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Behind the Motif: 5 Ancient Batik Patterns of Central Java

Batik is a type of textile art that uses wax and dye to produce patterns on a piece of plain cloth. Though the word Batik may have been derived from the Malay word titik which means to dot, Batik can in fact be found across the world from Africa to Asia. 

It was however, on the island of Java, Indonesia that Batik reached its pinnacle. These early designers incorporated deep meaning in their work, creating patterns closely related to the Javanese philosophies of life.

1. Parang

The parang motif appears in various forms, usually depicting a narrow length and almost sharp edge — just like a sword. In one famous folklore, the fabled prince of Java Prince Panja was saved by the protective power of the parang batik he had on him. In another story, the Sultan Agung of Mataram contemplated a stretch of jagged rocks on the south coast as a natural guard to the coastline. This has made the parang a symbol of security and safety. 


2. Kawung

Batik mofis are also inspired by nature and the kawung pattern is a fine example. As a type of palm tree that grows in abundance in South East Asia (and economically important to the region), the kawung motif similarly contains an encouraging message that the wearer be as useful to the community as is the kawung palm.

3. Sekar Jagad

Javanese ceremonies are abound with the use of batik as expressions of love and happiness. At weddings, the sekar jagad, literally meaning flowers of the universe may be worn by the bride, groom, or given as a gift to convey the message of heartfelt joy at having found one another. 


For centuries, the emotion of love has been central to man's existence. What are we without the emotion of love? Legend has it that the truntum was created by the Queen, who upon the King's infidelity began batik-ing stars she saw in the dark sky to forget her loneliness.

Curious by this new motif, the King approached his wife with care, silently observing her diligence. Her earnestness eventually caused his love for her to blossom again.. making the truntum a symbol of budding or reawakened love.

In practice this the truntum is regularly worn by the parents of brides and grooms at Javanese wedding ceremonies. 


Coming from the Malay word tampal which means to fix, the tambal batik is an amalgamation of various batik motifs that closely resembles patchwork or quilting. From the parang to the kawung, this combination of motifs represent good positive energy believed to heal the wearer of sickness whether physically or spiritually.

The motifs written here are characteristic of central Java, and during ancient times held talismanic qualities for use by the ruling Sultanate and his family. Today, such prohibitions no longer exist and batik of all motifs are free to be used by everyone.

References and credits:

Djoemena, Nian S. Ungkapan Sehelai Batik. Indonesia: Penerbit Djambatan, 1986.

Kerlogue, Fiona. Batik: Design, Style & History. London: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

Batik Museum of Yogyakarta

Parang Batik by Karen Chen

Sekar Jagad and Tambal Batik by Mulberry San

Cover photo by Esther Jeohn

All other images are our own and subject to strict copyright regulations.

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