There is no question that batik has become synonymous with Indonesian culture. The much-lauded traditional cloth traces its origins to a noble past and has endured over the centuries, recently being designated as world heritage by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The Danar Hadi Antique Batik Museum in Solo is a good place to learn more about the fabric and the craft that creates it.
In Oct. 20, 2000, Prince Santosa Doellah Hadikusumo opened the museum to showcase his extensive batik collection. Asti Suryo, the museum’s assistant manager, said that Santosa has dedicated his life to identifying, studying, saving and preserving the traditional cloth.
“He started collecting batik at the age of 15 and now he’s 68,” Asti said.
The collection is rightfully housed in a historical venue. The house on Jalan Slamet Riyadi, about three kilometers from the Solo Palace, once belonged to Prince Woerjoningrat, a son-in-law of the late King Solo Pakubuwono X.
Built in 1890 in the Dutch colonial style, the house was declared a heritage building by a mayoral decree in 1997.
Batik has royal roots. The original form, batik keraton (palace batik), was crafted by the nobles themselves. In the early 17th century, the royal kingdom of Mataram — where the palaces of Surakarta Hadiningrat (Solo) and Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat (Yogyakarta) trace their origins — created the canting , an instrument for designing on cloth.
The word itself is derived from ambatik , which refers to the meaningful set of points that make up a certain pattern. Javanese culture comes together with Hindu ( garuda , hayat tree and tongue of fire), Buddhism (swastika) and Islam (which bans decorating living things) design to make up a traditional pattern.
The cloth’s design denotes one’s stature in society. There are rules that govern what designs can be worn for certain occasions and by whom.
Two-hundred pieces from Santosa’s extensive collection of at least 2,800 ancient Chinese batik are now on display at the museum as part of the Chinese Batik Festival, which ends on March 31.
“It should be emphasized that the Chinese are also legitimate owners of batik because their predecessors were also involved in the history of batik’s development,” Santosa said.
Toetti T Surjanto, the museum’s curator, said that Chinese batik from Indonesia absorbed the elements of culture brought by Chinese merchants. The design is influenced by Chinese mythical animals such as dragons, lions, phoenixes, turtles, kilin (lion-headed dogs), gods and goddesses, ancient China ceramics design and red-or-blue-hued clouds. Chinese batik also incorporate flowers into its design, mainly because of the influence of the Netherlands Batik.
Museum curator Toetti said that aside from the Chinese, Netherlands and Japanese types of batik, the museum also has Indian, batik keraton, batik saudagaran (merchant’s batik), batik petani (farmer batik’s) and modern batik.