From Royalty to the Masses: The Sacred Parang Motif
The Parang is one of Indonesia's oldest and most significant batik patterns. It derives its name from the Javanese word "pereng," meaning "slope," and it features a diagonal line that descends from high to low. The pattern comprises intertwined S-shaped motifs that create a continuous and repeating design, similar to many batik patterns. The Parang pattern was allegedly created by Sultan Agung of Mataram during his visit to Java's southern coast.
The Parang holds a deep philosophy of never giving up and persisting through challenges, while also representing an unbreakable and continuous bond with one’s self-development, pursuit of success, and strengthening of familial ties. This is all portrayed through the pattern's likeness to enduring ocean waves that constantly flow forward with passion and dedication. The wave-like designs in the Parang pattern serve as symbols of the persistence and strength necessary to conquer obstacles and persevere in one's endeavors.
The Parang is also a representation of one’s internal battle against negative temptations. The wearer is expected to resist temptations that can arise from within or from external sources. The diagonal lines between the S-shaped motifs represent agility and upholding noble ideals, while the vertical lines signify being consistent and loyal. By wearing the Parang design, individuals can remember to stay true to their values even in the face of adversity and find the strength to resist negative temptations. With such deep meaning behind the motif, it became a depiction of the strength and growth of the kings, therefore forbidding ordinary people from wearing it.
During the reign of the kingdoms in Indonesia, social ranking defined which patterns were suitable for people to wear. The Parang batik used to be the ultimate status symbol; having the ability to purchase and own the Parang showed off wealth and power, a privilege only the royals possessed. In earlier times, those allowed to wear Parang were only high-ranking noblemen or members of the sultan’s family, as the motif contained deep and noble symbols. The design was also only worn during ceremonies pertaining to the state and not as everyday wear.
By the time batik became the main component of formal royal court attire in 1811, an accord was set between the British lieutenant governor of Java, Sir Stamford Raffles, and Yogyakarta’s Sultan, Hamengkubuwono II, stating that "His Highness engages not to prohibit, to any class of his subjects, the use of any particular article or wearing-apparel, ornament, or luxury, except the cloth called Parang Roosa and Sawat, which from time immemorious have been appropriated to the Royal person." The Parang Roosa mentioned in the text is the Parang Rusak, a variation of Parang motif.
With the pattern being exclusively reserved for use by the Sultan and his family, it became highly inappropriate for commoners to don the pattern, despite it being a common practice in recent times. Despite its sacred status, the Parang has become readily available and sold in markets. Unfortunately, many Javanese people have seemingly opted to depart from tradition and neglect rules surrounding the use of particular batik designs.
The journey of the Parang is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Indonesia’s culture and traditions. The changes the Parang has gone through tell Indonesia’s backstory, highlighting the struggles, freedom, and modernization our people have experienced. It is interesting and quite concerning how a historical cloth with deep symbols has lost its exclusivity over the years, though it has allowed Indonesians to share the beauty of the motif. The few that possess an understanding of batik would know how sacred the Parang is, but for the majority of Indonesians, it is just another popular batik pattern. The Parang has come a long way; its uses have drastically changed since its creation, from being used as a religious ceremonial blanket and reserving the cloth for royal court wear to its ease of accessibility now.