When you travel to Indonesia, chances are you’ll come across batik, one of the country’s most ancient art forms. Commonly found on fabric or cloth, batik patterns have also been incorporated into numerous handicrafts like handmade purses, coin bags, and even wooden bracelets!
If perceived through etymology, the word “batik” came from two Javanese words “amba”, which means broad, and the term “matik”, which means the making of dots. Hence, batik is a textile that uses wax and dyes to create dots widely arranged in stunning patterns and designs.
It’s impossible not to spot batik patterns on your visit to Indonesia. So here are the stories behind 7 most popular batik designs:
1 | Kawung: A Pattern of Areca Palm Trees
Developed in the 18th century, during the Yogyakarta Sultanate, kawung was considered a favorite among the royal families of the Sultanate. Its geometrical patterns represent the fruit of an areca palm tree. In Indonesian, these fruits are called kolang kaling, a delicacy mostly enjoyed during Ramadan. Legend has it that the royal family of Yogyakarta Sultanate loved kawung so much that only those having the royal bloodline were allowed to wear it.
2 | Parang: A Symbol of Security
Another geometric batik pattern is parang, which has long, narrow symbols similar to a sword or the letter “S”. This sacred batik originated in the 16th century, in Central Java, during the reign of Sultan Agung of Mataram. It is said that Danang Sutawijaya, the son of Ki Ageng Pemanahan, created parang while observing a stretch of jagged rocks on the south coast. There’s also Indonesian folklore about a Javanese Prince named Panji, who was protected because he was wearing parang batik. This is why many Javanese people regard parang as a symbol of protection and security.
3 | Sekar Jagad: An Expression of Love
Sekar jagad can be traced back to the 18th century. It got its name from the Dutch word “kar”, which means “a map”, and the Javanese term “jagad”, which means “the world”. The word sekar also means “flowers” in Indonesian. Hence, sekar jagad represents the beauty of Indonesia’s diversity. Conveying love and happiness, the fresh and vibrant colors of its floral patterns make it the perfect choice for the bride and groom dresses.
4 | Truntum: A Gift from a Queen
Truntum, a popular type of batik from Solo, was created by Kanjeng Ratu Kencana, the daughter of Sunan Pakubuwana III. People believe that the Queen, saddened by the King’s infidelity, made these star patterns while gazing at the night sky. Impressed by the motif, the King admired his wife‘s diligence. His love for the Queen rekindled and he reconciled with her. This legend popularized truntum as a symbol of reawakened love, making it a favorite among brides and grooms.
5 | Ulamsari Mas: A Symbol of Well-Being
Originating from Bali, Ulamsari mas illustrates vivid motifs with images of shrimp and fish. Fishing is one of the livelihoods of the Balinese people as the island is surrounded by rich marine life. Bali created this batik to show their appreciation of the island's natural resources of fish, seafood, and raw materials. Hence, Ulamsari mas patterns depict the livelihood and prosperity of the Balinese people.
6 | Buketan: A Gorgeous Bouquet
Does the name sound familiar? It’s probably because the word “buketan” came from the Dutch word “boeket”, which means “bouquet” in English. Unlike the other types of batik mentioned above, buketan, developed in Pekalongan of Central Java, was heavily influenced by the Dutch as it was created by Eliza van Zuylen, a Dutch designer, who merged Javanese motifs with Art Nouveau patterns. It is said that she would arrange dried-flower cutouts on a piece of paper and transform them into batik patterns, creating an image of the actual bouquet.
According to the book Fabric of Enchantment, buketan’s original motif was that of an asymmetrical tree with birds. However, around 1910, it changed to a stunning bouquet.
Even though Lawang Sewu is a popular landmark in Semarang, it is also a well-recognized type of batik. In Java, the term “lawang sewu” means “a thousand doors”. This type of batik was inspired by war, The Battle of Semarang or better known as Pertempuran Lima Hari (Five Days’ Battle) in Indonesian. This lasted from 15th October - 20th October 1945, between Semarang heroes and Japanese soldiers at Tugu Muda, near Lawang Sewu. This batik motif represents the famous landmark complemented with the symbols of nature, like flowers, butterflies, and trees.
Based on the simple method of wax-resist dyeing, batik is a traditional art with a special meaning behind each type of pattern. To this very day, Indonesians commemorate this iconic heritage every year on Batik Day on 2nd October. It marks a time to celebrate the beauty of batik, its origins, and the communities that have been crafting these patterns since ages. So, are you interested in collecting some beautiful batik?