The art of making and sharpening taji, the slender blade tied to the feet of roosters in the Balinese traditional cock-fighting game of tajen, has gradually become a forgotten legacy here. The government’s official prohibition of tajen has caused the once wildly popular game to go underground, held far from public eyes. As the number of tajen steadily decreases, so does the number of individuals adept in crafting the most deadly of taji.
Among the few remaining Balinese who is still able to make taji is Nyoman Jaya Ardana, 42, a silat martial arts fighter, who is also known as Pak Pande. He inherited the craft of making taji from his father, himself a skilled blacksmith. The name Pande signifies that he belongs to the Pande clan. In the past, members of this clan were famous as expert blacksmiths and custodians of the royal family’s precious weapons and heirlooms. Expert taji makers and sharpeners were highly respected in the tajen arena. Owners of the roosters would seek their advice on which blade suited the temperament of their fighters and the particular contest in question.
A good taji maker would ensure that the blade did not hinder the rooster’s movements. Moreover, a rooster with a perfectly sharpened taji would only need one accurate thrust or slash to decisively defeat its opponent. According to Pande, the original Balinese taji, which was passed down from ancestors, has a very simple, straight shape which is tapered at the end. However, due to the difficulty of hand-crafting recycled steel from old weapons, taji are nowadays made from steel manufactured in factories. Since 1994, modified forms of taji have been imported by many tajen enthusiasts who come from Jakarta as well as from the Philippines, whose people consider cockfighting, or sabong, a very popular sport.
Balinese tajen enthusiasts are now familiar with two modern shapes of taji: the taji sangket and the taji silet. The taji silet has a shape just like the original Balinese taji, but differs in terms of its material and its customized carved patterns. It also has a very sharp edge and is designed for slashing. Meanwhile, the taji sangket has a unique circular shape that make the cocks look like they are wearing shoes. It bears a resemblance to a scythe and can be used by the cock to either slash or hook its opponent. Pak Pande explained that the way a taji is tied to the rooster’s feet is just as important as the quality of the taji itself. There are five different ways of affixing a taji silet and two ways for a taji sangket. As a taji sharperner (pengasah taji), Pande only earns trivial sums of money, such as Rp 5,000 (53 US cents) per sharpening.
However, he can earn up to Rp 350,000 when creating a customized taji, depending on the thickness of the steel being used. According to Balinese Hindu belief, a blacksmith must wait for an auspicious day or dewasa ayu, preferably one of the days under the influence of Lord Brahma the Creator. Known as the Primal Fire, Brahma is the guardian deity of the Pande clan. A customer has to first check the Balinese Hindu calendar before placing an order for a new taji. It is believed that a taji created on the right dewasa will possess good taksu (energy), thus giving its wearer extra confidence and luck. A blacksmith like Pande also has to be very careful and be fully concentrating when creating or sharpening a taji. It is believed that if a blacksmith is cut by his own taji, he will suffer repeated cuts or wounds in the future.
Despite his meager earnings as a taji maker and the numerous required rituals that he has to perform during the creation of a taji, Pande said he was determined to continue his rare work, which utilizes his special blacksmith skills, because he felt obliged to preserve the craft that he inherited from his ancestors, being part of the Pande clan.
— Photos by Pasek Pramana
source : bali daily