If you’re a fashion enthusiast, in recent years you might notice the emergence of batik in various international runway. Both Dries Van Noten and Frida Giannini from Gucci had presented batik in their runway shows. One of Italy’s oldest fashion couture schools, Koefia, has even included the arts of batik in its curriculum. Batik’s initiation to the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009 further sealed its status as a treasured heritage worldwide.
The word batik comes from Javanese words amba (means ‘to write’) and titik (means ‘dot’), or the art of drawing in dots or miniscule details. Patterns are drawn on a piece of fabric using bees wax or paraffin with the pen-like tjanting or copper stamp block known as cap. The waxed area will resist coloring when the fabric is dyed, thus granting this technique the name of wax-resist dyeing. The wax is then removed by boiling or scraping. The process is repeated multiple times to achieve the artisan’s desired combination of colors and patterns.
The richly drawn patterns in batik are full of symbolism and prayer for the wearer. Its use permeates the daily lives of Javanese Indonesians in particular, from cradle even to the grave. Batik slings with flowering patterns of sidoasih (means ‘to be loved’), or intricate leafs and flowers arranged in diamond-shaped patterns of sidomukti (means ‘to be prosperous) are used to carry and pacify infants. These patterns may also be used in traditional Javanese baby shower called mitoni (literally means ‘marking the seventh month’). Batik with jasmine bud truntum pattern (truntum means ‘to guide’), is worn by parents of the bride and groom in the hope that the parents would guide the newlywed as they build a new life together. Slobog pattern, made out of light dots in dark geometrical background, is commonly used as funeral shroud, signifying a prayer that the wearer may receive ease and smooth passage in the afterlife.
When it comes to batik, the members of the royal families had an exclusive use of certain batik patterns, until recently. Kawung pattern, for example, is made up of four circles with a dot as the center, signifying a King being assisted by his retinues. Parang pattern is another pattern reserved for royalties, drawn in elongated geometrical shapes resembling blades to signify strength and power.
In the beginning, batik patterns were thick with values and attributes of Javanese, Islamic, Hinduism, and Buddhism origins. Along the way, Chinese and modern European influences enriched the designs in traditional batik production. It is said that gentleness, peacefulness and tolerance are the essence of batik, in the way of embracing foreign influences to its own enrichment and survival. Its inclusion and openness towards outside influences contribute to its ability to survive through generations and centuries of changes. In the process, it blurs out¬ regional boundaries to become a national identity and even admitted as one the world’s valuable heritage.