The tradition of weaving cloth is another heritage that has been passed down through generations of Balinese women. Like many other local art forms, weaving is based on the principals of harmony. This is indicated in the Hindu philosophy Tri Hita Karana, which refers to the balance between man, his environment and God Almighty.
Art based on these values often reflects great beauty. Textiles in Bali are not only used for clothing purposes, but also as accessories in places of worship. Statues, shrines and even trees on the island are often shrouded in pieces of cloth. Authentic Balinese cloth is specially designed and plays a significant role in religious, ceremonial and community life.
A rather unique type of cloth known as kain gringsing originates from the village of Tenganan and follows the technique of ikat weaving. The cloth called kain cepuk is believed to be holy and is commonly worn by priests and alternative healing practitioners. Other types of cloth identified by specific characteristics are endek, poleng, keling and prada.
However, the most popular Balinese cloth is called songket. Songket is a technique of traditional weaving where an interwoven floating weft of delicate gold, silver or coloured thread is incorporated onto a plain background to create an attractive design. In the times of ancient Balinese courts and kingdoms, members of the noble class sought handmade songket cloths made from pure silk with an accessory over-thread of naturally dyed cotton.
Owning several samples of this expensive cloth was a sign of wealth and prestige, worn especially to be admired at religious ceremonies and community events. The progression of Balinese woven cloth reached its peak during the 16th century in a golden era when there was a growing appreciation for all creative arts, including dance, music and painting.
Songket cloth, with its rich gold and silver threadwork, became a symbol of great kings, regal palaces and generally a measurement of social status amongst Bali’s high caste members. Songket is also handmade in other Indonesian territories and it is often promoted as the ideal cloth for performers as the composition of shiny threads never fails to draw audience attention to the grace and elegance of the dancer’s body.
The glimmer of gold and silver in songket cloth complements the dynamic spirit of traditional Balinese dance. A single piece of songket cloth takes up to three months to produce. Many women in the village of Sideman in East Bali are quite adept at weaving and it is a skill that is passed down through generations of families from mother to daughter.
There are generally three types of patterns that are followed in songket weaving and the cloth is matched to the religious occasion that it will be worn for, which includes dance performances, weddings, tooth filing rituals and cremation ceremonies.