The Kawung, a brief history and my interpretations.
The Kawung is one of the oldest batik motifs, consisting of a four lobed stylised flower, based on the Areca Palm blossom. The cross section of the palm fruits and their seeds are also said to inspire the design. Part of the Ceplok (circle) family of designs, the Kawung can be arranged as intersecting circles in some of its variations, making dynamic repeated patterns.
Known in Java since the 13th century the Kawung appears on Hindu temple walls such as Prambanan and Kediri and Loro Jonggrang, providing valuable visual reference connected to Sakti mythology, the Goddess of all creation in Hinduism.
The Kawung has many symbolic meanings, its association to the palm blossom indicates purity and honesty, while the palm fruit refers to fertility and hope. There is also a profound philosophy attached to it of universal energy and the sacred origin of human life, longevity and eternal life.
The design was originally worn only by the Sultan and his family and was one of the forbidden batik motifs for the general population. In this context the Kawung was linked with power, wisdom and justice and was thought to imbue these qualities to the wearer.
The simplicity of the design reflects the idea of a structured universe, the visual representation of four directions and the four classical elements of earth, fire, air and water. Batik artists and philosophers Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam interpret Kawung further with binaries of death and regeneration, the divine and worldly needs, love and compassion and acceptance of destiny. Agus told me he saw the design as ” functioning like a sieve to sort through life’s experiences”.
I have started using the Kawang and Parang in my batik artwork and am exploring the abstract and design elements of the motifs while considering their meanings for further planned work.
These are the first of a series of batik artworks that will be examining and reflecting the effects of colour and design on emotion and feelings.
Parang motif arranged as fire, with Phoenix like bird rising from the flames. The Ceplok and Kuwang symbolise immortality and the long journey to eternal life.