A Royal banner from Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia, dating from the 18th century.
“This magnificent banner, drawn in batik on cotton and trimmed with a border of Indian mordant-printed trade cloth, features the miraculous sword Zulfikar. According to tradition, the archangel Gabriel gave this weapon to the Prophet Muhammad who passed it to his son-in-law Saydina Ali to enable him to perform great and victorious deeds. Between its double blade is a row of Arabic letters written in a disconnected form and referring to an esoteric numerological sequence of 1 5 3 7 4 2 6 3. Achjadi (1998: 77) interprets these numbers as a chronogram for 1776 CE and the date this flag was made. Adjacent to the cloven sword is a lively depiction of the macan Ali in zoomorphic calligraphy. One of the traditional titles of Ali throughout the Islamic world is ‘the victorious lion of the Lord’, although in Southeast Asia where the lion was mostly unknown, this was transformed into a tiger (macan). According to archipelago folklore, the tiger was an animal of supernatural power whose proverbial bravery was an appropriate symbol for Ali, regarded as the provider of strength and courage. The text forming each of the three macan Ali reads: ‘There is no power and no might except with the will of God the Greatest and the Mightiest’. In both eyes is the word ‘Allah’, although this has been written in reverse in one eye such that the creature looks both ways from the flag. The tail contains the invocation, ‘In the name of Allah, the All Merciful, All Compassionate’ and this is also repeated on the right side of the flag. Along the top of flag is the inscription from the Qur’an, chapter al-Ikhlas (112: 1-4):
Say: He is God, the One and Only;
God, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not, Nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.
On the flag’s left edge, the inscription in reverse suggests the Qur’an, chapter al-Saff(61: 13):
Help from God and a speedyvictory
So give Glad Tidings to the Believers.
Along the bottom is the inscription from the Qur’an, chapter al-An’am (6: 103):
No vision can grasp Him but His grasp is over
All vision: He is above all comprehension,
Yet is acquainted with all things.
The calligraphy is written in the Cirebon style, where the letters are decorated in floral and leaf scroll endings and depict various other talismanic symbols, including the pentagon star and geometrical diagrams containing mystical letters. This type of flag was inspired by the Ottoman Turkish practice, from the fifteenth century onwards, of displaying shield-shaped banners depicting the Ali’s sword. This banner,
formerly a royal heirloom of Cirebon, was said to have been flown on occasions related to the dissemination of Islam. The colours reflect the widely held belief that black (dark blue) and white was a magically potent combination that repelled malevolent influences. Today many descendents of Indonesia’s royalty continue to preserve venerated banners amongst their heirloom regalia.”
From Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilization in South East Asia. 2006.