Kawi script

Kawi script
Laguna Copperplate Inscription.gif
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription, a text in Kawi script from the Philippines, 900 CE.
Type Abugida
Languages Indonesian Languages, Philippine Languages, Malaysian Languages
Time period c. 8th–16th century
Parent systems
Sister systems Balinese
Old Sundanese
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols.

Kawi (also known as Kavi) is the name given to the writing system originating in Java and used across much of Maritime Southeast Asia in inscriptions and texts from the 8th century to around 1500 AD.[1] It is also the name of the language used in these inscriptions and texts, more generally called "Old Javanese".



Kawi inscription.jpg

The literary genre written in this alphabet is called Kakawin.

Kawi is derived from the Pallava script (also known as Grantha) mentioned by scholars of Southeast Asian studies such as George Coedes[citation needed] and D. G. E. Hall[citation needed] as the basis of several writing systems of Southeast Asia. The Pallava script was primarily used to write middle Tamil, however, modern Tamil uses a modern script derived from Vatteluttu which itself is derived from the Pallava script.

The earliest known texts in Kavi date from the Singhasari kingdom in eastern Java. The more recent scripts were extant in the Majapahit kingdom, also in eastern Java, Bali, Borneo and Sumatra.

The scripts are abugidas, meaning that characters are read with an inherent vowel. Diacritics are used, either to suppress the vowel and represent a pure consonant, or to represent other vowels.

A well known document written in Kawi is the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, found in 1989 [2] in Laguna de Bay, in the metroplex of Manila, Philippines. It has inscribed on it a date of Saka era 822, corresponding to May 10, 900 CE,[3] and is written in Old Malay containing numerous loanwords from Sanskrit and a few non-Malay vocabulary elements whose origin is ambiguous between Old Javanese and Old Tagalog.[4] This document, among other discoveries made in recent years in the country such as the Golden Tara of Butuan and 14th century pottery and gold jewellery artifacts found in Cebu, is highly important in revising the ancient history of the Philippines.

Kawi also means "marble" in the Sanskrit language.

The "Butuan Ivory Seal" (The left hand image is the seal itself; the right hand image shows how a print from the seal would appear.)
The Kawi lettering reads "Butban". The three square seal style characters are BA, TA and NA; the leftward curl underneath BA is the /u/ vowel diacritic, changing the syllable to BU; the small heart-shaped character under TA is the subscript conjunct form of BA which also removes the default /a/ vowel from TA; the large curl to the upper right is the Kawi virama, which indicates the default /a/ vowel on NA is not pronounced. The three blocks of characters together read "[Bu][Tba][N-]. In both Balinese script and Javanese script, which are descended from Kawi, the word is spelled in a very similar pattern, using a similar /u/ diacritic, conjunct form for B, and virama.

See also


  1. ^ De Casparis, J. G. Indonesian Palaeography : A History of Writing in Indonesia from the beginnings to c. AD 1500, Leiden/Koln, 1975
  2. ^ "Expert on past dies; 82". Philippine Daily Inquirer. 2008-10-21. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20081021-167699/Expert-on-past-dies-82. Retrieved 2008-11-17. 
  3. ^ Laguna Copperplate Inscription - Article in English
  4. ^ Postma, Antoon. (1992). The Laguna Copper-Plate Inscription: Text and Commentary. Philippine Studies vol. 40, no. 2:183-203

External links

Tiongson J. F., (2008). Laguna copperplate inscription: a new interpretation using early Tagalog dictionaries. Bayang Pinagpala. Retrieved September 10, 2008, from http://www.bayangpinagpala.org/

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