Jul 15, 2008

Aksara Bali - Balinese script

One thing that learners of Balinese will notice is that they will rarely encounter the language in some type of written form - it's more of a spoken language, although this situation is rapidly changing. For a language scholar such as myself, I've had more exposure to written Balinese, but the struggle is kept to a minimum since Balinese is presently predominantly written with Roman script. However, there is a resurgence of Aksara Bali/Tulisan Bali 'Balinese alphabet/Balinese script', which is largely based on the Brahmi scripts of South India. (You might have seen other examples such as Thai, Devanagari, Khmer, Tamil, and the like - all these are based on Brahmi.)

Here's a great site regarding the Balinese alphabet:


The story is this, basically: most Balinese learn the script during their formative years in SD (elementary school), but most soon forget this afterward. The only types of text where this script regularly appears are traditional religious texts and treatises, usually incised on dried strips of palm leaf called lontar. NB: This is where Balinese gets its curvaceous nature - any extended straight line would tear the palm leaf.

Brahmi scripts are difficult to understand on the one hand - they are usually described as abugida, which simply means a syllabic-based alphabet where all consonants have an inherent vowel. In order to change the vowel, one must add specific diacritics to the original consonant.

So, how does Balinese do that? Well, let's take the first letter, ha, which is:

This, of course, has the inherent vowel /a/. In order to change this vowel, diacritical marks must be added to this consonant.




Now, another complication in Brahmi-based scripts is the fact that traditionally, words were not separated by spacing; only clauses and paragraphs were. Additionally, since there are plenty of "closed syllables" (i.e. syllables that end in consonants) in Balinese, there is a lot of potential confusion with using a syllabic alphabet when it comes to consonant clusters. For example, if one had to write panak Sri 'Sri's child', it would be incorrect to write:

This transliterates to
*panakaśari, which doesn't mean anything in Balinese. So, Balinese and other Brahmi scripts have developed alternate forms of these consonants, which are usually referred to as conjunct consonantal forms. Thus, the most appropriate way of writing this would be pa-na-kśri, with the ś and r in their conjunct forms (which in turn "kills" the inherent vowel of the two first consonants in this cluster, i.e. kś):

And then one last example, this time with multiple clusters - the common benediction/greeting in Bali Om Swastyastu 'May all be well'. It is usually written Om (its own special symbol since it is so ritually charged) Swa-stya-stu:

Inggih wantah asapunika mangkin. Titiang mapamit dumun.

[Yes, that will be all for right now. I will take my leave.]


Theresa said...

This sure is tough stuff.

maxiewawa said...

Everything looks so pretty! Looks like an Indian script. Not surprising I guess, considering the Hindu influence on Bali.

Ed said...


Yep, this is definitely not for the fainthearted. Now you can see why most people forget it once they learn it at school.


It is indeed very pretty. I guess if you want to develop an aesthetically pleasing script, start writing on those palm leaves!

james said...

It's indeed beautiful but how close is this typeface to the actual writing? the font seems written with with a flex nib (not the best choice for palm leaves!) a la Copperplate script only with horizontal swells. Do you know what the writing instrument was for such a delicate surface?

Ed said...


It's pretty close. Here's an actual lontar page:


First, mature lontar palm leaves are dried in the sun, stripped, and then cut into appropriate lengths. Then, a small knife or stylus called a pengropak/pengutik is used to incise the script. The incisions are then blackened by rubbing roasted candlenuts (or kukui, if you're familiar with the Hawaiian name) onto the palm leaf.

Nicholas Cripps said...

It looks nice, similar to the now extinct Tagalog script: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/tagalog.htm

Jesska said...

Hi Guys
i was wondering if one of you could help me? im trying to find brahmi script for 'towards the ocean' or something similar for a tattoo.

Marilyn said...

Hi Ed, I find you EVERYWHERE these days, I'm just starting to teach myself Aksara Bali from the Elem School Books, got the idea this morning ,a key on the internet would sure be helpful! It was REALLY difficult the past three weeks without a good one!! Thanks, Meme J.

Ed said...


"Kelod", right?
Well, I can't post responses with Balinese script here in the comments section, so I will just tell you what characters you need, and then see if you can glean them from the Omniglot page.

- [ka] with pepet [e] diacritic
- [la] with [o] conjunct (remember that [o] has stuff on either side).
- [da] with an adeg-adeg (vowel killer)

Hope this helps.

Meme J,

Kenken kabare! Tiang becik-becik kemanten.

Yeah, elementary school books are a good way to start. Hope to hear from you more often! Suksema banget!

Anonymous said...

I need some help. I want a tattoo of OM symbol, but in Balinese script (aksara Bali). I found one example, but not sure is it ok. So maybe yuo can help me.

Thanks in advance


Anonymous said...


I am looking to get a tattoo of either the word 'identity' or 'belonging' in the balinese script. Could you help please?

Anonymous said...

I want to get a tattoo of the name Boma, which is the spirit demon that hangs above most front doors in southern Bali. Could you suggets how this would be written using the syllabic symbols?

Lara said...

I am searching desperately for someone who can translate a word into the Balinese script for me. The word is 'equality'. I would appreciate every little aid so much.

Shauna said...

I would appreciate any help or direction to finding the Aksara Bali word for enlightenment, or similar meaning. Thanks so much!

Clayton said...

Hi , I want to get a tattoo with the following in the Beatifull Balinese script,Could someone do it for me? or point me in the right direction? I am even happy to pay for it

"Happiness is within me. Have courage, live life Today"

Many thanks in advance

Riani said...

hey i was wanting to get a tattoo in balinese script like the above. but i cant find any that says family. can anyone point me in the right derection or show me what the balinese script for family is?

lnz886 said...


Im looking to get a tattoo in Balinese Script of the words Strength (being able to hold ones own etc) and Passion (relating to passion for life and love etc) can someone be so kind as to provide me some info on the balinese script version?

Thanks :)))

Anonymous said...

I'm looking how to translate this proverb "Berat sama dipikul, Ringan sama di jinjing" in balinese and as well as in aksara. I have found the informatic script on the babadbali website. I just need to know which characters I may use.
Please answer me on ildao(at)hotmail.com
Thank you for you help.
have a nice day

Sheetal said...


I have been looking for someone to write 4 words in aksara Bali for the longest time for a tattoo I intend to get.. words are: daughter; sister; wife & mother.

I would like to have it tattoed in the manner mandarin scriptures are written in; each character placed below the previous. If anyone could help me with this would be great.. please contact me at LATEEHS84@GMAIL.COM

I'm willing to pay as well.. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hello Everybody.....I know it is to late, but better than never.
I'm Balinese, if you need a help about Balinese Script(Aksara Bali) please mail me at: nyomandarma80@gmail.com

Sarah DeRemer said...

Did you ever figure it out? Looking to get that same phrase actually!!!