Origins of Batik


Batik’s origin is unknown.  It was started in Java, Indonesia in the 17th century.  In 2009 UNESCO recognized Indonesian batik as an oral and intangible world heritage. 


Symbolism in Traditional Batik


Javanese temples and carvings show many of the batik motifs still used today.  There are thousands of batik motifs from spiritual, traditional Indonesians, or artistic.  There are some motifs that were only worn by the royalty, by high government officials, ceremonial occasions or families rituals.


The 3 motifs described and shown below are some examples.


Kawung is a geometric motif in the ceplok category.  Kawung is an ancient motif basic to Javanese philosophy, and was also reflected in the governmental order of the time of the court.  Kawung is a motif of power.  This can be seen through the vantage point of godly or royal authority.  One of the several interpretations of this structure within Javanese  philosophy of Keblat Papat – four directions.  In Keblat Papat each direction has a meaning and color and a positive and negative aspect. The center of these circles are for entry of the negative and positive  energies.  The function of this motif is to transform universial energy.  This cloth would have been worn by those who were in position of knowledge.


Parang is a diagonal motif depicting a weapon or knife.  In the early styles of Parang the motif looks much more like a fire image.  It carries this fire energy throughout its symbolism and is believed to bring the wearer enthusiasm and a burning will.  This motif was once worn by warriors of the court, but in certain forms could be worn by the general public and was believed to bring good fortune and contain healing powers.


Perhaps one of the most sacred motif.  Semen comes from the word ‘semi’ which in Javanese means growth.  Many believe Semen to be a motif of fertility.  This motif symbolizes Tribawana or the three dimensions of the cosmos and the unseen world.  The black background we see the unseen world, and with the white background is the seen world.  Semen is the motif worn by the Javanese king for the highest ceremonial occasions.  The cloth is often gold leafed and used in a garment called a dodot. 

Batik Application Methods


Batik is a wax resist technique which is used to pattern the cloth through a single or multiple series of dyeings.  The parts of the cloth which are not to be dyed are covered with wax in order to prevent the dye from penetrating.  Those left uncovered receive the color of the dye.


Batik tulis is hand drawn batik where the designs are made using a canting pen like implement.


Cap Printing is hand printed batik where repetitive designs are printed with a metal stamp.


Hand Painted Batik is the type of batik popularized in Bali where the traditional immersion of the cloth is not done and the cloth is all hand painted.


Batik Printing is the screen or machine printing of batik motifs.  This is a surface design technique and not a resist technique like traditional batik.