Batik Friday

The tradition of batik creation has a rich and ancient history in Indonesia. This post explores the ritual uses, mystical meanings, and the place of batik in contemporary Indonesian society (including the origins of ‘Batik Friday’ in Indonesia’s Office-Culture)

Traditional Javanese batik, especially from Jogjakarta and Surakarta has meanings rooted to the Javanese conceptualisation of the universe, and batik from 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. 

UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on October 2, 2009 and as part of the acknowledgment, UNESCO insisted that Indonesia preserve the batik heritage. 


Batik predates written records in Java. 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 an Indonesian tradition as regions such as Toraja, Flores and Papua which were not directly influenced by Hindu civilisations also have ancient traditions of batik making.

The carving details of clothes wore by a buddhist goddess Pranjaparamita (the buddhist goddess of transcendental wisdom) from East Java dates at circa 13th century CE. Her clothes details shows intricate floral pattern similar to today traditional Javanese batik. 

Batik and Ritual in Indonesian

In Indonesia batik was traditionally sold in 2.25-metre lengths used for as a akin panjang or a sarong. Infants are carried in batik slings decorated with symbols designed to bring the child luck and certain batik designs are reserved for brides and bridegrooms, as well as their families. The dead are shrouded in funerary batik, and other designs are reserved for the Sultan and his family or their attendants. In the past, a person’s rank could be determined by the pattern of the batik he or she wore.

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 teak siten ceremony when a child touches the earth for the first time. Batik is also part of the labuhan ceremony, where people gather at a beach to throw their problems away into the sea.

Contemporary batik

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. As a result, batik is worn by most Indonesians and there is even a national designation of a day for wearing batik to the office.

Batik Friday

After the UNESCO recognition for Indonesian batik as intangible world heritage on October 2, 2009, Indonesian administration has asked Indonesians to wear batik on Friday, and wearing batik every Friday is encouraged in all government offices and private companies ever since. Batik had helped improve the small business economy significantly, with batik sales in Indonesia had reaching Rp 3.9 trillion (US$436.8 million) in 2010, an increase from Rp 2.5 trillion in 2006. The value of batik exports, meanwhile, increased from $14.3 million in 2006 to $22.3 million in 2010.

Preserving Batik Traditions

The palace courts (keratonan) in two cities in central Java are known for preserving and fostering batik traditions:

  • Surakarta (or the city of Solo) Batik. Traditional Surakarta court batik is preserved and fostered by the Susuhunan Mankunegaran courts. The main areas that produce Solo batik are the Laweyan and Kauman districts of the city. Solo batik typically has sogan as the background color. Visit Pasar Klewer, near the Susuhunan palace for the central batik trade center.
  • Jogjakarta Batik. Traditional Yogya batik is preserved and fostered by the Jogjakart Sultanate and the Pakualaman court. Usually Yogya Batik has white as the background colour. Fine batik is produced at Kampung Taman district. Beringharjo market near Maliaboro street is well known as a retail batik trade centre in Jogjakarta.

Famous Batik Collectors

  • Santosa Doellah has been recognised by the Indonesian World Records Museum as having the world’s largest collection of ancient Chinese-influenced Indonesian batik textiles. His collection consists of approximately 10,000 batik pieces.
  • The late mother of United States president Barack Obama Ann Dunham was an avid collector of batik. In 2009, an exhibition of Dunham’s textile batik art collection (A Lady Found a Culture in its Cloth: Barack Obama’s Mother and Indonesian Batiks) toured six museums in the United States, finishing the tour at the Textile Museum 
  • Nelson Mandela wore batik shirts on formal occasions; the South Africans call it the Madiba Shirt.

For more information about this fascinating tradition, have a look at the UNESCO profile on Youtube on Batik’s 


This post originated here