Early rulers in Yogyakarta and Surakarta decreed that batik must be worn at court.
While fragments of wax-resist or batik cloth have survived in regions of the world, dating to early 5th and 6th centuries AD in Egypt, and 8th century AD Japan, it’s really not known with certainty where this technique began. Some researchers feel the technique was envisioned in India then opened up from there. (Spee – pg. 12)
One fact is for certain, trade between India and Southeast Asia was mentioned as early just like the 1st century AD. By 1200 the Hindu religion and culture became a major influence in several areas of what is now Indonesia. Imported Indian textiles continued to possess a deep impact in the region well straight into the early 19th century. In 1518 the very first known utility of the saying tulis was connected with a shipment of trade goods from Java. (Elliot pg. 22)
Today distinctive traditional batik styles can be found in Africa, China, Malaysia, Sri Langka and Northern Thailand. But of all of the places well known for traditional batik, noone is as well known for their rich heritage of patterns and colors as Indonesia, especially Javanese batik.
Unlike the more open, free-spirited north coast of Java influenced by traders from Europe, India, Arabia and China, the royal court cities of Central Java looked inward, building on any different algorithm and values.
In 1755, the nearly 200-year-old Mataram Sultanate of Central Java split into the two main court cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, or Solo as it’s also known. These ancient aristocratic, feudal societies placed much emphasis on tradition, feeling of order within a strict code of conduct, an awareness of spiritual values as well as having the use of symbolism. Power was concentrated at the very top underneath of the sultan as supreme ruler.
These deeply held values are definitely reflected within the batik with this region. From the Hindu-Buddhist era in Java come stylized forms from nature, using rounded, flowing lines as an alternative to realistic depictions of flowers or leaves. Believers of Islam, which discovered Java inside the 1500s, aren’t allowed to portray any living creature. In addition this pushed batik into more geometric designs.
Early rulers in Yogyakarta and Surakarta decreed that batik must be worn at court. Besides the already common white with indigo blue dyed background, they added a soga brown color onto the palette. This established all three traditional colors of white, indigo and brown, still in use today.
Not only did the rulers decree specific colors for batik, they also kept certain patterns reserved for use by participants in the royal family. In traditional societies across the world, cloth is a carrier of deep significance, often indicating the overall performance the wearer. By connecting specific batik patterns directly to the sultan, the batik became a symbol of mystical power.
Hidden inside these complex patterns are worlds of philosophical meaning. Abstraction, understatement and stylized forms are highly prized. Whenever batik is done with exceptional skill, another layer of distinction and value is embedded in the final cloth
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Books About Traditional BatikYou may find the subsequent books on traditional Indonesian batik fabric useful in understanding more facts about this rich cultural art form.
These or perhaps on contemporary approaches to batik can be obtained on Amazon.com
Batik: 75 Selected Masterpieces: The Rudolf G. Smend Collection,
Isa Fleischmann-Heck, Maria Wronska-Friend, Donald J. Harper, Rudolh G. Smend, Tuttle Publishing, (Periplus Editions), VT and Singapore, 2006
Pepin van Roojen, Pepin Press, 2004
Batik: Design, Style, & History,
Fiona Kerlogue, Thames & Hudson, 2004
Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java,
Inge McCabe Elliot, Brain Brake, Periplus Editions, Singapore, 2004 *(1984 edition used in reference under What is Batik)
Batik: From the Courts of Java and Sumatra,
Rudolf G. Smend, Brigitte Khan Majlis, Harmen C. Veldhuisen, Leo Haks, Periplus Editions, Singapore, 2000, 2004
Pepin Press, Agile Rabbit Editions,1999
Traditional & Modern Batik,
Miep SpÈe, Kangaroo Press, 1982 *(referenced in What is Batik section)
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