Friday, August 5, 2011

holding a keris

holding a keris,
two dragons carved on top of
the long wavy blade

Kadek comes by to tell us that an odalan will be held today to celebrate the birth of a pura, a new temple up the road. He is dressed in temple clothes: red and white checked kamben, black and white stagen around the waist, batik shirt, and udeng, a batik turban. Robin has him show me his knife, worn in a small leather scabbard, a kind of miniature cleaver. Then he shows me a ceremonial keris, with two dragons carved on top of the wavy blade. He lets me pull the long blade out of its scabbard and hold it and take a photograph. He tells me the dragon symbolizes this material world. When the emperor is cremated, they burn a dragon to cut the ties to the material world so he can go to the gods. Then Kadek shows me a tiny keris, palm size, in a wood scabbard, very old. One side depicts the five sons of Pandhava and on the other side the words Om Sri Saraswati are engraved in Devanagari, with a design of the Hindu Goddess of Wisdom. This small dagger is for a woman, to be used in the practice of silat, martial arts. Kadek doesn't seem to want me to take a photograph of this dagger. Both of these blades are kept in the rafters of the communal bale, above the ceremonial bed. The Pande clan in Bali are the only ones allowed to make keris. In addition to forging the blade, they also perform rituals to imbue it with a spiritual presence with magical powers, which may be beneficial for one person and unlucky for another. I had been thinking to give keris to my sons, but knowing this I don't want to choose something that might bring them bad luck. I'm beginning to think like the Balinese, everything with a light side and a dark side.

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