The Language of Balinese Shadow Theater

The Language of Balinese Shadow Theater

by Mary Sabine Zurbuchen


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The Language of Balinese Shadow Theater by Mary Sabine Zurbuchen

Mary Zurbuchen demonstrates how the linguistic codes of this rich art form mediate between social groups, cultural influences, historical periods, and conceptual schemes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691608129
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library Series
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.00(h) x 0.80(d)

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The Language of Balinese Shadow Theater

By Mary Sabina Zurbuchen


Copyright © 1987 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-09428-1



This is our fabric, the language is, and it's very specific It's really like a warp and a woof The idea that there is an archetype, either deep in your psyche or in a metaphysical world, is nothing compared with the fact that language is flooded with archetypes as we write or read Powerhouses and residence these words are, and they're built into a vast fabric and they extend way back in time — Robert Duncan, "Warp and Woof Notes from a Talk"


The language world of Bah is one of remarkable richness and diversity in all its spoken, written, sung, and chanted manifestations. So various are the different linguistic forms employed, so complex the interweaving of vocal styles and literary genres, that both language and literature seem a tangled confusion that escapes characterization and conceals both sources and structures. Yet this linguistic proliferation is indeed like a richly woven fabric, no matter how complex the design, a discernable warp and weft underlie its form and provide essential unity.

Two general descriptive dimensions have long been important in language studies· the diachronic, or historical and developmental aspect, and the synchronic, or timeless and systemic one Like the unjoined warp and weft in weaving, however, which unloomed have neither the art nor serviceability of textiles, the abstractions of diachronicity and synchronicity, if taken individually, do not resemble a language. Both these notions must be employed to highlight those features of the general Balinese linguistic setting that facilitate analysis in following chapters.

Diachronic Considerations

Balinese is an Austronesian language of the Hesperonesian subgroup, and it is related to the languages of Bali's closest island neighbors, Lombok to the east and Java to the west. On the basis of phonological correspondences, Esser groups Bahnese with Sasak of Lombok and Sumbawan of western Sumbawa, making Balinese part of an Eastern Indonesian subgrouping. Yet this assignment is in some ways unsatisfying because both Bali's cultural history and its present-day linguistic forms make us turn west toward Java (and even beyond Indonesia, to India) as well as east toward Lombok. While it is theoretically useful to examine a stratum of Balinese that might be called "indigenous" or "pre-Sanskrit, pre-Javanese influence," and thus that might be closer to some Eastern Indonesian languages in terms of phonology, in reality such a stage of the language is unrecoverable, instead of being able to look at the language of a human group at that abstract level of investigation, one finds only a very limited list of relationships between abstract "sound" categories.

The fact is that Bali from the time of the earliest written records had already come under the influence of non-Balinese cultural and linguistic traditions. We have no way of knowing how Balinese was spoken before the adoption on the island of certain Buddhist and Hindu ideas, along with the use of Sanskrit, some time before the ninth century A.D., the period of the oldest dated metal and stone inscriptions. Aside from a relatively small number of the oldest inscriptions that are entirely in Sanskrit, including the Buddhist clay seals that are supposed to date from the eighth century A.D., Balinese inscriptions prior to the time of the first close ties with Java are in a mixture of Sanskrit and Old Balinese (Coedès 1968:129, Goris 1954).

It appears that, just as in other Southeast Asian areas where Indian influence led to the use of Sanskrit, the language as it was adopted in Bah did not alter indigenous sound systems at all (Gonda 1973 579) Sanskrit seems to have functioned as a court-based medium for the teaching of literature and religion, and it was never spoken or even studied by the population at large Yet Indie words were used in great numbers in the Old Balinese inscriptions, this fact, while shedding little light on the nature of ancient spoken Balinese, does raise interesting issues about the communicative situation that existed between the kings authorizing the writing of inscriptions and the communities of presumably nonliterate villagers who received them We will return to this relationship between the "speakers" and "hearers" implied by the ancient Balinese edicts

The general consensus among historians regarding the spread of Indic notions of religion and statecraft in the Indonesian archipelago has shifted from a characterization in terms of "colonization" or "Indian expansion" to a view that gives native peoples a more active role in searching out and incorporating Hindu and Buddhist cultural features This view proposes a syncretic process of acculturation whereby priests and scholars, not necessarily of Indian blood but possibly Indonesians who had studied in India or at one of the monasteries within the archipelago, contextualized indigenous kings and native religion in terms of highly congenial ideas expressed in the sacred texts and epic literature brought from India (Stutterheim 1935 7, Bernet Kempers 1977 40)

Using writing systems whose origins were Indic, learned officials in the Old Balinese courts created inscriptional monuments to the supremacy and royal decrees of the rulers They mainly employed a script derived from the Pallava writing systems of southern India, which had spread in ancient times through Ceylon as well as mainland, peninsular, and insular Southeast Asia The form of this script used in the Old Balinese period is generally called "Early Kawi," emphasizing its close relationship with contemporaneous scripts of Java There is no definitive proof, however, that the scripts used in ancient Java and Bali might not have developed separately from a common Pallava source (Bernet Kempers 1977 43)

Indian influences on the Old Balinese courts came from diverse sources, and their paths of transmission are difficult to trace — a fact that is borne out by the history of writing in Bali For in addition to the Pallava-derived "Kawi" syllabary, we also find the "Early (or Pre-) Nagari" script of North Indian origin, the ancestor of modern Indian Devanagari The use of this script in ancient Java and Bali is tied to the spread of Mahayana Buddhism In one particular case, the form of the Early Nagari script used on a non-Buddhist stone pillar erected in southern Bah in the early tenth century suggests a possibly direct link with ongoing changes in the Early Nagari of the same period in India (de Casparis 1975 37), that link may, perhaps, have been a native Indian scribe engaged at court

Whether directly or indirectly infused, however, Indic tradition emerges not only in the written shape but also in the language of the Old Balinese inscriptions The priests and scholars responsible for directing the Old Balinese kings' ritual and civic affairs were perhaps initially literate only in Sanskrit Yet by the time of the earliest (late ninth century) inscriptions, they were inscribing native formal discourse — what we know as Old Balinese but which by now was mixed with Sanskrit words and phrases — in the Indian-derived script They used Indian concepts to organize increasingly centralized bureaucracies, implementing complex systems of hermitage and temple management, taxation, corvée, irrigation management, and justice

The character of the early inscriptions leads one to the conclusion that even prior to the late ninth century the Balinese had been hearing and using some Indic vocabulary in the context of their relations with religious centers and courts Gonda (1973 180) notes that most of the Sanskrit terms in the Old Balinese inscriptions are used in connection with the king, and that "many Sanskrit items occur only, or predominantly, in those passages of the inscriptions which contain the date or refer to religious ceremonies, festivals etc" In the very oldest inscriptions there are Sanskrit titles for court and religious officials (e g, senapati 'commander', bhiksu 'monk'), as well as Sanskrit roots serving as Balinese word stems, for example, partapanan 'hermitage', from Sanskrit tapa 'austerities, solitary life'.

The sociolinguistic situation in the Old Balinese courts was already complex. On the one hand the king dealt with his Sanskrit-titled religio-political officials in formal speech heavily laced with Sanskrit and heard himself consecrated in religious ceremonies using Sanskrit prayers and chants, some of which were composed in Bah following Indian models On the other hand the village leaders used a language that was some form of Old Balinese — a language that represented the populace which formed the kingdom's economic base and retained the traditions of village autonomy, native religion, and indigenous social organization even as it embraced aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism expressed in Indie terms. For the common Balinese, "Sanskritization" was profoundly a linguistic phenomenon, and the monks and scribes were agents of an ongoing cultural revolution the advent of literacy in the archipelago. To honor the king properly, Sanskrit terms were necessarily used by courtiers and village representatives, to avoid alienating his subjects, the king could not move too far away from the Balinese linguistic framework. After reading the inscriptions, one imagines that a good deal of paraphrase and cross-linguistic explanation went on in the Old Balinese courts as boundaries, taxes, ritual obligations, and inheritance settlements were debated by the king's council, which heard from village elders and scholar-priests alike.

The sociolinguistic aspects of the Old Balinese court, then, promoted the use of different languages or speech styles by different speakers in different settings. A crucial result of this "multiple code" communication was the need for translation and paraphrase The king, in recording his edicts, would wish to make certain that the Sanskrit words constituting as well as recording his authority and divinity were understood by the general populace. He was after all not addressing himself only to the gods or to an abstract posterity, but to a specific and contemporary Balinese audience, as we know from the speech context reflected in the inscriptions.

A series of the oldest inscriptions is characterized by an opening formula: Yumu pakatahu sarbwa [X, which may be glossed as 'Let it be known by you all', with [X] standing for various terms referring to the intended audience. Yumu is a second-person pronoun probably related to the -mu of Old Malay and the kamu and kanyu of Old Javanese, the inscriptional context strongly suggests a non-honorific sense, such as fits with the notion of a ruler addressing his subjects. Pakatahu is a derivation composed of the root tahu 'know', plus the nominalizing prefix paka-, which has both causative function (emphasizing the result of an action) and imperative force. Sarbwa is a written variant of Sanskrit sarwwa 'all'

The titles referring to the king's audience vary from one edict to another, but many of them allude to age status, which seems to have always been an important social referent in Bah. Among the terms meaning 'elders' are kiha (reminiscent of the Javanese honorifics ki and kyai), kumpi (in Modern Balinese, 'great-grandfather'), and sanat (Sanskrit). For 'younger (persons)' we find dyah, kumara (Sanskrit), and addhi (cf. Modern Balinese adi 'younger sibling') The mixture of indigenous terms with Sanskrit borrowings is characteristic of the edicts as a whole.

From the point of view of the Balinese villagers, the inscriptions authorized by the king were kept as relics, repositories of the power of the king's word. In certain cases their contents may have been explained to the general public, in colloquial Balinese, on holy days when the stone or bronze plate was ritually cleansed, given offerings, and read aloud. Readings of inscriptions do still take place in many Balinese villages that store the sacred heirlooms, with archaeological specialists called in to decipher the old script.

The Old Balinese kings seem to have been aware of the impact of the introduction of new cultural attributes through the medium of a new language. On at least one occasion a Balinese king inscribed his edict in two languages, and even in two different scripts, giving us a record in stone of functionally distinct linguistic codes in ancient Bali. This inscription is the Blanjong pillar of Sanur, dated A.D. 914 (Coedès 1968:129; Bernet Kempers 1977:103), which tells of the victories of a king called Sri Kesari Warmma (déwa). One side of the pillar contains an Old Balinese form of the message in Early Nagari script, the other side, in Sanskrit, is in the Pallava-derived Kawi script. This unique and somewhat cryptic form was perhaps intended to blend and unify the two literate traditions then active in Bali, rendering the more indigenous sounds in the more remote script while elevating the "local" alphabet by using it to record the prestigious pure Sanskrit version of the text.

The form of the Blanjong pillar edict is conservative in that it throws nothing away, making use of all available scripts and idioms; at the same time it is also quite radical in its crisscrossing of foreign and indigenous elements. Yet however it came about, the pillar is an early textual manifestation of a crucial aspect of Balinese language and literature from ancient times up to the present- the preservation of various "archaic" linguistic codes and their translation or interpretation via more "contemporary" ones. The many ways in which this principle has operated and, indeed, continues to operate will become clearer as this study proceeds.

Moving through the Old Balinese or "Hindu-Balinese" historical frame, when the island was acculturating language and ideas that were originally Indian, we come to a period when Bah was closely tied with Java politically, and when Javanese-Balinese cultural exchange no doubt intensified. This period was probably initiated by the marriage in the late tenth century of Udayana of Bali and the Javanese princess Mahendradatta, although there is no reason to completely rule out the possibility of dynastic intermarriage even before this time. The famous son of this king and queen of Bah was Airlangga, who reigned in East Java, and presumably also held some sway over Balinese affairs, from A.D. 1019-1049. It is possible that at least by this time the most ancient extant examples of Old Javanese literature, such as the kakawin Ramayana written in central Java during the ninth century, were brought to Bali, where they were studied and copied. This would also have held true for the growing body of Old Javanese poems, treatises, didactic works, and so forth written in East Java. These works in palm-leaf manuscript form (lontar, rontal) gave impetus to the assimilation of new ideas from Java, leading to a "Javano-Balinese" cultural period following upon the age of the Old Balinese rulers. Javanese influence began to be felt in many spheres of Balinese life (all of which probably utilized the growing numbers of written manuscripts from Java), including literature, religion, philosophy, statecraft, and the arts and sciences.

In the context of language history, an especially significant change took place in late tenth-century Bah. During the reign of Airlangga's parents, court officials began to write inscriptions in Old Javanese, indeed, after A.D. 1016 there are no more inscriptions in Old Balinese. While one can only speculate on the precise historical conditions that accompanied this change in the code of the inscriptions, it seems clear that the Balinese kings were again adopting and adapting a congenial model of written expression for their own needs. In the ninth century, priests trained in Sanskrit were an important institution at court because of their literacy; in the eleventh century, the highly developed Old Javanese court-based code became available and desirable as Bali's political and cultural ties with Java became stronger.


Excerpted from The Language of Balinese Shadow Theater by Mary Sabina Zurbuchen. Copyright © 1987 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • CONTENTS, pg. vii
  • PREFACE, pg. ix
  • ORTHOGRAPHY, pg. xv
  • APPENDIX, pg. 267
  • GLOSSARY, pg. 269
  • BIBLIOGRAPHY, pg. 275
  • INDEX, pg. 287

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