In the world of Javanese tosan aji (precious weapons), Pauzan Pusposukadgo is a familiar name.
He is virtually the most senior and active empu (master craftsman) in Indonesia at the age of 72, retaining his high enthusiasm for the preservation of kris as part of the world’s cultural heritage.
His spirit was noticeable when on Jan. 13 he held a thanksgiving ritual to mark the revitalization of a besalen (kris forging workshop) owned by the late Javanese cultural expert and kris maker Panembahan Hardjonagoro (Go Tik Swan).
Located in the residential compound of the panembahan (revered guru) in the Kratonan area of Solo, Central Java, the workshop was last operational in 1992. Pauzan himself has not been engaged in kris making over the last 10 years due to illness.
“Later this besalen will serve not only as a kris workshop, but also as a place where people can ask everything about tosan aji, especially kris,” said Pauzan. For Pauzan, reviving the workshop also means satisfying his nostalgia as a protégé of Hardjonagoro. “In the 1980s I was an apprentice at the workshop. He taught me many things about precious weapons,” noted the husband of Sukasmi.
Born in Grinting village, Boyolali, Central Java in 1941 into a family of poor farmers, Pauzan was a second-year technical school dropout. He once worked at a car workshop and finally as a Solo-Jakarta bus driver. His interest in traditional daggers was aroused when a friend showed him a gorgeous kris given by his parents.
“I can’t remember its dapur [shape], pamor [blade pattern] and tangguh [period of making], but my friend’s kris was very beautiful. Since then, I’ve nurtured a great passion for the kris,” said Pauzan, who lives in Kampung Yosoroto, Solo.
In 1974, Pauzan joined Boworoso Tosan Aji Surakarta, a group of traditional weapon enthusiasts. In the club he delved into all aspects of the kris, including their philosophy and history, for eight years, while learning to forge the daggers and form their patterns from Hardjonagoro. In 1982 he built a besalen in his house yard and crafted his own kris.
Pauzan said that as he did not have enough money to buy iron and other materials, he frequently bought scrap kris from the local antique market, Triwindu, at low prices. The used weapons were then repaired and enhanced at his workshop for resale at high prices. “This income increases the capital for my workshop activity,” he added.
Through his perseverance and Hardjonagoro’s direct guidance, the kris crafted by Pauzan eventually drew the attention of kris buffs. In 1984, he managed to inscribe a new pattern called Poleng Wengkon on a blade known as a Gumbeng. As the motifs on blades are created, the iron folds are filled with other metals such as nickel.
“This was designed by Dietrich Drescher, a kris lover from Germany,” said the empu, who was appointed as besalen chief of the Surakarta Sultanate Palace by Paku Buwono XII.
Former coordinating minister for political and security affairs Soerono was attracted by the new motif and named the kris Kyai Surengkarya. Seven kris with the same style were ordered by kris collectors from the US, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and Holland.
Pauzan later designed his own kris patterns, like kalpataru (tree), papaya leaf and tetes banyu (drops of water). “Dietrich Drescher kept encouraging and inspiring me to create new blade motifs,” Pauzan indicated.
With his work sought after by kris enthusiasts, during the period 1983-1990 Pauzan organized tosan aji displays in places including Solo’s Indonesian Classical Arts Academy (ASKI), Sasana Mulya, the Press Monument, the Jakarta Kris Center and Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, Jakarta.
As an empu, Pauzan further showcased his skills when his creations were exhibited in Brunei Darussalam. Owing to his skills, he also became an extraordinary lecturer of kris craftsmanship at ASKI, Solo.
He is now well known as a kris master who creates his own new styled blades instead of imitating old forms and patterns. “Kris are not mystical objects. They are exceptional works of art handed down by our ancestors. Today people see the weapons’ aesthetic value rather than their mystical power,” he pointed out.
Pauzan, who has received several cultural awards from the government, has forged hundreds of kris and has turned out dozens of young masters from his workshop, while remaining modest and willing to impart his knowledge to younger generations that are eager to learn from him.
Despite global recognition, Pauzan is reluctant to be called an empu. “I’m just a kris craftsman,” said Mas Ngabehi Pusposukadgo, Pauzan’s title granted upon him by the Surakarta Sultanate Palace.
In his opinion, a true empu should have high spiritual capabilities, practice asceticism and perform various Javanese rituals, which was especially the case with the palace kris makers of the past. He, however, has only inherited the ancestral duty to pass on the skill to the next generation for cultural preservation.
“I’m happy to see many young craftsmen with their wonderful traditional weapons. The Indonesian Arts Institute of Surakarta has played a major role in graduating young artists, particularly through its tosan aji study program,” acknowledged Pauzan.
Acccording to Pauzan, there had been increasing interest in kris making since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted that the weapon was a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
He took note of the kris making tradition that could be traced back to Buddhist kingdoms (125-1125), Hindu kingdoms (1250-1500), Islamic Mataram kingdoms (1460 M – 1613) and to the post-independence period (1945-present).
“Great empus were born through the eras. Sadly, most of their work has been sold abroad,” said Pauzan.
“Kris are beautiful, with their attractive motifs, warangka [sheaths] and gagang [handles]. I’m prepared to teach those wishing to learn how to forge the daggers, especially young people, for free in order to preserve their masterpiece,” Pauzan said.