Balinese use specially processed palm leaves known as lontar to record details for future preservation. Lontar (Palm leaf manuscripts) functioned like a book used by Balinese community to record every event and immortalize literary works. On the palm leaf is inscribed any proceedings so that they can be learned by the following generations.
Lontar is deeply venerated by Balinese, anyone who wishes to read lontar regularly needs to undergo a consecration ritual (mawinten) which must be performed by a brahman priest. Lontar cannot be sold or thrown away when damaged but it can be burned with proper ceremony and offerings.
Lontar is still being used in Bali for rendering texts, especially those which are considered sacred such as history of a clan, religious practices, magic related-incantations, parts of Ramayana or Mahabharata epic, information on horoscopes, soothsaying and calendars, technical literature, science, instruction, medicine, cock fighting, etc.
Nowdays, the popularity of lontar increases due to the growing tendency of older Balinese to transcribe and transliterate the text in relation with religious practices, atman and moksha (soul and liberation), medicine, clan history and classical literature in Old Javanese from paper to lontar. This activity is considered a religious penance in order to gain more insight to the religion and hopefully lead to proper religious conduct that will clear the path of the soul to Sunyaloka (realm of nothingness).
Understanding of Lontar (Balinese Manuscripts)
The word ‘lontar’ is composed of two Old Javanese words, namely ‘ron’ (leaf) and ‘tal’ (rontal tree). The word ‘rontal’ therefore means ‘leaf of the rontal tree’.
The rontal tree belongs to the family of palm trees (Borassus fabellifer).
Due to the shape of its leaves, which are spread like a fan, these trees are also known as ‘fan trees’. The leaves of the rontal tree have always been used for many purposes, such as for the making of plaited mats, palm sugar wrappers, water scoops, orrnaments, ritual tools, and writing material.
The making of lontar leaf paper
In order to produce lontar leaf paper, first of all suitable leaves must be collected, ideally those of approximately 25 cm of length. The leaves are dried for one day, after which the rib of the leaves are cut out. Then the leaves are soaked with water during a length of three days, in order to remove the chlorofyl. The next step is to clean the leaves with a brush of coconut fibre, to remove dirt and the eggs of insects. After the cleaning the leaves are dried again for one day. Then the leaves are steamed above boiling water mixed with liligundi leaves and gambir (uncaria), in order to give the lontar their subtle yellowish-red color.
Then the leaves are dried again. In order to prevent the leaves from wrinkling and being hard to flatten, the drying process is done slowly and in a damp place. As soon as the leaves are supple they are piled up one by one and flattened with a specially therefore designed press. An already completed lontar is used to define the correct lenghth, and then a cempurit (a special perforating device) is used to perforate the leaves in three designated places. Finally each lontar leaf is bound and pressed tighter with the use of screws, their edges are refined with a plane and the tips are cut to make them precisely even. Kincu or paint is used to color the lontar in red, after which the lontar are kept for six months before they are ready for inscriptions.
Lontar are inscribed with a special tool called pengerupak. It is made of iron, with its tip sharpened in a trangular shape so it can make both thick and thin inscriptions. There are two types of pengerupak, one for writing and one for drawing. The pengerupak for writing is approxemately 15 in length and 1.5 cm wide, the pengerupak for drawing has the same length but is only 0.5 – 1 cm wide. There also is a third, longer type which is used for the cutting of rontar leaves.
The subjects that are dealt with in the lontar cover a variety of aspects of human life. These can be classified as follows:
- Weda lontar (Holy Books), written in Sanskrit, Old Javanese and Balinese
- Mantra, incantations originating from Java and Bali
- Kalpasastra, lontar dealing with religious rituals
- Palakerta, dealing with rules and regulations. These can also be found in the books of Dharmasastra, Kerta Sima, and Awig-awig (written and unwritten customary village laws)
- Agama lontar – religious rules, laws, regulations, ethics and morals
- Sasana, guidelines for ethics and morals
- Niti, dealing with juridical systems
- Usada lontar (homeopathy and healing)
- Usada deals with homeopathy and healing, such as Bodhakcapi, Dalem, Kuda, and others
- Wariga lontar (astronomy and astrology)
- Wariga, dealing with astronomy and astrology
- Tutur and Upasdesa, dealing with spiritual science of the universe
- Kanda, dealing with language, mythology, architecture, and other special subjects
- Itahasa lontar (epics)
- Parwa, epics in prose form
- Kakawin, epics based on old Indian rhythms
- Kindung, literature in Balinese, composed with a macepat rhythm, e.g. Sinom and Pangkur
- Pamancangah, dealing with genealogy
- Babad lontar (history and genealogy)
- Stories with a historical aspect, such as Panji Wijaya Krama and Rangga-Lawe, covering the period of the Majapahit Kingdom up to the rebellion of Rangga-Lawe
- Stories of the falling of the Kingdoms in song form, such as Rusak Buleleng
- Lelampahan lontar (performing arts)
- Kekawin, Ramayana, Bharata Yuddha, Bomakawya, Arjunawiwawa, a.o.Stories from ‘Kekawin’ take the classical form, which is called Wayang Purba in Northern Bali, stories derived from ‘Kidung’ take the Wayang Panji form, and stories from ‘Parwa’ take the Wayang Parba form.
- Tantri lontar (stories and notes)
- Tantra Kamandala, stories from ancient Indian literature, written in Sanskrit
- Satua Pengatihan Bali, stories containing Tantric influences or indigenuous Balinese.
- Surat Pengeling-eling, notes written by Royalty and scholars.
- Stories from the performing arts, such as Gambuh, Arja, etc.
- Prasi lontar (illustrated lontar)
The illustrations on these lontar are deried from wayang (shadow puppet plays). The wayang drawings on these lontars can be classified into five groups, based on the stories they tell:
- Kidung, Jayendria, Damputi-Lelangan, Tantri, Brama Pasangupati, a.o.
- Parwa-parwa, such as Adiparwa
- Cerita Tantri, telling the story of King Asmaryadapala’s experiences with Dyah Tantri.
- Animal Fables