INDIGO: THE HIDDEN BLUE
Batik is a traditional technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to a piece of cloth that has been recognized globally by UNESCO as the Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
However, where is the ‘blue of indigo in Javanese batik? How come most of the island’s traditional batik are tinted with brownish and yellow (sogan) hue?
We believe that our ancestors had found the secret of natural dyeing and coloring–which can also be applied to living life in general. Dyeing and coloring, like everything else in life, is about the art of the opposite: of the feminine and the masculine. When we find the rhythm where the two can dance harmoniously, beauty will appear.
Our ancestors might have applied this philosophy of life in batik dyeing and coloring. Indigo, with its blue color, is the masculine–while sogan (from tegeran wood, jambar bark, etc.) with its yellow tint, is the feminine. In this sense, when both are mixed with the right way and in the right proportion, they will result in beauty.
Chemically, recent findings have shown that indigo is the most subtle solution that can reach and penetrate to even the smallest fiber of yarns. Thus, it was possible that before dyeing/coloring a batik cloth, our ancestors dyed the fabric blue with indigo first. This process enables other secondary or tertiary colors to be absorbed better by the fiber. Indigo and its tiny molecules can penetrate fabrics with the tightest fibers and binds other colors that follow.
No wonder if the first step of batik making in the kingdom of Solo and Yogya was called mbironi (membirukan)–or blue-ing (literally translated into making ‘it’ blue). This was known to our ancestors way before we can see molecules through a microscope. However, since indigo is not a native plant from Java, some political reasons might caused the kingdom of Solo and Yogya to hide the blue underneath with ‘native colors’ like yellow and brown.
The philosophy of this masculine-feminine ‘dance’ can also be seen when we observe the fact that those who work with indigo, even in different countries like India or Vietnam, are women. As the representation of the feminine, women balance the masculinity of indigo–although as we see it today, the idea was to have a touch of femininity when dealing with the masculinity of indigo. So, it’s not about the sex, but about the way we treat the plant, the cloth, and the paste with a touch of softness, gentleness and care.