Batik In Asia (Part 2 Of 3)

In the previous episode, we discussed the different types of batik designs. These various designs come from different parts of Southeast Asia. And some have very distinct features that are very fun to learn about. Many of the places that are the main producers emerge from Malaysia and Indonesia. But now let’s explore other parts of Asia where the manufacturers of batik are lesser known. Nevertheless, they do share the same quality and culture as their more popular peer countries. What categorises them as batik but still hold their own identity? Let’s find out!

A man wearing a batik shirt looking out to an array of buildings.
A man wearing a batik shirt looking out to an array of buildings. This marks our exploration into the world of batik together!
Photo by Tusik Only on Unsplash

Familiar Southeast Asian Batik

The two main countries that embrace batik as their national attire are Indonesia and Malaysia. The difference is the significance of the motifs and their meaning to each culture. Both types of batik have obvious differences in the range of colours used and type of pattern. But to the average eye, both can look pretty similar.

Batik dresses being sold in a store.
Batik fabrics can be easily recognised by their unique motifs, like these floral patterns and geometric designs.
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Indonesia’s Spiritual Symbolism

Early Indonesian batik closely symbolises their religious cultures in the form of animals and humans. At this time, the Muslim population in Indonesia has grown bigger. They started using more geometric shapes like stars and circles, in addition to flowers and leaves. As for colours, dark shades of brown, gold, and black are the usual palette.

An Indonesian batik style with dragons and shapes.
Dragons are one animate representation found in the older batik designs.
Photo by DEZALB from Pixabay

Indonesia ingrains a strict traditional guideline when it comes to the process of batik making and designs. Hence, copper stamps called cap (pronounced “chap”) and canting (pronounced “chan-ting”) are strict rules. Additionally, UNESCO has designated 2 October since 2009 as the annual national Batik Day to preserve its significance.

A person stamping wax with a copper block on a fabric.
A copper block stamping wax to prep the fabric before immersing into the dye tub.
Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

Malaysian Floral Batik Patterns

The Malaysians prefer the easy technique, to stamp and dye by machines. This results in more modern aesthetics. But they do differ in the decorating process where chemicals have replaced natural dyes. Thus, enabling a vibrant range of colours and is easily accessible. A multitude of colours is pricier due to the intricacies of the designs. They use colours with vibrant shades of bright greens, pinks or purples. They also incorporate more patterns of flowers and plants rather than geometric shapes. In fact, they are famous for spirals and butterfly designs. Instead of dyeing the paint in many steps to get the final outcome, Malaysian batik designers prefer hand painting. Using a brush for the details and a sponge for the bigger areas, creating its own character.

An old woman walking her bike while wearing a batik in Asia.
An example of the vibrant Malaysian batik can be seen from this smiling lady walking her bike in a neighbourhood.
Photo by pisauikan from Pixabay

Is There More Batik In Asia?

Malaysia holds the title as the world’s biggest producer of batik in bulk. And Indonesia as the birthplace of batik. Other Asian countries’ roles within the batik industry pass by without much notice. Similarly, they use the same technique to be a part of the batik family. Yet, each is unique with their own touch and history.

1) Batik In Asia: Singapore Has A Bit Of Everything

Singapore is the leading trade centre for Southeast Asia. Culture and diversity are never lacking here. Within a multi-ethnic country, batik from around Asia has made its way to share its beautiful history with the world. Malaysian batik is a common fashion here due to its neighbouring ties. Moreover, some of the batik found here may surprise you like the ones in my list below.

Batik products being sold whilst a man guards the batik.
Vendors like these can be seen a lot on Arab Street in Singapore that will catch your eye instantly.
Photo by Jeremy Kwok on Unsplash

There is a famous location that sells wide selections of batik from around Asia. It’s located at Arab Street in Singapore, a famous tourist hotspot. Here you’ll see lines of vendors peddling various batik souvenirs. On the other hand, the Basharahil Bros Batik shop is more popular with the Singaporean locals. It is one of the best and most reliable batik boutiques in the country.

2) Batik In Asia: Philippines Fuse With Traditional Jusi

In the Philippines, they use batik together with the traditional Filipino fabric called jusi. Jusi is silk and vegetable fibres combined to make a sheer texture. You can find jusi in their dresses and shirts. Combined with motifs from Indonesian batik designs of human and animal depictions. Its name is barong batik.

An old man wearing a traditionally ethnic attire while playing an instrument.
The Igorots are indigenous people from Cordilleras region in the Phillippines who wear tribal pattern pieces they call wanes, similarly worn by this elderly playing a traditional boat lute. Often made together with batik in the Philippines.
Photo by Harold Villapana from Pexels

There is a Filipino store located in Liloan, Cebu called Balik Batik. And their aim is to make batik a casual attire. They combine handwoven Filipino fabric from different ethnic groups with batik using geometric patterns. Motifs would include fish, crab, and bamboo-inspired by nature.

3) Batik In India, An Ancient Tradition

India’s culture of the batik technique is the earliest in history from this list. It dates back to the 1st century AD. The records say batik comes from a group called Khatri from the Gujarat region.

A smiling woman wearing a colourful saree.
A splash method of making batik would look similar to the sari worn by this woman.
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

They use the same methods of wax and pen that we know today. Moreover, they introduced another technique called the splash method. It involves pouring hot wax directly onto the fabric. Placing the dye randomly results in a rainbow of colours and unique patterns. Scratch and starch is another method. Instead of wax, starch acts the role of wax to resist the dyes. Similarly, they use a pen to draw out designs called the pen kalamkari.

4) Batik In Sri Lanka Gaining Popularity

Batik came to Sri Lanka in the late 1950s through the Dutch which they learnt from the Javanese. The intricate technique of batik making impressed them. As a result, the locals continued with their own variations and batik grew to become a part of their culture. Many Sri Lankan traditional clothes have batik as a national symbol. They also use motifs symbolising animals and humans depicting their own meanings.

A bride and groom wearing wedding outfits made of batik.
Many batik attire in Sri Lanka are used for formal occassions. Such as office attire and weddings like this couple is wearing.
Photo by Vivek from Pexels

Sri Lankan batik, unfortunately, is not as well known. The government is trying to strengthen this by promoting their batik industry to appeal to more customers. Thus, benefitting the economy. Tourists who visit Sri Lanka end up buying some batik as souvenirs. But not many know its significance. As an initiative, the government has made the wearing of batik attire once a week mandatory for government employees. Therefore, this directive will help promote local brands selling batik to vitalise Sri Lankan batik.

Batik: Handmade Or Machine-Made?

Initially, the cottage industry was the main batik producer. Hand-made by small groups of artisans. They paint their designs by hand naturally requiring a longer time. However, this craft of batik is becoming a rare practice. Recently, people prefer affordable products. Consequently, to master hand-dyeing techniques is labour-intensive and prices can get pretty expensive.

A person drawing out wax designs with a special pen to make batik.
A pen like this can draw out fine details taking batik designs to the next level.
Photo by John Bastian from Pexels

In fact, batik produced from factories gear towards the general public. Instead of the traditional methods, machines stamp or screen paint them. These are more affordable because of its cost-efficient production. To save on money, some have switched to synthetic fabrics and dyes. However, they still display intricate details filled with bold colours. As a result, batik has become accessible for everyone.

A Toast To The Artisans For Keeping Batik Alive

Like all beautiful artistry, many have gone with the wind into extinction due to lack of practice. As a result, batik has been able to stay relevant thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of these artisans. To pay tribute to their contribution, Batik Painting Museum Penang is one organisation that prides itself in displaying batik from Malaysia and other countries. You will learn more about the establishment of batik in Malaysia. And view the various framed batik paintings one by one. Totalling up to 80 from 25 different artists. They also have a dedicated collection of batik from China, Indonesia, and Thailand. You will learn more about the establishment of batik in Malaysia.

The interior of the batik museum with frames of paintings on the wall.
An interior visual inside the Batik Painting Museum in Penang displaying their beautiful selections of batik painting.
Image by Batik Painting Museum
A batik painting of woman and men going through fishing net at sea.
This is batik on cloth called “After the Catch” by Ismail Mat Hussin produced in 2009. One of the many pieces that can be viewed in the Batik Painting Museum, Penang.
Image by Batik Painting Museum

Come visit the Batik Painting Museum, where you not only get to feast your eyes on beautiful designs but also savour delicious local food located right in the heart of Penang in Georgetown. It’s open every day from 10 am to 6 pm so you won’t have to worry about missing out! You’ll have to pay a small entrance fee but you won’t regret it after seeing the masterpieces awaiting inside. Be sure to put that on your list when you’re in Penang! Is there a specific batik in Asia story that catches your fancy? Please do drop a comment below the poll to elaborate your batik story further.

Which country's batik story interests you the most?
4 votes

About Dina GHAZALI

Raised abroad almost her entire life, Dina is well exposed to the multi-cultural world around her. Penned her innermost thoughts on paper as a child, and eventually fell in love with writing. Aims to be a successful writer one day.

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