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ꦧꦱꦗꦮ (Bhāṣa Kawi, Old Javanese)
Native to Java, Bali, Madura, Lombok, Indonesia; Philippines
Region Indonesia, Philippines
Extinct literary language, archaic by 14th century
Language codes
ISO 639-2 kaw
ISO 639-3 kaw
Linguist list

Kawi (from Sanskrit: kavi, "poet") is a literary and prose language on the islands of Java, Bali, and Lombok, based on Old Javanese, a language with a sizable vocabulary of Sanskrit loanwords. Kawi is the ancestor language of modern Javanese. The name "kawi" is derived from the root ku, which in Sanskrit means “poet”, and, in derived forms, a “wise, educated man”. The syllabic meter of Kawi poetry is sekar kawi, which means “flowers of the language”, sekar itself deriving from the Sanskrit "sekhara" (“garland”).[citation needed] All Javanese languages are hierarchical and stratified, with strict social conventions for appropriate language subsets to be used for one's superiors or social and cultural functions. Kawi is commonly considered the pinnacle language.[clarification needed]

Writing system[edit]

Kawi uses a unique script for writing commonly called hanacaraka; the more correct term is "Dentawiyanjana". It is a syllabic alphabet consisting of 20 letters and ten numbers and a number of vowel and consonant modifiers. The script of the island of Bali, heavily influenced by neighboring Java, has a unique sub-form called Tulisan Bali. Prince Aji Caka (an Indian migrant) is credited with establishing the first known kingdom of Java, called Java Dvipa (Swarna Dvipa) and also introducing the Kawi language was and the twenty letters of the syllabic hanacaraka script.[1] The Javanese also credit the language to Aji Saka, a legendary hero of Medang Kamulan Kingdom. The earliest known inscription of Kawi is found at Candhi Gunung Wukir, in Magelang, East Java, Indonesia.


Kawi is not truly extinct as a spoken language. It is commonly used in wayang golek, wayang wong and wayang kulit, in addition to high activities such as a Javanese wedding, especially for the stylised meeting ritual of bride's parents with groom's parents in the ceremonies of Peningsetan and Panggih. Archaically or for certain nobles very strongly attached to tradition, it is used for the Midodareni, Siraman and Sungkeman ceremonies of the Javanese wedding.

The island of Lombok has adopted Kawi as its regional language, reflecting the very strong influence of neighbouring East Java. Today it is taught in primary school education as part of the compulsory secondary language unit of National curriculum. Traditionally, Kawi is written on lontar prepared palm leaves.

Kawi remains in occasional use as an archaic prose and literary language, in a similar fashion to Shakespeare-era English, which has such aesthetically and arguably more cultivated words as thy, thee, hast and so forth.


There are many important literary works written in Kawi, most notably Empu Tantular's epic poem, "Kakawin Sutasoma" (E.M. Uhlenbeck, 1964: "A Critical Survey of Studies on the Languages of Java and Madura", The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff), from which is taken the National motto of Indonesia: "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika". Although often glibly translated as "Unity in Diversity", it is more correctly rendered as "[although] scattered, remaining [as] one"— referring to the scattered islands of the archipelago nation, not as an expression of multicultural solidarity as may be perceived in modern times.

A more modern work is the poem "Susila Budhi Dharma", by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo, the founder of Subud. In this work, he provides a framework for understanding the experience of the latihan kejiwaan.

Famous poems, epics and other literature include:

Prominent authors[edit]

The following are notable authors of Kawi:


The first scholar to address Kawi in a serious academic manner was Humboldt, who considered it the father of all Malay-Polynesian languages. Furthermore, he deprecated misconceptions about Aki being wholly influenced by Sanskrit, finding that Kawi did not use verb inflexion, thus differing from Sanskrit's highly developed inflectional system. In Kawi language, the meaning of a sentence must be grasped through word order and context. Humboldt further noted that Kawi utilizes tense distinctions, with past, present, and future, and differentiated moods via the imperative and subjunctive.

Numerous scholars have studied the language, including the Dutch expatriate Indonesian Prof. Dr. Petrus Josephus Zoetmulder S.J., who contributed an enormous quantity of original texts and serious scholarly study to the language, and his pupil and associate, Father Dr. Ignatius Kuntara Wiryamartana. Other eminent Indonesian scholars of the language include Poedjawijatna, Sumarti Suprayitna, Poerbatjaraka and Tardjan Hadiwidjaja.

See also[edit]



  • De Casparis, J. G., Indonesian Palaeography : A History of Writing in Indonesia from the beginnings to c. AD 1500, Leiden/Koln, 1975
  • Florida, Nancy K., Javanese Literature in Surakarta Manuscripts: Introduction and Manuscripts of the Karaton Surakarta, Cornell Univ Southeast Asia, 1993 ISBN 0-87727-603-X
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt’s "Über die Kawi-Sprache (On the Kawi Language)": 1836
  • Poerbatjaraka dan Tardjan Hadiwidjaja, 1952, Kepustakaan Djawa'. Djakarta/Amsterdam: Djambatan.
  • Teselkin, Old Javanese (Kawi)
  • E.M. Uhlenbeck, 1964, di dalam bukunya : "A Critical Survey of Studies on the Languages of Java and Madura", The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff
  • Zurbuchen, Introduction to Old Javanese Language and Literature: A Kawi Prose Anthology
  • P.J. Zoetmulder, S.O. Robson, Darusuprapta, 1995, Kamus Jawa Kuna–Indonesia, Jakarta: Gramedia dan Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV). Bekerja sama dengan S.O. Robson. Penerjemah: Darusuprapta dan Sumarti Suprayitna. ISBN 979-605-347-0
  • 1992–1993, Bahasa parwa : tatabahasa Jawa Kuna: Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press. Bekerja sama dengan I.J. Poedjawijatna. Cetakan ulang dari edisi tahun 1954

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kawi_language — Please support Wikipedia.
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