In the early 13th Century, Ken Arok, the founder of the Rajasa dynasty in the Singhasari Kingdom of East Java, went to a famous empu (keris smith), Mpu Gandring to order a special keris. The keris was named after the empu, Mpu Gandring.
Arok had evil and lustful designs for the powerful magical weapon. He wanted the special keris to kill the chieftain of Tumapel, Tunggul Ametung.
He saw that the keris was more or less finished but was pissed off when he couldn’t get it straightaway because the empu, a perfectionist, wanted several more months to 'purify' the special weapon from evil influences. Impatient and hotheaded, Ken Arok killed him with that keris in a fit of anger.
But with his dying breath, Mpu Gandring cursed him and foretold how Ken Arok and seven generations of his descendants would be killed by that cursed keris. So indeed the blood flowed throughout the generations, until subsequently someone saw that Mpu Gandring's keris would only continue to perpetrate chaos and death. He threw the keris into the Java Sea. Legend has it that the keris turned into a dragon.
Here’s one more folklore about a magical keris and another hothead.
Aryo Penangsang was an arrogant hot-tempered Javanese prince, but with exceptional courage and strength. His final battle was with Danang Sutowijoyo, who would subsequently become the legendary Panembahan Senopati, the founder of the Mataram Empire.
In the battle, the young Sutowijaya somehow managed to rip open Penangsang’s belly with his spear, allowing the latter’s intestines to spill out. But Penangsang was not an ordinary bloke so, on discovering that his dangling guts were restricting his movement in the duel, wrapped them tidily around the hilt of his sheathed keris. 'Twas the famous (or infamous) keris, Setan Kober.
Despite his humongous wound, Penangsang nearly defeated young Sutowijoyo who was beaten down to the ground, unable to continue the fight.
When Penangsang drew Setan Kober to deliver the coup de grâce, he inadvertently cut his own intestines which, if we remember, were wrapped around the hilt of the keris. Needless to say, he died from that fatal wound. Sutowijaya survived to become the founder of a powerful kingdom.
Sutowijoyo so admired his opponent's incredible strength, courage and fighting spirit that he ordered his sons and all bridegrooms of his kingdom (they each carried keris on their wedding day) to commemorate, and hopefully be inspired by, Penangsang’s amazing ferocious fighting feat, by adorning their keris-es with stringed jasmines (called melati rinonce) which symbolically represented Penangsang’s intestines. Apparently this Javanese tradition continues to these days.
We Malaysians are also familiar with Taming Sari, a Javanese keris with magical powers that would protect its owner, though it didn’t save the life of the original eponymous owner, a Javanese warrior who was killed by Hang Tuah through deceit, as was Hang Jebat. Tuah appropriated the Taming Sari after killing the owner, went back home to Melaka to one day kill his best friend at the behest of a tyrant.
All hotheads with keris-es, and all died terribly.
If you have read Malaysiakini over the last few days, we obtained mostly news about the UMNO keris, or to be more correct, Hishamuddin Hussein's keris, and how it affected the course of the election results.
DAP, PKR, MCA, Gerakan and even UMNO itself (including Khir Toyo) have all blamed Hishamuddin’s excessive brandishing of the UMNO Youth keris for the BN's tsunamic losses in the last general election.
In Malaysiakini, political analysts Ong Kian Min and Oon Yeoh wrote in Hisham's non-apology apology that tells us, ironically "The sad thing about this incident is that we do not believe Hishammuddin to be a traditional Malay ultra. Like his deputy, Khairy Jamaluddin, he is what you'd call a fake ultra – someone who tries so hard to be an ultra for the sake of drumming up grassroots support."
"His upbringing and demeanor certainly gives no indication of any deep ultra roots. His father, was third prime minister Hussein Onn, who probably had as many non-Malay friends as Malay ones. His grandfather, Onn Jaafar, famously tried (but failed) to open up Umno to non-Malays."
"Furthermore, Hishammuddin's track record as the minister of education has not been a bad one, especially when it comes to giving financial assistance to Chinese and Tamil schools and making it easier for them to relocate. But with one movement of his arm, he undid much of the goodwill that would have come his way from the non-Malay community."
Well, looks like Hishamuddin (or KJ) may not be an Aryo Penangsang, Ken Arok, Hang Tuah or Hang Jebat, but nonetheless he has stabbed his own party and the component partiues in the BN with his UMNO Youth keris, the Panca Warisan.
One and a half years ago I posted The Curse of UMNO's Keris? where I mentioned that Adnan Yaakob, an UMNO supreme council member and also the MB of Pahang, had asked for the symbol of the keris to be removed from the UMNO flag.
He said that the keris is a weapon denoting quarrels, and could have been the cause of the numerous quarrels in the party. In other words it’s bad feng shui for UMNO to have such a nasty weapon as a party symbol.
Adnam stated: "There were 20 major quarrels in UMNO since its formation 60 years ago. The symbol may signify the party’s struggles but it also means quarrels."
He reminded us of the acrimonious internal disputes involving the late Tunku Abdul Rahman (with Tun Razak), Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah (with Dr Mahathir), and of course Dr Mahathir (with Ku Li, Anwar and AAB). Maybe we ought to add in Onn Jaafar (with Tunku). Then there were state leaders such as the late Harun Idris, once touted as a PM, who fell foul of Hussein Onn.
The keris in the UMNO flag is drawn, which, according to belief not just unique to the Malay world, must 'taste' blood. Eastern superstition demands that a weapon such as a keris, dagger or sword must never be drawn unless one intends to 'feed' it with blood.
It is believed that the word keris originated from the old Javanese word ngeris which means 'to stab'.
Now, even Malaysiakini columnist Azly Rahman has in his article After the apology over the keris asked for UMNO to change its quarrelsome and intimidating symbol to one which projects peace.
Azly called for "a symbol of any good and friendly ancient Malay scripture that glorifies the common person and not the ancient rulers would be a good replacement."
He added: "The enquiring mind is more powerful than the weapon of mass deception. A new regime must have this as a foundation. I hope to see Umno's new logo."