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A kris is a classic Malay knife that has its origins on the island of Java. Regarded as one of the old weapons of Southeast Asia, its popularity took no time to spread across the entire archipelago.
The knife is available in multiple versions, as each island of the archipelago had a history of the unique design of the blade, sheath, and the hilt. It’s a unique form of a dagger widely used across not only Malaysia but also Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, and Brunei.
Alleged to be bestowed with magical powers, a kris is looked upon as a good luck charm by many. It is believed to bring good fortune to its owner. However, many consider it as a symbol of bad luck. Its blade has arsenic, which is a sign of bad luck if the blade cuts anyone.
Kris is originally a sword, which is among the famous weapons of Eskrima (a popular Filipino martial art). The warriors of Samal and Yakan clans used it to cause maximum damage. Even today, a kris is used in training and professional fights.
Kris knives are too long to come under the category of daggers and too short for being known as swords. Originally designed as a straight blade, the latest models of this knife usually feature a wavy blade.
These models are seen in the United Kingdom, although they are available in different shapes and sizes. A few old models are as small as a dagger, while the largest ones are of the sword’s size.
The word ‘kris’ comes from the ancient Javanese word, ‘ngiris,’ which means to wedge, slice, or shave. The knife name, ‘kris,’ is popular in the West, while the native lands often term it as ‘keris.’
The only two exceptions here are the Philippines, where it is known as kris or kalis with the Filipino kalis being a sword and not a dagger and Thailand where kris is pronounced even as krit.
Regarded as a spiritual object and a weapon, a kris knife is used for displaying as magical talismans, sanctified heirlooms, an accessory for ceremonial attires, a piece of auxiliary equipment for court soldiers, and a symbol of heroism.
Legendary kris is known to have remarkable abilities, and supernatural power is a part of conventional folktales, such as those of Empu Gandring and Setan Kober. Let’s learn more about this exciting knife in this article.
Overview of Kris Knife
Anatomically, a kris is an asymmetrical dagger with a unique pattern of the blade achieved by fluctuating laminations of nickelous iron and iron. It is a symbol of ethnic pride and power and is an icon of the Pencak Silat martial arts.
A kris knife is usually a steel dagger with a serpentine-ridged or flame-shaped blade, and an adored handle made using wood, bone, or horn. The double-edged blade is often damascene with stunning pamor (patterns) forged into the steel.
Its base tends to widen at one side, a typical feature common across all kris models. The blade is rarely too sharp and is lightweight. From this fact, one can make out that the knife was developed as a thrusting dagger.
Anatomically, this knife is composed of three parts; namely, the sheath is natively known as the warangka, the blade is also known as wilah or bilah, and the hilt or hulu.
Like a dagger’s handle, the sheath is ornamentally carved and engraved with metals. You may find a relatively modest sheath adorned with a repeating pattern of tinted gilt floral bands.
All these parts are objects of art, as they are sculpted in careful detail using a variety of materials including gold, other metals, ivory, and rare or valuable woods.
The aesthetic value of this knife encompasses the dhapur, the pamor, and the Tangguh. The dhapur refers to the blade’s form as well as design, which is available in 60 variants. On the other hand, the pamor refers to the pattern of metal alloy adornment on the blade.
There are almost 250 variants of pamor. The Tangguh is the age and origin of this knife. Depending on the historical significance and knife quality, a kris tool can be costly, with the price being thousands of dollars.
The blade is typically narrow with an asymmetrical and broad base. The sheath is usually of wood, although there are models made from gold and ivory too. Natively called an empu, a bladesmith makes the kris blade in layers of varying iron ores and nickel.
In the case of blades of high quality, the metal is doubled several times and handled with care and precision. For those who do not know, the empus are highly valued craftsmen for their extra knowledge in occult sciences and literature.
Popular & Best Kris Knives in the Market
Kirs knives are available on Amazon for sale. Here is a list of popular and best kris knives.
|Metal Practice Filipino Kris Knife||See it on Amazon|
|Aluminum Practice Filipino 11" Kris Knife Blade||See it on Amazon|
|Top||knifehills Rare Custom Blood GROOVED Kris Dagger Bowie Knife||See it on Amazon|
|Spider Kris Blade Boot Knife - (Overall Length: 6")||See it on Amazon|
|CUSTOM HANDMADE DAMASCUS STEEL KRIS BLADE||See it on Amazon|
|TheBoneEdge 10" Tri Edge Kris Blade Dagger||See it on Amazon|
|BLACK Ronin Gear Rubber USA Rubber 13" KRIS Dagger Knife||See it on Amazon|
|10.25" Damascus Fixed Blade Kris Knife Handmade||See it on Amazon|
History of Kris Knife: Combative and Cultural
The earliest known Kris knives date back to Vietnam’s bronze culture, thriving around 300 B.C. It is believed that from here, the knife traveled all over Southeast Asia. During its course, it evolved with a new variation.
While there is some vagueness regarding the origin, it is said that the first kris was the Majapahit that came from the kingdom of the same name ruling on Java during the 14th and 15th centuries. It was made using iron, a precious and rare metal.
A few people also believe that this old knife was derived from the Indian daggers. This is evident if you see the images on the Prambanan temple of Indonesia. All ancient soldiers of Southeast Asia knew how lethal this weapon is.
Over the years, the makers and soldiers included some features to make this dangerous sword more lethal. The manufacturing process primarily took place on Java island from where the knife later traveled to other nations. Initially, these knives had straight blades.
Within some years of usage, warriors discovered that a curved blade can inflict more damage. This resulted in kris knives with curved blades.
While it is widely believed that kris knives were the primary weapons of warriors, they were kept as a secondary option to be used if the primary weapon was lost. A spear was the primary weapon. On the other hand, for the ordinary people, kris was the only primary weapon to be carried while traveling if a situation of self-defense arises.
Ordinary people also carried their blades during festivals, religious events, as well as ceremonies such as weddings. During the period of peace, people embellished their kris knives using precious stones. Because of the emotional value and honor that this great tool carries, it was inherently passed down to different generations.
Both men and women wore them to battlegrounds and festive venues. Women usually wore shorter models. As the native culture has great respect for kris, it has been inherently associated with social status and magical powers.
In wedding ceremonies, the kris knives were adorned with a jasmine layout. This meant that the holder of this knife should not be aggravated and must manage his anger and temper.
A kris knife was formerly a necessary accessory of a male dress. During the colonial rule, only people of the upper class and rural authorities had the right to carry and wear this knife.
In the Javanese culture in which the kris knives are widely used, the tool is believed to be the provider of additional power and strength to its owner. Ancestors used these knives to pass on their grandeur as well as bravery to new warriors.
Conventionally, a Javanese king gave a kris to a courtier to indicate that the former had great confidence in the latter individual. Doing so would automatically uplift their social status.
For the past 30 years, it seems that the kris knife has lost some of its obvious spiritual and social meaning in society. While esteemed and active empus conventionally designing high-quality kris knives is still seen on several islands, their number is significantly reducing.
Moreover, it is tougher for them in today’s time to find individuals to whom they can pass on their skills. Kris knife industry is witnessing a decelerated production scale due to the shifts in the economy as well as culture.
Still, kris knives have retained its value, particularly in the Javanese culture. Many experts are trying to revive the old tradition. Finally, this has aided to keep the industry running.
Kris knives made in the Philippines are available in variants, with the most noticeable being the half-wavy half-straight designs. The knife has become a symbolic weapon of the Moro culture, just as with the Javanese culture.
Kris as the Spiritual and Religious Tool
Due to wide beliefs of the knife being powerful and extraordinary, the knife makers went much beyond forging. They performed old rituals to instill mystical powers in the tool, which were sourced from several spirits, both good and evil.
Believe it or not, legends endorse that these knives were alive, meaning they moved on their own and slew the foes at will or roused when called by their names. Thus, kris knives are treated as spiritual objects.
According to conventional Javanese Kejawen, a kris knife has all intrinsic natural elements namely, agni (fire), bayu (wind), tirta (water), bantolo (Earth or wood/metal coming from the former), and aku (‘I’ indicating the tool having a spirit or soul).
All elements are present at the time of forging. Earth is the metal that the fire forges after being blown by the propelled wind. Further, water is used to cool down the metal. In Bali, the knife is linked to the dragon that symbolizes water sources such as rivers, waterfalls, irrigation canals, and wells.
The wavy blade represents the serpent’s movement. A few legends indicate that the blade pattern, also called the pamor, is designed by the waves of hair that are of a spirit residing in the blade.
A few models have the dragon’s head crafted close to the base with the tail and body succeeding the blade curves until the tip. This is how a wavy kris is a dragon in motion, alive, and forceful. On the other hand, a straight blade is at rest but can come into action.
Early models may have been composed of meteoric iron. They were short and were likely used in religious ceremonies and not in combat. The symbolic engraving of the hilts denotes their incessant religious associations.
Exploring the Three Distinct Parts of Kris
Despite the variety of sizes, shapes, and spellings, it is easy to identify a kris knife. This is because of its three attributes, namely, the blade, tilt, and sheath.
All kris knives have watered blades, although varying in size and pattern. This watering pattern is the result of the pattern welding technique. Although resembling the popular damascene steel, the blade is produced using a different method.
While beautiful, it is inferior in quality with the record of breaking in the past fights. Unlike the legends supporting the blade pattern to be made of the hair of a spirit, the waves are made using thin steel, or iron bars beat together.
The blade’s top part is wider on one side to retain a sharp edge. On the other hand, the other side is embellished with a metallic curl seeming like an elephant’s trunk.
The widening ability gives it a shape of a guard typically made using a separate metal piece. This is positioned across the blade’s top, providing adequate protection to the human hands. While made separately at the time of forging, it is then associated with the blade’s central part. While a gap is there between the guard and the central part, both are firmly joined after that point.
The tang (blade’s part that goes into the hilt) is narrow, which is a significant limitation of a kris as a weapon. In Malay, the blade has the following three characteristics:
- Dapor: Is its usual shape that can be either wavy known as luk in the native language and straight that is called lurus natively. The waves are countable if you start from the first one closest to the base. Their total number is always odd. However, at times, it is tough to decide the last curve.
- Perabot: Is the set of sculptured or chiseled features seen at the blade’s bottom half. It is comprised of a complex division of what the dapor results in. A few of these patterns reflect human or animal figures. The dapor and perabot together define a kris form. The number of these forms is surprising. Groneman, in his literature of the early 20th century, specifies 118 types, of which 78 are wavy.
- Pamor: Refers to the white lines pattern on the blade forged by pattern welding. In this welding, layers of various metals are beaten and fused until they are red hot and then are folded or twisted until the intended number of layers is achieved. The resulting rough blade is then given the desired shape and is later filed and polished smooth. Finally, it is etched using acid to highlight the contrasting colors of carbon metals. The resulting decorative effect is just fascinating. The obtained patterns, as per the design and up to a certain extent, are controlled by a skillful empu. The designs range from bold to misty to 3D texture. A pre-planned design is termed as pamor rekan, while the unplanned one is called pamor tiban. Groneman specifies 48 such styles. The Pamor topic, along with its varieties, would fill a full book. It is a significant part of kris’s charisma. An analysis of pamor, including the facets of its production, gives one an unexpected insight into the outlook of long-gone eras. The unique pamor patterns have exclusive names and meanings denoting the mythical characteristics they are considered to impart. The forging process utilizes iron with some nickel to create the pamor pattern. A faint pattern is seen in the kris from the Majapahit era. However, the best material is obtained in a quite unusual manner. This is because it is derived from the rare meteorite iron. Conventionally, the pamor material for the makers associated with the Yogyakarta and Surakarta courts came from an iron meteorite that hit the planet at the end of the 18th century in the area of the Prambanan temple complex. After engraving the blade using acidic ingredients, the small amount of nickel in meteoric iron results in silvery patterns that dimly highlight against the dark iron or steel background.
The Hilt or Handle (Hulu)
The hilt of a kris knife typically resides in the pendongkok, a small metal cup that puts the hilt apart from the blade’s central part. It is usually made using wood, often Kemuning or Murraya Paniculata, which is a tropical plant native to South Asia. A hilt is an art item, as it is usually engraved in thorough details.
According to some local folks, this wood has magical properties. Knives kept as status symbols are likely to have hilts of bone, elephant ivory, and horn. The hilt of a kris is always imprinted into symbolic embellishments, usually with a religious touch.
Several preserved hilts tend to denote the Garuda, a bird that is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu as per the Hindu mythology. While most of the time hilts are elaborate, they can be quite plain or merely stylized.
A hilt with a stylized Garuda was typical. Most hilts were carved to resemble different Hindu deities and animals. However, this became less common when Islam took a stronghold. Some other standard imprints include a crouching man and an erotic scene. In short, a hilt takes several mythological and zoomorphic forms to represent the culture making this knife.
A kind of hilt known as Tajong, which is also called kingfisher hilt in the West, features a long beak lengthening from the hilt’s end. Designing this kind of hilt requires considerable skills due to which it is rare to find it.
While the craftsmanship could have made them valuable at the time of their production, their shortage these days means they are confined now to collectors only.
Although the collectors of the West look upon hilts with great significance, it is vital to note that the culture creating the kris witnessed the real value of the weapon. However, today, the blade and hilt are no longer preserved intact. This is especially the case with knives that the collectors have traded.
Do not be surprised if you find that the hilts are detached from blades. This is done usually for matching a specifically good hilt to the right blade for ensuring a better sale value. So, if you get a kris knife where the orientation of the hilt is wrong to denote that the hilt is replaced, do not be surprised.
Once a hilt is detached, the cup attached to the blade comes off. In some kris knives held by the collectors of the West, the cup is likely to be absent.
In Bali, the handles of kris are designed to resemble demons glazed with gold and embellished with precious stones like rubies. In Java, they are of different types, the common one being the abstract human form depicted in style.
The ornamental metal ring residing between the blade and hilt is known as the Selut in Javanese and Mendak. It is another piece of art and fluctuates significantly from different areas and as its hilt.
It is usually made using a piece of metal such as copper, brass, gold and copper, and silver. At times, a plain faceted gemstone also makes up this ring.
The Sheath or Warangka
Kris sheaths are also objecting of art and are quite distinctive. They are made of wood while they are likely to be covered using a metal sleeve. Their end is likely to be tipped with a guy of bone or ivory.
Also known as the sampir, the crosspiece defends the guard. It is usually in the shape of a boat. However, it can also have a rectilinear outline or can be an intricately carved piece of ornamental work.
Is a Kris knife, Lethal?
The design of a Kris knife signifies the body of a dragon or a serpent. It is an ideal blend of a sword and a saw.
As per some legends, it is believed that a few kris blades were filled with poison to ensure slaying down even with the slightest strike. The process of adding poison was a secret that only the smiths knew. However, there is no proper evidence of the same.
A variety of whetstones, acidic citrus juice, and fatal arsenic was used to highlight the contrast between the silver nickel and black iron layers forming the damascene patterns or pamor on the blade. Many Malaysian plants are known to play a role in making poisons.
However, the fact is that making poison from these plants needs time. Further, if left spread on the blade, the whole thing quickly becomes ineffective. A smith or a knife maker would require a lot of poison to cover the entire blade length, which is simply an inefficient trick to kill.
Applying poison to a kris blade seems to be hardly essential, as the blade is anyways lethal. Perhaps, the application of arsenic and lime juice for etching and cleaning the blade in its last production stage has triggered the notion that all kris blades were infused with poison.
While no poison may be there, a kris knife can cause a lot of damage in thrust as well as slash movements keeping the blade design in mind. The design is such that everything it hits is split into half quite easily.
What Are the Uses of a Kris Knife?
A kris knife is not a slashing weapon. However, it is an ideal weapon for stabbing. This is the reason why many tales and legends reveal how fatal a kris knife is that it is made to kill some people.
At times, a soldier could use two kris knives as deflecting daggers. In case the other blade was unavailable, the sheath was used instead. The hilt is described as providing a curved-pistol grip that helps in stabbing strikes.
It enables the holding hand’s palm to put pressure on the blade at the time of the stabbing. The knife provides minimal protection to the hand by the hilt’s broad blade.
For using the knife, its blade is held parallel to the ground, and the fist adjusts around the hilt such that the forefinger and thumb grasp the blade. When held in this way, the guard covers the forefinger’s base knuckle.
This does not apply to the Philippines’ long kris models, which are ideally swords that would be held in their usual way. If you are using just one kris knife, it is typically held in the right hand.
At times, the Gandar or scabbard is held in the left from where it helps in warding off the blows. In the past, fighters struck the knife into the soft flesh regions of their foes, which included the throat and abdominal area.
There are displays known as the main silat showing how the knife may have been used in combats. They are the customary means of entertainment where the involved parties emulate thrusts and parries such that the steps result in death.
While there is no evidence of how accurately these fights were in those days, the displays seem to reflect a stylized form of the fight instead of a clear-cut thrust and parry.
However, the fighting style does indicate that the blade frequently glides along with the adversary’s guard that was usually notched. This helps in catching the adversary’s blade momentarily, which is likely to put you into a beneficial situation.
In the past, kris knives were also utilized in executions. For these tasks, it may be so that a straight-edged knife was used. This can be derived from the fact that the straight models in the West are also known as executioner’s kris knives.
This is partly due to the idea that a straight kris is uncommon due to which it is perhaps reserved for a particular purpose. However, this is only a myth or misunderstanding. The straight kris blades are more common than the curvy ones. However, not all may have been used chiefly for executions.
Even so, a straight kris knife is especially well adapted to the conventional way of execution. Herein, the victim is seized with arms, and the knife is driven vertically down via the collarbone that reaches the heart, triggering immediate death.
A typical kris knife features a narrow watery blade, a wooden sheath, and a wooden handle. The original one features an exciting composition of iron and some nickel. While some kris swords have wavy blades, the rest have straight blades.
A smith or an empu is likely to spend several days in making accurate kris knives. Despite this, a kris knife is a symbol of pride, power, and bravery across a variety of Southeast Asian cultures. It has a rich legacy of spirituality and mythology.
Available as both a dagger and a sword, a kris knife is highly appreciated and respected by the warriors. While it was the traditional weapon in the past, it is now preserved as an heirloom by families.
You can easily buy one such knife as the Moro kris fighting knife, the Filipino Kris sword, or the Kris dagger. Before buying it, just check out whether the existing local and national laws allow you to own and use such a knife.