific questions.
Firstly, I frequently use the word "classification" when giving a reference to a keris blade. I use "classification", because that is in fact what we, as collectors do:- we classify. The correct Javanese term is "Tangguh", and although this results in a classification, the word "tangguh" actually should be understood as "opinion", so the "classification" is based upon an "opinion". It is not something that rests upon incontrovertible factors, it rests upon the knowledge, experience and emotional state of the person giving the opinion, and that opinion can vary from person to person. However, although an opinion on specific tangguh can vary, what almost never varies is that a more recent keris will never be identified as an example of an older keris.
This Tangguh System was not developed for use by collectors, it was developed for use by Javanese gentlemen who used the keris as one of their socially acceptable ways in which to store wealth. Although we now tend to think of the Tangguh System as a Javanese system, it actually originated in a very specific part of Jawa. The first mention of it seems to have been in a literary work generated in the Surakarta Karaton, and that mention was not as a system, but simply as a proposed origin for a keris. By the time of the Late Colonial Period a number of Tangguhs were recognised, and in the late Colonial Period a little booklet called "Panangguhing Dhuwung" ("Giving Opinions on Keris Origin", or an alternative translation into BI:- "Penandaan Pemilihan Keris") written by Mas Ngabei Wirasoekadga was published that listed 19 possible tangguhs with sub-tangguhs mostly identified by the name of an empu.
In Solo (Solo is the city in which the Karaton Surakarta is located) during the 1970's and 1980's the major tangguhs applied to keris were:- Jenggala, Pajajaran,Majapahit, Kahuripan, Pengging, Segaluh, Tuban, Pajang, Mataram, Kartosuro, Surakarta, Madura, together with a number of sub-tangguhs.
In the Solo of the 1970's and 1980's if a keris was not able to be aligned with one of the major tangguhs it was simply given as "di luar Jawa" and disregarded. Essentially such a keris was of somewhere between little interest and no interest at all. The attitude was that if it was not Javanese it was irrelevant.
It is important to understand what the idea of "Jawa" means to a Javanese person. It does not mean the Island of Jawa, it means the Land of Jawa. So only keris associated with the Land of Jawa and the history (as recorded in court babads) of the Land of Jawa is of relevance to Javanese values.
Javanese values of historic eras, people and events are strongly rooted in the perceived honour of such historic eras, people and events. For example, the era of Sultan Agung is regarded as highly honourable, thus keris that can be associated with that era are regarded as highly honourable, and accordingly, Mataram Sultan Agung keris have a high value, as compared with keris that are associated with the Kartosuro era, especially Kartosuro under PBII, which is an era deemed to have little or no honour.
Bearing the above in mind, it is easy to understand that the Tangguh System was never intended to classify keris as one tangguh or another, for the amusement of hobbiest collectors. The tangguh system was developed to help Javanese gentlemen, Javanese aristocrats form an opinion in respect of the integrity of a keris as a vehicle for storage of wealth.
However, in the time since the close of the Colonial Era in Jawa, the world has changed, and the Tangguh System and its use and understanding has also changed. In the world in which we now live the idea of "tangguh" is no longer used by Javanese gentlemen to assist in a decision as to whether a particular keris will hold value and protect the money invested in it, rather, the Tangguh System has become a vehicle for social discussion, and above all a marketing tool.
The number of tangguhs now available is limitless. It seems a new tangguh appears every week. In the 1980's, people knowledgeable in the use of the Tangguh System, when faced by a keris that shared features of a couple of recognised tangguhs, would give a mixed opinion. For example, a keris that had both Majapahit and Mataram characteristics would be given as "Majapahit ke Mataram" (Majapahit to Mataram), but it seems that this practice has now disappeared. What we now have is not a Jawacentric system of tangguh, but rather a system of tangguh that tries to be all things to all men. It seems that now we are able to give a tangguh to every keris ever made, if a name for a keris bearing certain specific features does not exist, a new name will be added to the existing list of tangguh names.
Now, Jean has pointed out that that there are discrepancies between some of the characteristics of Athanase's keris, and features that are accepted as being associated with keris that can be given a Pajajaran tangguh. I agree, there are discrepancies, and there will always be discrepancies except in a case where a keris is relatively recent, of extremely high quality and in very good condition.
As Jean has noted, Tangguh Banten is not included in the classic Surakarta list of major tangguh, because of this we do not have reliable indicators to use in the identification of a Banten keris; we do have a few indicators that can help to point us toward a Banten tangguh, but then it usually becomes a matter of using those indicators to disallow a Surakarta tangguh, rather than to verify a Banten tangguh.
The question of when a keris was made is something else that Jean has raised, but this is not really relevant when we decide that a keris can be included in a particular tangguh classification, because what we are doing is basing the tangguh opinion on stylistic features. In the tangguh system of identification that I was taught, there are more or less 12 characteristics that should be evaluated in order to form an opinion, 5 or 6 of those characteristics cannot be evaluated from a photograph, we need the keris in hand to form an opinion. Stylistic features are important, but perhaps even more important are the features that must be evaluated by feel, and in three dimensions.
So, when an opinion of tangguh based on a photograph --- even a very, very good photograph --- is given it must always be understood that the opinion can be subject to change when the keris is handled.
Even though the name of a tangguh is also the name of a particular place or historic era, it must not be understood that the keris was necessarily produced in that place, nor during that historic era. For example, I have made a couple of keris that are classifiable as Surakarta PBX, but they were both made during the 1980's and one was made in Old Toongabbie, NSW, Australia.
We must never automatically assume that just because a keris is classifiable as a tangguh that has the name of an historic era, that keris was actually made during that era, or in that place.
I said earlier that there are always discrepancies between the ideal and the perceived characteristics of a keris, however, when we are looking at a run-of-the-mill keris, there will always be one or two characteristics that we home in on that are able to be aligned to a specific tangguh. We then must ask ourselves the question:-
"if this keris is not tangguh such & such, then what other tangguh can it be?"
if the perceived characteristic is a major characteristic then we need a very heavy weight of opposing characteristics to disallow the tangguh opinion based upon the evidence of the major characteristic.
In the case of Athanase's keris I have given the opinion that this keris is classifiable as Pajajaran. It is absolutely certain that this keris was not made during the Pajajaran era, and it is very far from a textbook example of a Pajajaran keris, but it has one major feature that makes it almost impossible to place into any other tangguh classification, and that is the form and proportions of its blumbangan. This blumbangan is relatively large, and it is wider than it is high.
A Mataram blumbangan is almost invariably square; a Surakarta blumbangan is taller than it is wide; a Majapahit blumbangan is similar to a Surakarta blumbangan; Pajajaran has several sub-tangguhs, and the form and size of the blumbangan can differ in these sub-tangguhs. So, if I see a blumbangan similar to the blumbangan that I believe I can see in Athanase's keris, I ask myself:-
"what tangguh classifications do I have to choose from that have a boto rubuh blumbangan?"
Using the major classical Surakarta tangguh classifications I have only Pajajaran, Pengging, and Segaluh, from which to choose. Segaluh is scarce and has a totally different pawakan (overall visual impression) to that of Athanase's keris; Pengging is even more scarce and even more different. The concave front edge of the gandhik in Athanase's keris is very common in a Pajajaran keris. I am left with Pajajaran. Nothing else will fit.
The gonjo on Athanase's keris I decided to disregard entirely as evidence of tangguh, because I believe close examination would reveal it as a replacement; material, and the deviant ron dha are not associated with the body of the wilah.
Why would a gonjo be replaced on a keris that appears to be in very good condition?
It seems to be unreasonable to claim that erosion of the gonjo was so bad that it needed to be replaced, so why replace it?
There are several reasons to replace a gonjo, one of the most common is where the gonjo of a pusaka keris needs to be incorporated into the manufacture of a new keris. Another common reason can be because a keris needs to be fitted to a new wrongko, this can occur because the form of the keris does not permit a harmonious fit to the new gambar, so a new gonjo is made with the curve of the gonjo made to align with the curve of the gambar.
Now the question arises whether we should qualify the Pajajaran opinion. It would be nice if we could.
Personally, I would like to qualify it as Tuban-Pajajaran, but the gulo milir ( the kruwingan work in the lower part of the blade), as well as the nicely cut sogokan do not permit this. This keris is simply too refined to be given as Tuban, even though it does bear some Tuban characteristics. With the replacement gonjo, the pawakan, but not the garap, have a vaguely Mataram trend, and if the blumbangan was square instead of boto rubuh, I would probably give it as Mataram, but without any sub-classification.
So, after looking at the possibilities that are open to me, all I have left on the table is Pajajaran.
My opinion is that Athanase's keris is classifiable as Tangguh Pajajaran.
But since we are dealing here with opinions, I am open to being persuaded to change my opinion.
Now we need to consider the keris identified as Dresden 2886.
In the published photographs of this keris the blumbangan appears to be boto adeg, but in fact it is not. The blumbangan of Dresden 2886 is square.
As already advised I have handled this keris and I have photographed it, but I am unable to publish a photograph of this keris, however, for those who have eyes to see, the photograph in this post will give an accurate representation of the blumbangan of Dresden 2886. It is a Mataram blumbangan.
Note also the concave face of the gandhik of Dresden 2886, a characteristic often associated with Pajajaran, seldom associated with Mataram.
Banten? I think not.
There are other inaccuracies in the published photos of Dresden 2886 also, I do not know how these occurred or why, however, I suspect that the published photos were produced by a professional photographer, and the photographer perhaps thought that a little bit of artistic improvement might be desirable in the finished product.
Herewith my notes made with Dresden 2886 in my hand:-
"L5. Blumbangan is M'ram but body cross section is rotan, shallow kruwingan in the gulo milir, greneng exists but the ron dha nunut is not a recognised form (possibility ron dha nunut damaged by erosion), WW pamor is not fine. Red & black polychrome demon, mendak West Jawa form, wrongko terusan, red & gilt, wrongko original to wilah, gonjo stands proud."
If the notes are read, and the photo is understood, I believe it will be very easy to understand why I can see no real relationship between Athanase's keris and Dresden 2886.
If I compare one keris to another, I need the two keris being compared to be of the same type, not just vaguely similar.
When we use Mr. Jensen as a source of information we need to be very careful of his classifications. He originated a system of keris classification that has the possibility of working quite well for a collector of keris who understands next to nothing about the Javanese belief systems that surround the keris and that form the foundation for a Javanese understanding of the keris. Mr. Jensen was a dedicated collector of the keris, and I have a great deal of respect for his efforts in making information on early keris available to collectors and students of the keris, but not everything that he published can be accepted as accurate.