The kris or keris is a distinctive, asymmetrical dagger indigenous to Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Southern Thailand and the southern Philippines. Both a weapon, and spiritual object, krisses are often considered to have an essence or presence, with some blades possessing good luck and others possessing bad.
The kris spread from the island of Java to many parts of the archipelago of Indonesia, such as Sumatra, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, South Sulawesi, Kalimantan, and to the Southeast Asian areas now known as Malaysia, Brunei, southern Philippines, southern Thailand, and Singapore.
In 2005, UNESCO gave the title Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity to Kris of Indonesia.
As noted by Frey (2003), kris is the more frequently used term, but this pertains mainly to the Western world. The term "keris" is more popular in the native lands of the dagger, as exemplified by the title of a popular Javanese keris book entitled the "Ensiklopedi Keris" (Keris Encyclopedia), written by the late Bambang Harsrinuksmo. Some collectors prefer keris, others kris. Other spellings used by European colonists include cryse, crise, criss, creese.
The Kris is also loosely used to differentiate between the Moro kris swords found in Southern Philippines and the keris daggers found everywhere else in the archipelago.
Frey (2003) concludes from Raffles' (1817) study of the Candi Sukuh that the kris recognized today came into existence around AD 1361. Scholars, collectors and others have formed myriad theories about the origins of the kris. Some believe the form that is credited with being the earliest form of the kris, the keris majapahit, was inspired by the daggers of the Dong-Son in Vietnam (circa 300 BC). Frey (2003) dismisses the Dong-Son origin of the Majapahit. Unverifiable claims of another form predating the Majapahit exist. Kris history is traced through study of carvings and bas relief panels found in Southeast Asia. One of the more famous renderings of a kris appears on the Borobudur temple (825 CE) and Prambanan temple (850CE).
Kris has a cranked hilt, which serves as a support for stabbing strike. At the same time it allows the strength of the wrist to add pressure on the blade while slashing and cutting. A kris has no special protection for the hand, except for the broad blade at the hilt, which offers minimal protection. In rare cases a kris may have its blade forged so the blade's axis lies at an angle to the hilt's axis. The intention is to get the blade automatically turning to slip past the ribs. This works poorly and makes the weapon less durable.
Krisses were worn every day and at special ceremonies, with heirloom blades being handed down through successive generations. Yearly cleanings, required for as part of the spirituality and mythology around the weapon, often leaves ancient blades worn and thin. In everyday life and at events, a man usually only wore one kris. In the Malay literature, Hikayat Hang Tuah, the warrior is depicted as wearing two keris, one short keris and one long keris. Women sometimes also wore krisses, though of a smaller size than a man's. In battle, a warrior carried three krisses: his own, one from his father-in-law, and one as a family heirloom. The other krisses served as parrying daggers. If the warrior didn't have another kris to parry with, he used the sheath. Krisses were often broken in battle and required repairs. A warrior's location determined what repair materials he had. It is quite usual to find a kris with fittings from several areas. For example, a kris may have a blade from Java, a hilt from Bali and a sheath from Madura.
In many parts of Malaysia and Indonesia, the kris was the choice weapon for execution. The specialized kris, called an executioner's kris, had a long, straight, slender blade. The condemned knelt before the executioner, who placed a wad of cotton or similar material on the subject's shoulder/clavicle area. The blade was thrust through the padding, piercing the subclavian artery and the heart. Upon withdrawal, the cotton wiped the blade clean. Death came within seconds.
One of the most famous folk stories from Java describes a legendary kris empu (bladesmith), called Mpu Gandring, and his impatient customer, Ken Arok. Ken Arok wanted to order a powerful Kris to kill the chieftain of Tumapel, Tunggul Ametung. Ken Arok eventually stabbed the old bladesmith to death because he kept delaying the scheduled completion of the kris, which Ken Arok had probably ordered several months before. Dying, the bladesmith prophesied that the unfinished or incomplete kris would kill seven men, including Ken Arok. The prophecy finally came true, with for men enlisted as the kris' first death roll, including Mpu Gandring himself, the Adipati of Tumapel Tunggul Ametung, Kebo Ijo (to whom Ken Arok lent the blade and accused to be the murderer of Tunggul Ametung), and Ken Arok himself, later. The unfinished kris of Mpu Gandring then left disappeared. . Another version of the tale describes that the kris passed to Ken Arok's stepson Anusapati which in turn killed his stepfather after recognized that his genuine father was killed by Ken Arok with the same kris. The bloody revenge continued on and on until the reign of Kertanegara, the last king of Singhasari kingdom.
Another Javanese folk tale tells story about Adipati of Jipang-Panola, named Harya Penangsang, which famous for being killed by his own kris, Setan Kober. The scene happened as the ending battle for re-unification of the collapsed Sultanate of Demak-Bintara, fought between Jaka Tingkir (Adipati of Pajang) and Penangsang, who inherited Majapahit royal blood. It was said that during the battle he fought with Hadiwijaya's adopted son, also the future first ruler of Mataram dynasty, Danang Sutawijaya (aka. Panembahan Senapati), Penangsang inadvertently sheathed his kris without knowing that it actually stabbed himself and gut his own belly. He soon fell down bathing in his own blood flowing from the wound. While he was dying for his last breath, he encircled his scattered intestine on his kris. The tradition of ronce, putting a jasmine-chain around the kris' hilt, possibly came from this tale.
Another fairly popular tale pertaining keris was about one of the most well known keris in Malay Literature, the Taming Sari. It was the keris of Hang Tuah, great Laksamana (Admiral/General) of Malacca. According to the legend from the book Sejarah Melayu/Salalatus Salatin by Tun Sri Lanang Tun Seri Lanang Tun Muhammad Ibni Tun Ahmad, Hang Tuah obtained the magical keris by killing the king of Majapahit's Pendekar (warrior), Taming Sari. Majapahit was an empire located on the island of Java. He tricked the warrior into letting go of his weapon, and then killed the warrior in a duel. In return, Taming Sari was said to have been presented by the King of Majapahit to Hang Tuah.
The Taming Sari was said to grant its user invunerability, meaning when someone wields the keris no one can cause any physical damage to the wielder. In the legend, the keris was passed to Hang Jebat, Hang Tuah's best friend, after the supposed execution of Hang Tuah. Hang Tuah was order to be executed by the Sultan Sultan Mansur Syah for treason after being framed, but with the help of the Bendahara (Prime Minister), he escaped and hid. His keris was passed to Hang Jebat who became the new Laksamana.
Later on Hang Jebat rebelled against the Sultan for killing his best friend without a fair trial, but then Hang Tuah, who was loyal to the Sultan, came out of hiding to stop his friend. They fought in the palace, which Hang Jebat had taken over thanks to the magical keris. Hang Tuah knew that Hang Jebat could not be defeated when he held the Taming Sari, so he tricked Jebat saying that the Taming Sari was going to break, and gave Jebat his spare keris. Now, Jebat was no longer with the legendary weapon, and was stabbed by Tuah. He died soon after by the poison of Hang Tuah's keris.
Blades are sometimes considered to almost be alive, or at the very least vessels of special powers. Krisses could be tested two ways. A series of cuts on a leaf, based on blade width and other factors, could determine if a blade was good or bad. Also, if the owner slept with the blade under their pillow, and the spirit of the kris would communicate with the owner via dream. If the owner had a bad dream, the blade was unlucky and had to be discarded, whereas if the owner had a good dream the owner would have good fortune. However, just because a blade was bad for one person didn't mean it would be bad for another. Harmony between the owner and the kris was critical.
It was said that some kris helped prevent fires, death, agricultural failure, and myriad other problems. Likewise, they could also bring fortune, such as bountiful harvests and the like. Krisses could also have tremendous killing power. Some are rumored to be able to stand on its tip when its real name was being called by its master. Legends tell of krisses moving on their own volition, and killing individuals at will. When making a blade, the empu could infuse into the blade any special spiritual qualities and powers the owner desires.
Many of these beliefs, however, were erroneously derived from the possession of different keris by different people. For example, there is a kind of keris in Java that was called 'Beras Wutah', which was believed to grant its possessor easy life without famine. In reality, this keris is mainly assigned to government officers that were paid, in whole or in part, with foodstuff (rice).
Because some krisses are considered sacred, and people believe they contain magical powers, specific rites needed to be completed to avoid calling down evil fates. For example, warriors often made offerings on a shrine to their kris. Another example is that pointing a kris at someone is thought to mean that they will die soon, so in ceremonies or demonstrations where ritualized battles are fought with real krisses, the fighters will perform a ritual which includes touching the point of the blade to the ground to neutralize this effect. Also it's used in the Baris, a traditional dance of Bali.
As a spiritual and legendary weapon, the keris is depicted on different coats and symbols. For example, it can be seen on an obverse copper-zinc-tin RM1 coin with a songket pattern in the background. The Malaya and British Borneo, 1 cent (1962) coin also depicted a pair of crossed keris dagger. See British North Borneo dollar