Batik: The art of making dots
As an Indonesian, you must have at least one batik cloth or shirt in your wardrobe. As the name indicates (batik comes from Javanese word “amba” which means “to write”, and “titik” which means “dot), batik is the art of making dots that form a pattern in a cloth using wax-resist dyeing through an instrument called canting. Although the art of batik can be found in other countries, Indonesian Batik is very famous. In October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian Batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and October 2nd has been set as a National Batik Day by Government of Indonesia. Indonesians celebrate that special day by wearing batik clothes.
It is still unknown where batik originated, but history records the batik art as far back as 2000 years ago. It existed in Egypt on 4th century BC and in China the trace of batik art found during Sui Dinasty on AD 581-618. In Japan it was practiced during Nara Period on 710-794 AD. Other countries or continents where trace of Batik is found are Africa, Europe, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Malaysia.
However, none is as prominent and well preserved as Indonesian Batik. Indonesian Batik is believed to have been introduced by Indians and Sri Lankans in 6-7 AD, but there’s also evidence that batik is a unique heritage of Indonesia as there are tribes where batik art has been practiced a long time ago and the area were not influenced by Hinduism.
In Indonesia, batik started to bloom around the 12th century. It is believed that the growth of Batik in Indonesia was influenced by Mataram Kingdom (9th-10th century AD) and Majapahit Kingdom (13th Century AD), and it continues to the present day. In the past, the cloth with Batik pattern usually worn by the royal family (Sultan). But then the style was copied by the people who lived in the surroundings and became a household hobby of Indonesian women at that time. Batik in Indonesia is mostly from the Island of Java, especially in Yogyakarta and Solo. This tradition has been practiced over hundreds of years, and well preserved from generation to generation.
Nowadays, there are three ways to make Batik. The first uses the traditional method and use canting (known as “batik tulis”). The second one uses a stamp, where the motifs are already carved in a stamp and it is used to print the cloth (known as “batik cap”). Last but not least is painting (known as “batik lukis”). The oldest and traditional way to make batik is “batik tulis”. Here is how batik tulis is made:
- Preparation: Prepare a large cloth used to make batik. Usually white cotton cloth is preferred, although some use silk as well. Pattern is then made on this cloth using pencils.
- First wax: An instrument named canting is used to apply hot wax to the line pattern that has been drawn. Canting is a pen-like tool which has a container (Nyamplung) to put the hot wax and usually made from copper, and a handle (gagang) that usually made from bamboo, and the pen-like tip (cucuk) that usually made from copper where the hot wax comes out. The application of hot wax as its first layer functions as a dye-resist.
- First dye bath: The cloth is then dipped into a dye liquid. After this process, the resist is removed by scraping the cloth or boiling it. As a result, the area applied with this wax will maintain its original color and there are two colors already on the cloth: the dye color and the original color previously treated with wax.
- Repetition: If you desire many colors, the process number #2 and #3 are repeated until the combination of colors is produced.
The whole processes can take up to one year, depending on the complexity of the design and the colors. Considering this process, batik tulis is usually more expensive than any other kind of method. For an example of how a three-color Batik Tulis is made, you can visit here. Below is also video that shows you how the batik is made.
The Design and Motifs
Every area in Indonesia has a unique batik motifs. Solo Batik and Riau Batik have differences in pattern, as does batik from many different cities. The patterns have certain meanings and have been cascaded down through generations. Some patterns are considered sacred and forbidden patterns are reserved for the Royal court. Below are some example of Batik pattern from Yogya and Solo or provinces in Indonesia.
Each of motif has a meaning for example the above motif from Batik Yogya. The Parang Rusak is named after Indonesia traditional weapon “Parang“. It symbolize human being internal fights against the bad by controlling their desires so the decent character will come out. The Ceplok Grompol Motif comes from word “Ceplok” which means circular geometry symbol, and “Grompol” that means gather together. The pattern symbolizes togetherness and harmony, and is often worn at wedding ceremonies. The Semen Sido Mukti is based on the word “semi” that means to grow or to sprout.
The above pictures are few examples of Batik Solo motifs. Tuntrum comes from an Indonesian word “nuntun” which means to guide, the cloth with this pattern usually used in a wedding ceremony and worn by the parents of the bride and the groom that symbolize parent’s guidance in their child’s new marriage to achieve a happy and prosperous family. The Slobog Motif is usually worn during a funeral and the intrinsic meaning of the pattern is that someone wishes the dead to arrive peacefully in Heaven and their good deed to be accepted by God above. The Pamilute pattern usually worn by the mother of the bride during the ring exchange ceremony to wish a long and happy marriage to the couple.
The Batik industry is growing significantly year after year, with a large rang of products such as cloth, t-shirts, paintings, bags, and many others. Indonesian Batik employs 1-3 million people and generating sales value over USD 440 million. Indonesia Batik textile reached USD 87,1 Million of exports in 2014.
Nowadays, every young and adult in formal or informal occasion wearing batik. On National Batik Day in Indonesia, many individuals or groups take selfie/wefie while wearing batik. Some companies also set one day in a week (usually on Friday) for wearing batik, although we can wear batik on any other day and it is fine to not wear batik in Friday or even on National Batik Day.
For Indonesian, batik is the heritage that we are proud of and the government does their best to preserve its art, culture, communities and its industry. So….are you ready to own your batik? 😉
Note: the above article is produced with the help of the following article: