Although they may change with fashion or the fortunes of the fortunes of the owner, the hilt and the sheath are indispensable parts of the Keris. Aside from its obvious practical functions, keris dress play an unspoken but essential protective role : shielding the uninitiated from being "hit" by the magical force of the blade while protecting it from strong outside influences. Probably for this reason many handle and sheath forms carry apotropaic motif, or are made of woods believed to have their own auspicious power. Keris dress is taken very seriously and great care, sometimes great amounts of money, are lavished on it. Concern that the blade be dressed properly is even reflected in dream interpretation - a dream of an old man or woman coming to the door begging for clothes is often spoken of as the spirit of the keris asking for new clothing or food (offerings).

Keris dress is an ensemble of many parts, each the responsibility of a different Mranggi (craftsman) who works in his own special world. His familiarity with the materials, his extensive knowledge of different techniques, variant forms, and motifs were usually gained from working beside his father. Some of his precisely designed tools, serving only the special needs of his craft, could be inherited; others he painstakingly made. Some of today's older Mranggi worked for the courts.

Today distinct variations in Yogyakarta, Surakarta, Cirebon, and Madura hilt and sheath forms, which range from plain to extremely ornate, are still recognized. The dress of the other islands (Bali, Sumatra, Sulawesi) is even more distinctive. In the past, more local styles may have existed ; today it is difficult to know which are still being made. Since it is an on going tradition to give new dress to old blades, a blade attributed to fourteenth century Majapahit may appear in twentieth century dress. Even recent Surakarta or Yogyakarta blades are rarely found in what could be identified as their "original dress". Changes and recombinations frequently occur, the parts being skillfully adjusted each time they are matched to a different blade. In the creation of a new ensemble, it is the owner who chooses the parts. Certain individual parts may have their own history or uniqueness, thus commanding premium prices. In combining them, the connoisseur will be governed by traditional aesthetic notions concerning the harmonious balance of matching and contrasting colors, tones and textures, and motifs with suitable symbolic significance. Some parts may be finely worked silver and gold. These are valued not only for their intrinsic worth, but also for their contribution to the color harmony of the ensemble -similar excellent work- manship will be found on a variety of cheaper alloys mixed or plated for equally beautiful visual effects.

In making a new sheath, or fitting an old one to a different blade, the sheathmaker must contend with the totality of the keris, as all the other parts must be accommodated to and by it. For this reason, at least in present times, it is often the sheathmaker who assembles the parts and sees that they are jodo, rightly matched. In a well-fitted piece, the angles and proportions are keyed to the line of the top of the ganja and the embat (alignment, i.e.,the cant of the blade in relation to the ganja). These dictate the curve on the top of the sheath and slant of the gandar.

The world  of the forge is enveloped in heat, noise, and acrid fumes,  with the threat of danger from exploding sparks and red hot metal always present. The Empu works there on a macro scale, with heavy study tools, consuming great amounts of charcoal, reducing and manipulating quantities of iron and steel. Both the process and the working environmenth demand a great deal of the man ; strength, intuition, split second timing,constant alertness and control. By contrast , Mranggi operate in a quieter, more subtle world of smaller forms, fine tools, and great attention to detail. They work with metals as if to create jewelry ; amindst the pleasant aroma of accumulated shavings, they explore and reveal the richest grains of wood.

There are almost no smiths left now. Fortunately there are still a few good mranggi who have become today's lifeline for the Keris. In the stream of steadily changing Javanese culture, it is the mranggi who continue to think about, work on, and be concerned with keris every day.

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