Balinese Expressions is a blog series containing stories from and about Balinese people and culture. This story was prepared by Ita - Putu Ayu Yunita Yastini, an intern from Indonesia at the Australian Museum in October-November 2013.
Sacred textiles of Tenganan Village in Bali.
Tenganan - half way between Klungkung and Karangasem in east Bali - is known as the oldest village. The people of Tenganan are believed to be the Bali Aga society – real natives - who lived there well before the Majapahit become an empire and when its people began to settle in Bali. Tenganan shows some differences from Balinese culture and partially for this reason it attracted a good deal of attention by local and international visitors, including, of course, the practitioners and students of traditional textiles.
This attention is well deserved, since the village is famous in the World for its exclusive double ikat cloth, not found anywhere else in entire Indonesia (although double ikat is known in India and Japan). It is believed the gringsing tradition predates the settlement of Majapahit influence in Bali.
The gringsing is known as double ikat, because, unlike other textiles, both warp and weft threads are dyed in complex patterns before weaving – the final design is achieved by combining these threads’ patterns into carefully preconceived ornamental form. This is an extremely complex and time consuming process. The making of gringsing can take two to five years and the cloth, if looked after, can last for hundreds of years.
There are about 20 varieties of gringsing in Tenganan, with motifs such as the lubeng, cemplong, wayang and sanan empeg. These clothes are sacred and form an essential part of a divine cosmological order and spiritual practices, because it was God Indra who gave Tenganan’s women the treasured skills of making double ikat. And gringsing can be explained as meaning ‘free of suffering’ - pain or disease. So, the protective qualities make gringsing such a vital accessory in rituals and in connecting with the generosity of Gods and spirits.
A few examples of gringsing in the Australian Museum’s collection include a ceremonial cloth dated to about 1932. The pattern with fish-scale motif covers the entire surface. Such pattern application is called ‘isi’ literally meaning ‘content.’ It is highly valued cloth for ritual use and is considered one of the most important and magical textiles anywhere in Balinese culture.
Majapahit was a vast empire based on the island of Java from the 1290s to around 1500. In its high point in the second half of the 14th century, Majapahit stretched across the large parts of insular Southeast Asia from Sumatra to West Papua. It was mostly under its influence that the Hindu religion and Buddhism were propagated through the region.
Ikat – the word, borrowed from the Indonesian language, describes the method of weaving that uses dyed threads to produce coloured patterns, as well as the type of fabric made in this process.
Warp is the set of threads running lengthwise in the loom (or vertical threads).
Weft is the set of threads that are woven across the loom (or horizontal threads).