Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Empu Djeno, the last sacred kris master alive

Bambang M., Contributor, Yogyakarta

Finding ordinary kris makers are easy, as they can be found at any handicraft center. But to find a master who creates only sacred kris following age old rituals and processes, and who has obtained the title of empu or kris master, is difficult.

Kris lovers will find themselves lucky if they have a chance to meet Ki Empu Djeno Harumbrodjo, believed to be the last master kris maker alive, who is still active in creating sacred kris with the wizened hands of a 74-year-old.

Many believe his work is sacred and imbued with the magical power a kris master attains after undergoing a series of advanced rituals, open only to those of a certain level, like Djeno.

"Maybe it's true that I'm the only empu left who still makes sacred kris," Djeno said at his residence in Gatak, in Sumberagung village, Sleman regency, some 15 kilometers west of Yogyakarta.

The master, whose kris is believed to increase the owner's charisma, inherited his skills from his ancestors, which he claims belonged to the 16th generation of an empu of the Majapahit era, Kyai Tumenggung Supondriyo.

Djeno's father, Supo Winangun, was also a kris master, and taught Djeno the skills necessary to create a scared kris since he was a boy.

Creating a sacred kris is a long and complicated process. First, an empu has to decide the best date to begin the work according to the Javanese calendar. "An auspicious day has to be chosen carefully, since not every day is a good day to start creating a kris," Djeno said.

In choosing the date, the master also has to know the prospective owner's birth date in order to create a kris that will match their character.

After selecting the date, the kris master cleanses his spirit by fasting, called "white fasting", since he is allowed to eat only plain white rice and drink water during the period of fasting. The fasting usually lasts from two to three months, until the master feels he has received the sign to start working.

Djeno said he usually received the expected sign through his dreams. In many cases, he continued to fast while working on the kris.

"I always pray and ask God to show me the way, so I can refrain from losing my temper quickly while making a sacred kris. If I fail, it might influence the character of the kris being made, as well as its owner," said Djeno. He added that a kris created while in a bad temper could make its owner prone to anger while carrying or wearing it.

A good sacred kris, according to Djeno, has what is called yoni, an invisible magical power, that can only be felt with one's spirit. It is because of the yoni that a sacred kris possesses supernatural power. Yoni, he said, would automatically enter a sacred kris during the fasting period.

Djeno usually makes a sacred kris from iron that is more than 200 years old, mostly gathered from remains of a ship or a train. His son, Sungkowo, often helps him gather the iron supply, with the assistance of two other workers he currently employs.

To transform the iron into a kris, Djeno heats it to a temperature of up to 1,300 degrees Celsius before hammering and then carving it. He repeats this process until the kris takes shape as a beautiful double-edged dagger.

Due to the nature of this work and his health, Djeno is only able to make one or two sacred kris a year, each worth about Rp 10 million and up.

"I've made a total of about 100 sacred kris so far, including those owned by the late Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX of the Yogyakarta royal family. He ordered two sacred kris and a sacred spearhead from me," Djeno recalled. He added that he had not yet finished the spearhead when the Sultan passed away.

Djeno, who has received several awards for his work from Yogyakarta Palace and Sleman regency, has created sacred kris for many public figures. He has also received orders from clients abroad, such as from Malaysia, France and Sweden.

"This belongs to a Malaysian," said Djeno, showing a finished kris.

Besides this one, Djeno said he still had two other finished kris that belonged to a Frenchman and a Swede, but which had not yet been picked up by the owners due to the Bali bombings.

Djeno is also a consultant of sacred kris, from whom kris lovers ask for advice on the genuineness of a sacred kris, and is a guest lecturer at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (ISI) in Yogyakarta.

Even with all the magic he has poured into his master craft over the years, old age has still crept up on him, and Djeno is now fighting a steadily worsening bout of tuberculosis.

"I'll continue to make sacred kris until I feel I have succeeded in passing on this skill and craft to my son Sungkowo," said the kris master.