Indonesian batik fabric has a long history that makes it worth being on the UNESCO’s list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Prajnaparamita, an Eastern Java state of 13th century, is depicted displaying circular patterns along with floral and vine-like motifs. This design is similar to traditional bali batik fabric, suggesting that the technique has already existed by that time. Textile dyeing technique using wax is not a new thing. As a matter of fact, it is suggested that the technique has existed in 4th century BC by the discovery of pieces of clothing used in wrapping mummies, which have wax coating on them to create pattern. Miles away from Egypt, wax-resist dyeing was present during the reign of Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) in China and Nara Period (645-794 AD) in Japan. The Yoruba tribe in Nigeria and the Soninke and Wolof tribes, both of Senegal, are familiar with the technique as well. These facts suggest that while batik is essentially is of Indonesian origin, the basic technique that forms it is not.
Indonesian batik fabric is supposed to have already been present during the reign of Majapahit kingdom. The technique and the fabric resulting from it reached popularity either in the last part of the 18th century or the early 19th century. Before 20th century, all batik fabrics of Indonesia were handmade with stamping technique being introduced post-WW I or around 1920s. The word ‘batik’ is of Javanese origin but the precise point at which the technique was first presented in the Java land is unknown. There are different opinions regarding this matter: some thought that wax-resist dyeing technique was introduced via India or Sri Lanka in either 6th century or 7th century while some others argue that the technique originated from eastern parts of Indonesia such as Flores, Toraja, Papua, and Halmahera.
Regardless of its origin, Indonesian batik fabric was made specifically using white cotton cloth called mori back then. Today, however, a variety of cloth types can be used to make batik such as silk, polyester, rayon, and other synthetic materials. Based on the methods, Indonesian batik is divided into three: batik tulis (takes 2-3 months to complete), batik cap (takes 2-3 days to complete), and batik lukis. Keep in mind that a fabric is called batik when made through any one of the mentioned methods. Batik made through printing isn’t the true batik; rather, calling it batik-motif fabric is more proper.