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Bali Blog - Article About Bali Holiday Island

Bali Writings

10 February 2009

In this era of technology, Balinese people still maintain the ancient tradition of writing lontar (made of palm leaf). Balinese people who learn arts are so proud when they can both write and read spiritual knowledge in the form of lontar. This can clearly be seen from the members of Sekaa Pesantian (a group of Balinese spiritual song fans). These groups, which are well developed in Bali, are more satisfied when they present wiramas/tembang (Balinese spiritual song) from Cakepan (book) in the form of lontar (made of palm leaf).

Therefore, the writing of some traditional stories like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Tantri, Kamandaka, Babab, Prasasti and other manuscripts about Etiquette by using Balinese letters are becoming more popular. Not to be compared with the development of technology in producing books by the use of paper, the process of writing lontar is evidence that Balinese people still love and maintain their ancestors’ traditions well.

Karangasem, one of the nine regencies situated in the eastern part of Bali, has many places where the people like to write lontar, for example at Tenganan, Sidemen, Budakeling amongst others. In regencies such as Denpasar, Badung, and Klungkung, people have just started writing lontar. They may do it simply for their own purposes or when there are special orders. ‘This is because writing lontar is so complicated and takes a lot of time,” explained I Wayan Sukayasa, a scholar of Balinese literature who teaches at the Hindu University of Denpasar.

The tradition of writing lontar will always be preserved as it is compulsory for the Balinese people to have awig-awig (local written rules) in their village to be able to live peacefully. A new awig-awig should be socialized and legalized by conducting a so-called PasupatiAwig-awig ceremony where many distinguished people are present like the Regent, Sub district Head, Village Headman, and all the village members. The “to be” legalized awig-awig is placed on a beautifully decorated jempana (Balinese traditional litter) and carried to the place where the ceremony is held, accompanied by tabuh beleganjur (Balinese Orchestra). All people present at this ceremony are very honored to be welcoming in there new awig-a wig with the hope that it will enable them to live together peacefully.

Balinese people tend to be more afraid of breaking their awig-awig than the government rules because of the different kinds of punishment. Those who break awig-awig not only get sekala (physical and material) punishment, but also niskala (spiritual) punishment. As a result, it is not surprising that Balinese people are not afraid of building something on a jalur hijau area (jalur hijau or green belt according to the government rule it is forbidden to build something in this area) but, they are very afraid of cutting down trees on an area that belongs to an awig-a wig.

In relation to develop of tourism in Bali, there is a new purpose’ in writing lontar. These new lontar which have been completed with pictures of the characters of its stories are produced as souvenirs for tourists. Therefore, it is not surprising to find many lontars of the stories of Mahabharata, Ramayana, Tantri Kamandaka available at Art Markets, Art shops, and many tourism locations. Invitation cards for a marriage party are also made in the form of lontar to make it look ancient’ and have magical power.

If looked after, lontar may last for 200 years. When the lontar starts to look like it is damaged beyond repair, Balinese people Nedun (make a copy) from its original form. This is why the knowledge through lontar has been so well preserved and maintained in Bali. It is advisable to buy lontar as souvenirs while you are in Bali, which also means that you have taken an interest in preserving Balinese Culture.

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