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Old 8th June 2020, 02:40 PM   #1
Loedjoe
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Default Keris hilts with raised curved backbones

Two keris hilts, Sumatra, probably both Palembang.

The first, mainly of natural formation?, possibly an abstract Garuda, with raised and curved backbone, hunched shoulders, large featureless head poking forward, with a blunt nose, Palembang-style carved decoration on the base at the front, marine? ivory. 7.2 cm.

The second of wood, mainly of natural formation, the head with lumps all over it, with raised and curved backbone. A rather sinister and forbidding figure. Hilt and selut (which is fixed firmly to the hilt), 8.5 cm.

Does the curved raised backbone indicate something?

I would love to see similar hilts from others on the Forum, and of course to learn more about this 'type'.
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Old 8th June 2020, 03:15 PM   #2
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Very nice!
I think Palembang too.
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Old 8th June 2020, 04:56 PM   #3
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Could the second be a Veiled Durga style?
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Old 8th June 2020, 06:38 PM   #4
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(imho) the second one is a type called: GANA-hilt
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Old 8th June 2020, 07:51 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sirek
(imho) the second one is a type called: GANA-hilt


I think that both can get called gana!
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Old 8th June 2020, 08:02 PM   #6
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Sirek, good call. If the wood hilt is Gana wouldn't the marine ivory hilt be Gana as well? Couldn't Gana be an abstract representation of an idea the carver is trying to convey, or conversely is the Gana style intended to be a void that the mind of the viewer fills with meaning, or option 3 is it that the viewer through an abstract form perceives what the object itself is or wishes itself to be?
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Old 8th June 2020, 08:03 PM   #7
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Thanks Sajen you answered my question while I typed it
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Old 8th June 2020, 08:07 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Interested Party
Thanks Sajen you answered my question while I typed it



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Old 8th June 2020, 08:32 PM   #9
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Here is an example in my collection. It's a type I've seen in other collections also. When I remember correct is the prominent backbone an attribute of this hilts.

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Old 8th June 2020, 08:58 PM   #10
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Here for comparison an other Palembang hilt.
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Old 8th June 2020, 10:18 PM   #11
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Very nice hilts! .... but about these kind of gana-top hilts: how many sumatran handles are there with this identical shape? I've seen dozens of them and I find strange that Nature offers so many tops almost perfectly equal
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Old 9th June 2020, 01:51 AM   #12
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There are several different ways in which to understand the Gana type hilt. The first is one that I believe to be the most common understanding in Central Jawa, it is what I have been told by a number of people over a +50 year period.

The Gana form is a natural form that comes from nature, thus it is gift from God and as such has esoteric qualities that come directly from God. Ideally there should be no alteration or "improvement" to it at all, but if it is necessary to have a human intervention in its form, that intervention should be absolutely minimal because it is not really acceptable to try to improve upon the work of God. Each piece of human intervention lessens the power of the hilt.

Another way to understand the Gana form is that it is a natural talisman that incorporates the idea of new or beginning life. One of the ways in which to understand the word "gana" is "foetus, larva, pupa", so the Gana Hilt incorporates a similar understanding to the understanding attached to the Balinese Kocet-kocetan/Kusia group of hilts.

A third way of understanding is that the vaguely humanoid form of a Gana hilt is representative of one of the followers of Ganesha, who are known as Ganas. In Sanskrit, which then comes into Kawi, a gana can be a friend, a follower, a helper, a member of the group of demi-gods who are attached to a Deity.

A fourth way of understanding the Gana form is that this form is representative of Ganesha himself. Taking account of the prevalence of Ganesha cults in Jawa, and the length of time these cults have existed, this understanding seems to me to be the most relevant.

Other understandings that I have heard, but to me seem to be less believable are that Gana hilt form can represent a cloud, and can be understood symbolically in the same way as a cloud; secondly, that a Gana hilt, yaitu pegangan "Gana" is simply a way of saying "figural hilt".

I would suggest that perhaps only the original owner of any Gana hilt would know what it represented to him.
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Old 9th June 2020, 03:14 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
There are several different ways in which to understand the Gana type hilt.....I would suggest that perhaps only the original owner of any Gana hilt would know what it represented to him.


Thank you for the incite. Is the original owner the same thing as artesian who carved it?
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Old 9th June 2020, 04:24 AM   #14
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Who knows?

As I said, as little as possible should be done to the natural form. This type of hilt should not carved, nor "improved" if at all possible. So, if somebody finds something like this, I would imagine that if some slight modification needs to be done in order to use as a hilt, then the finder would do that.

This type of hilt should not be something that is ordered from an artist-craftsman, it should be something that God, or if you wish Mother Earth, has given to you.
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Old 9th June 2020, 07:42 AM   #15
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Interesting that in the examples shown the 'backbone' has an initial concavity to the left in the lower part and concavity to the right in the upper part. In medical terms a 'balanced or compensated scoliosis'. Has anyone an example where the curves are reversed
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Old 9th June 2020, 12:02 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcokeris
Very nice hilts! .... but about these kind of gana-top hilts: how many sumatran handles are there with this identical shape? I've seen dozens of them and I find strange that Nature offers so many tops almost perfectly equal


Hello Marco,
I believe that these Sumatrese gana hilts are actually carved, unlike some naturally shaped Javanese specimens.
Regards
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Old 9th June 2020, 12:33 PM   #17
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Yes Jean, I agree, I think it is obvious that at the very least these hilts shown here have been "improved", and really, by definition that disqualifies them from being named as "Gana", but then we have the problem of what else to call them.
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Old 9th June 2020, 12:59 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jean
Hello Marco,
I believe that these Sumatrese gana hilts are actually carved, unlike some naturally shaped Javanese specimens.
Regards


Jean you have understood what I meant. But then I ask to myself: these Sumatra handles can be considered "gana" if, hypothetically, they were carved on the basis of guidelines repeated several times at different times by different carvers ... or they could have another name instead gana that identifies them (such as for example: donoriko, jawa deman, tunggak semi, duga, pangulu etc. etc.)?
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Old 9th June 2020, 01:06 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
Yes Jean, I agree, I think it is obvious that at the very least these hilts shown here have been "improved", and really, by definition that disqualifies them from being named as "Gana", but then we have the problem of what else to call them.

I have red just now your answer Mr. Maisey and I agree
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Old 9th June 2020, 06:02 PM   #20
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And the thread comes full circle. I now have some understanding of Gana, a subject that when we began this talk I didn't know enough about to know that I didn't know anything. Great discussion of culture and aesthetics. It makes me miss my university days. Does anyone have a supposition on the importance of the spine in this form? Hunger, scoliosis, a point of attack? The highlight of that one physical feature is fascinating in pieces this abstract.
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Old 9th June 2020, 07:04 PM   #21
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Here is my example, also on a Sumatran keris. For lack of a better name i have called it a Gana hilt, though obviously these has been adjustment to the original form of the wood.
Alan, do you or anyone else here have an example that you would call a pure Gana hilt that has absolutely not adjustment to the original form of the wood?
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Old 9th June 2020, 10:28 PM   #22
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Yes David, I do have a pure Gana, but it is not humanoid. I cannot put my hand on it at the moment, but when I find it I'll post a photo.

Re the backbone. I've never heard anything about this, and actually I've never noticed it in any other Gana hilts that I've seen, but then again, I've never handled South Sumatera hilts of this form, and I'm pretty ignorant on things Sumateran.

But I'm going to offer this as a hypothetical.

The courts of the Archipelago kept deformed people & dwarfs as court attendants, they were regarded in two ways, as jesters and an amusement, but also as esoterically powerful beings. They were a deviation from the norm, as such they had a direct connection with the Hidden World, and thus with powers associated with the Hidden World.

In dealing with Jawa and other societies in SE Asia, but most especially with Jawa, we need to understand that "what we see is not what we get". Analogy and metaphor is the way in which things need to be understood, and everything has two natures (at least). For example Durga has a fierce nature, but Durga for many Hindu people is also the protective, nurturing household Deity.

Directly associated with the keris, we are looking at a whole bundle of symbolism. For example, the sogokan. A sogokan is a poker, the sort of thing you use to push a blockage out of a drain pipe, but it is the name used for the twin or singular grooves at the base of a keris blade, and those grooves are in fact a lingga, which in turn represents Siwa.

We cannot understand even the beginning of anything about a keris until we can understand how to think in a way that relates to the culture from which it comes.

So, we are constantly dealing with the problem of how to understand the true meaning of what we think we can see (or hear). This is a characteristic of Javanese society and it is pretty much the single major reason for all the failures in business and inter-personal relationships with Indonesia & Indonesians, as Javanese culture has been, and still is, the dominant culture in that part of the world.

To return to our prominent backbone.

The primary purpose of a keris hilt is the function of protection, initially for the shrine that is the blade, but later, after Islam, as a general protective device for the custodian of the keris. If the hilt of these Sumateran Ganas can be understood as a representation of a court dwarf or other deformed attendant, then that intended understanding can be signalled by the twisted backbone, in a similar manner to the way in which fangs in a statue, statuette or hilt indicate that the figure has a demonic nature and is one or another of the various Raksasas.

What better protective device than a being with a direct line to the Hidden World?

As I have said, a hypo only.
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Old 10th June 2020, 08:37 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. G. Maisey
Yes David, I do have a pure Gana, but it is not humanoid. I cannot put my hand on it at the moment, but when I find it I'll post a photo.

Re the backbone. I've never heard anything about this, and actually I've never noticed it in any other Gana hilts that I've seen, but then again, I've never handled South Sumatera hilts of this form, and I'm pretty ignorant on things Sumateran.

But I'm going to offer this as a hypothetical.

The courts of the Archipelago kept deformed people & dwarfs as court attendants, they were regarded in two ways, as jesters and an amusement, but also as esoterically powerful beings. They were a deviation from the norm, as such they had a direct connection with the Hidden World, and thus with powers associated with the Hidden World.

In dealing with Jawa and other societies in SE Asia, but most especially with Jawa, we need to understand that "what we see is not what we get". Analogy and metaphor is the way in which things need to be understood, and everything has two natures (at least). For example Durga has a fierce nature, but Durga for many Hindu people is also the protective, nurturing household Deity.

Directly associated with the keris, we are looking at a whole bundle of symbolism. For example, the sogokan. A sogokan is a poker, the sort of thing you use to push a blockage out of a drain pipe, but it is the name used for the twin or singular grooves at the base of a keris blade, and those grooves are in fact a lingga, which in turn represents Siwa.

We cannot understand even the beginning of anything about a keris until we can understand how to think in a way that relates to the culture from which it comes.

So, we are constantly dealing with the problem of how to understand the true meaning of what we think we can see (or hear). This is a characteristic of Javanese society and it is pretty much the single major reason for all the failures in business and inter-personal relationships with Indonesia & Indonesians, as Javanese culture has been, and still is, the dominant culture in that part of the world.

To return to our prominent backbone.

The primary purpose of a keris hilt is the function of protection, initially for the shrine that is the blade, but later, after Islam, as a general protective device for the custodian of the keris. If the hilt of these Sumateran Ganas can be understood as a representation of a court dwarf or other deformed attendant, then that intended understanding can be signalled by the twisted backbone, in a similar manner to the way in which fangs in a statue, statuette or hilt indicate that the figure has a demonic nature and is one or another of the various Raksasas.

What better protective device than a being with a direct line to the Hidden World?

As I have said, a hypo only.

a very interested and clear answer. Thank you for this very well structured reflection
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Old 10th June 2020, 09:30 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David
Here is my example, also on a Sumatran keris. For lack of a better name i have called it a Gana hilt, though obviously these has been adjustment to the original form of the wood.
Alan, do you or anyone else here have an example that you would call a pure Gana hilt that has absolutely not adjustment to the original form of the wood?


Hello David,
These 2 Javanese gana hilts show minimum or no "improvement".
IMO these "gana" hilts from South Sumatra constitute a separate type of hilt in adition to the "putri malu/ Durga" style hilts (see pic) and the several Jawa demam style hilts from the region.
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Old 11th June 2020, 05:07 PM   #25
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This has been a fruitful thread - many thanks to all those who have contributed to it.

There remains the question - how do we refer to these hilts?

If hunchback is perhaps unacceptable, how about humpback? (And our descriptions could give a reference to this thread.) To refer to them as Richard III or Notre Dame or ... hilts would be a bit misleading.
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Old 11th June 2020, 08:17 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Loedjoe

If hunchback is perhaps unacceptable, how about humpback? (And our descriptions could give a reference to this thread.) To refer to them as Richard III or Notre Dame or ... hilts would be a bit misleading.


Yes, humpback or Quasimodo (reference to Notre Dame) would be suitable, or perhaps "one-armed as you will notice that the left arm is vaguely visible but the right one is cut at the shoulder level.

Last edited by Jean : 12th June 2020 at 09:11 AM.
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Old 12th June 2020, 05:19 AM   #27
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I think York style would be classier than hunchback. After all they are pretty glorious
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