Javanese traditional batik, especially from Yogyakarta and Surakarta, has notable meanings rooted to the Javanese conceptualization of the universe. Traditional colours include indigo, dark brown, and white, which represent the three major Hindu Gods (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva). This is related to the fact that natural dyes are most commonly available in indigo and brown. Certain patterns can only be worn by nobility; traditionally, wider stripes or wavy lines of greater width indicated higher rank. Consequently, during Javanese ceremonies, one could determine the royal lineage of a person by the cloth he or she was wearing.
Other regions of Indonesia have their own unique patterns that normally take themes from everyday lives, incorporating patterns such as flowers, nature, animals, folklore or people. The colours of pesisir batik, from the coastal cities of northern Java, is especially vibrant, and it absorbs influence from the Javanese, Arab, Chinese and Dutch cultures. In the colonial times pesisir batik was a favourite of the Peranakan Chinese, Dutch and Eurasians
UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on October 2, 2009. As part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve their heritage.
Wax resist dyeing technique in fabric is an ancient art form. Discoveries show it already existed in Egypt in the 4th century BC, where it was used to wrap mummies; linen was soaked in wax, and scratched using a sharp tool. In Asia, the technique was practiced in China during the T’ang dynasty (618-907 AD), and in India and Japan during the Nara period (645-794 AD). In Africa it was originally practiced by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, Soninke and Wolof in Senegal.
In Java, Indonesia, batik predates written records. G. P. Rouffaer argues that the technique might have been introduced during the 6th or 7th century from India or Sri Lanka.On the other hand, JLA. Brandes (a Dutch archeologist) and F.A. Sutjipto (an Indonesian archeologist) believe Indonesian batik is a native tradition, regions such as Toraja, Flores, Halmahera, and Papua, which were not directly influenced by Hinduism and have an old age tradition of batik making.
Rouffaer also reported that the gringsing pattern was already known by the 12th century in Kediri, East Java. He concluded that such a delicate pattern could only be created by means of the canting (also spelled tjanting or tjunting; pronounced [?t?an’ti?]) tool. This is like a pen that holds a small reservoir of hot wax. He proposed that the canting was invented in Java around that time.The carving details of clothes wore by Prajnaparamita, the statue of buddhist goddess of transcendental wisdom from East Java circa 13th century CE. The clothes details shows intricate floral pattern similar to today traditional Javanese batik. This suggested intricate batik fabric pattern applied by canting already existed in 13th century Java or even earlier.
In Europe, the technique is described for the first time in the History of Java, published in London in 1817 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who had been a British governor for the island. In 1873 the Dutch merchant Van Rijckevorsel gave the pieces he collected during a trip to Indonesia to the ethnographic museum in Rotterdam. Today Tropenmuseum houses the biggest collection of Indonesian batik in the Netherlands. The Dutch were active in developing batik in the colonial era, they introduced new innovations and prints. And it was indeed starting from the early 19th century that the art of batik really grew finer and reached its golden period. Exposed to the Exposition Universelle at Paris in 1900, the Indonesian batik impressed the public and the artisans.After the independence of Indonesia and the decline of the Dutch textile industry, the Dutch batik production was lost. The Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag contains artifacts from that era.
Due to globalization and industrialization, which introduced automated techniques, new breeds of batik, known as batik cap and batik print emerged, and the traditional batik, which incorporates the hand written wax-resist dyeing technique is known now as batik tulis (lit: ‘Written Batik’).
At the same time, according to the Museum of Cultural History of Oslo, Indonesian immigrants to Malaysia brought the art with them. As late as the 1920s Javanese batik makers introduced the use of wax and copper blocks on Malaysia’s east coast. The production of hand drawn batik in Malaysia is of recent date and is related to the Javanese batik tulis.
In Sub Sahara Africa, Javanese batik was introduced in the 19th century by Dutch and English traders. The local people there adapted the Javanese batik, making larger motifs, thicker lines and more colors. In the 1970s, batik was introduced to the aboriginal community in Australia, the aboriginal community at Erna bella and Utopia now develop it as their own craft.
Depending on the quality of the art work, craftsmanship, and fabric quality, batik can be priced from several dollars (for fake poor quality batik) to several thousand dollars (for the finest batik tulis halus which probably took several months to make). Batik tulis has both sides of the cloth ornamented.
In Indonesia, traditionally, batik was sold in 2.25-metre lengths used for kain panjang or sarong for kebaya dress. It can also be worn by wrapping it around the body, or made into a hat known as blangkon. Infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck. Certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms, as well as their families. The dead are shrouded in funerary batik. Other designs are reserved for the Sultan and his family or their attendants. A person’s rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he or she wore.
For special occasions, batik was formerly decorated with gold leaf or dust. This cloth is known as prada (a Javanese word for gold) cloth. Gold decorated cloth is still made today; however, gold paint has replaced gold dust and leaf.
Batik garments play a central role in certain rituals, such as the ceremonial casting of royal batik into a volcano. In the Javanese naloni mitoni “first pregnancy” ceremony, the mother-to-be is wrapped in seven layers of batik, wishing her good things. Batik is also prominent in the tedak siten ceremony when a child touches the earth for the first time. Batik is also part of the labuhan ceremony when people gather at a beach to throw their problems away into the sea.
The wide diversity of patterns reflects a variety of influences, ranging from indigenous designs, Arabic calligraphy, European bouquets and Chinese phoenixes to Japanese cherry blossoms and Indian or Persian peacocks.
Contemporary batik, while owing much to the past, is markedly different from the more traditional and formal styles. For example, the artist may use etching, discharge dyeing, stencils, different tools for waxing and dyeing, or wax recipes with different resist values. They may work with silk, cotton, wool, leather, paper, or even wood and ceramics.