Alphabets and writing of Bali
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Original Writing in Indonesia

Many scholars have studied the scripts that were found in Indonesia, for example Prof. Krom, Prof. Kern, Prof Damais, Prof. Brandes, Prof. Stutterheim, Prof. Goris, Prof. Calenfels, Prof. Moens, and others. Indonesia entered their historical period started from the finding of inscription of East Kalimantan, in Kutai. Since this finding until the end of 5th century the scripts found in Indonesia showing the characteristic of Indian scripts, and it might came together with the Hinduism or Buddhism in Indonesia.
The following description is based on the conclusion by Prof. J.G. de Casparis one of the expert who studied Indonesian culture seriously. Scripts found before second half of 8th century.

The Origin of Writing

Early Pallava scripts, which is basically agreed that the scripts found on the Yupa ( stone pole ) in Kutai represents the Pallava scripts. General shape of the scripts is beautiful, although many strokes to long, straight and vertical, with the straight angle, but common expression of the scripts is round, and makes a nice curve. Shape of the serifs, if the alphabet is to be written with more than one vertical lines, it will be put on the left vertically. The scripts having horizontal line start are GA, SA, JA, BA, KHA, NA,DHA, and LA. These are without serif. MA is written to small and under the level of other scripts. T is expressed with single spiral and the shape is the oldest one and very close with Iksavakus from Andhara Pradesh, and the scripts on inscription of Nagarjunakonda, inscription of Badravarman in Cho Dinh at the end of 4th century. The scripts on inscription of Cho Dinh have great similarity with scripts on pillar inscription of Ruvanvalisaya at Ameradhapura, Srilangka, which was issued by king Buddhadasa in 337 - 365 AD.

Later Pallava Scripts

In this period appeared many modifications. It was probable that this period is the birth of the system "same height" of the scripts. Based on intensive study in South India and South Asia it is possible that this is from the period of 8th to 9th century. The script showing a principle concept between which is the true font, and which is as decoration or accessories. The modification is observable on NA, LA, and KHA. Some sample of these scripts were written on:

  1. Inscription of Tuk Mas near Magelang, near Yogyakarta. Prof. Krom analyzed this as from the year of 680 AD
  2. Çriwijaya inscriptions which has the date respectively 683 AD, 684 AD, and 686 AD.

Early Kawi Scripts ( ça. 750 - 925 AD )
Prof. Kern wrote that Scripts of this period as belong to the type of Vengi or Çera, but Prof. Krom considered it as a development of Pallava scripts. A big different from Pallava and Kawi is that Pallava scripts are carved on stone ( lithography ) and Kawi is written on palm leaves. The word " Kawi" means "writer", but later it is used to refer both Old Javanese scripts and Old Javanese language. The language itself picked up a big number of Sanskrit vocabulary.

Old Kawi Scripts

The oldest Kawi scripts were found on a stele of a Ganesha sculpture found at Plumpungan near Salatiga, Dinoyo with the date of 760 AD. The most interesting character of the scripts is double vertical lines, and is stoke at the base. There are many inscriptions from this period, one was found at Ligor, South Thailand, which is issued by one of Sriwijaya king dated 775 AD a proof that Sriwijaya ever controled South Thailand.

Standard Form of Early Kawi
The scripts appeared during the rule of king Rakai Kayu Wangi ( 856 - 882 AD), Which were written on bronze plates and stone. At that time writing is fully functional, without any accessory, regularity, balance of space, and the use of serifs are consistent with all alphabets.

At the end of this period, on an inscription issued by king Balitung ( 910 ), king Daksa ( 919 ) there arose tendency to write angular and vertical.

writing evolutionLater Kawi Scripts

Later Kawi Scripts ( ca. 925 - 1250 AD )
During this period 3 types of writings were found. First is scripts from the period of King Daksa ( 910 - 921 AD ), King Tulodong ( 919 - 921 AD ), and King Wawa ( 921 - 929 AD ), and the last one was from King Sindok ( 929 - 947 AD). General impression of the scripts are single line and very regular and functional. Second type is originated from inscriptions of king Erlangga ( 1019 - 1042 AD ), and an inscription in Kalkutta dated back 1041 AD. The character of the scripts is the balance between functional and decoration. what is called quadrangular scripts, with the widest use in Java. Some inscriptions with this writing style such as Ganesha statue at Karangrejo bearing the date 1124 AD, Gowa Gajah, and an inscription found at the village of Ngantang bearing the date 1057 AD and mentions that the kingdom of Panjalu was victorious, issued by king Jayabhaya. This king had a very famous forecast about the future of Indonesia, in which some aspect of his vision were proved to be correct.

15th Scripts

scripts from Majapahit Period ( ca. 1250 - 1450 AD ),During this period the type of scripts were various and it looked to have developed locally. At least 7 types have been identified such as: ( 1 ) Scripts from King Kretarajasa dated back to 1292 AD, ( 2 ) Scripts from 1350 - 1450 AD is very ornamental,( 3 ) An inscription found in Cirebon and manuscripts of Kunjarakarna, the Buddhist history. Most of the scripts are single line, quadrangular, and simple cursives.( 4 ) Inscriptions issued by Pajajaran kingdom ( now West Java or Sunda land ) using Sundanese language, which based on it's contents and style can be associated with the date of 1333 AD.
( 5 ) Scripts from West Sumatera near Bukit Tinggi issued by King Adityawarman dated 1356 - 1375 AD. The type is closer to Majapahit compared to Pajajaran The scripts are quadrangular, but the corner is made round, not broken. ( 6 ) Arabic scripts from 1297 AD issued by Sultan Malik Al Saleh, and a Malay inscription from 1380 showing the influence of Arabic style. ( 7 ) Inscriptions found in Bali such as Cempaga C from 1324 AD and Panulisan dated 1430 AD. The scripts is very beautiful and quarangular.

Later Nagari Scripts on Indonesian Inscriptions
The oldest Nagari scripts found in Indonesia have a close relation with the scripts of Pala in North India. In Java this type of scripts were used during the end of 8th century. Most of the use is for the Buddhist credo and written on a surface of a clay tablet put in a stupa, the top of Buddhist temple. The credo reads : ye hetu prabhawa dharma etc.. In Bali there were hundreds of stupas found at Pejang area. One inscription from the period of Kretanegara ( 1267 - 1292 AD ) chiseled in the back of an Amogapasha statue shows a very close relation with scripts of Chalukya in Gujarat, India of 13th century such as the inscription of Bhimadeva II. The style can not be compared to the finding in South East Asia, since it was believed to be local development, and was independent.

Middle Indonesia Scripts

Indonesia's Script from the Middle of 15th Century

It is very small number of inscriptions can be attributed to the period around 1450 AD. Then is was followed by a dark period until the end of 16th century. After this dark period than suddenly found modern Javanese scripts. This scripts is still being used until now with a very small modification. Some inscriptions showing the type of this writing is found at Suradakan dated back to 1447 AD, and one inscription very close to the end of 14th century is from Majapahit such as Trawulan V, and a bronze plate found at Renek village, and Sendang Sedati dated back to 1473 AD. The basic character of the script is very ornamental, simple cursives, and quadrangular. Some inscriptions found in central Java such as Candi Sukuh dated back to 1439 and 1457 found at Ngadonan, Salatiga, and one from Mount Merbabu, Semarang dated back 1449.

Current Indonesia Scripts

It is strange despite the fact that Indonesia has more than 10 major ethnic group, there are only 2 ethnics have been introducing writing that is Javanese and Balinese. The scripts showing a very logical evolution from the previous scripts ever existed in Indonesia such as mentioned above. After 15th century as mentioned above was followed by a dark period about the history of Indonesian writing, no inscription was found as the missing link between current period and 15th century. Most historians supposed that since that decade that Indonesian writers used perishable materials for their writing such as lontar palm leaves so it would not last long. If we compare the writing of Java and Bali with those now used in Thailand and Cambodia, some showing similar type, and we believe that these are originating from the same roots that was weather Pallava, Vengi or Çera scripts in India. Current Balinese scripts have different style with Javanese in the overall style, Balinese scripts are round, while Javanese scripts are quadrangular, while the functional stroke can be traced as the same symbolization. Following table is presented the type of an alphabets or syllables so far found in the inscriptions issued by kings of Indonesia from 5th century up today.

I Made Terima
February 2003

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Among various tour packages and tour options in Bali there are some tours which can be said always on the publications and interest a large part of travellers to Bali. Kintamani mountain tour sits at the first number as the most popular sightseeing tour, second is Taman Ayun and Tanah Lot tour, third is Uluwatu temple tour.