Indonesian Illuminated Manuscripts

Straddling the equator and bridging the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Indonesian archipelago has been a crossroads for millennia, a place where not only West met East, but where indigenous societies traded as freely in knowledge as they did in pepper and cloves.

The richness of the archipelago's land and seas is mirrored in its linguistic wealth. Hundreds of distinct languages are to be found in Indonesia, and many ethnic groups have their own scripts and writing traditions, as well as distinctive writing materials and media. Yet Indonesian manuscripts are virtually unknown outside of Indonesia. Even scholars have only limited access to the tens of thousands of manuscripts in public and private collections in Indonesia and abroad. This is one reason why the SEADL project is so important.

In 1995, the Lontar Foundation of Jakarta published Illuminations: The Writing Traditions of Indonesia, the first comprehensive treatment in any language on the subject. All of the images in SEADL trace their origin to this publication which focuses on the development of the art of writing in Indonesia, beginning with the diffusion of Indic scripts and the creation of indigenous scripts as seen in early stone and copperplate inscriptions; classical Javanese writings and the Javanese manuscript tradition; the spread and influence of Arabic script and calligraphy and the illuminated book-form manuscripts of the Islamic tradition; the elaborate letters and seals of the Malay writing tradition; manuscripts from Aceh; the lontar, or palm-leaf manuscripts of Bali, Lombok and Sunda; Chinese manuscript literature in Indonesia; the diaries and cassette-like manuscripts of South Sulawesi; and the Batak traditions of Sumatra, including writings on bark, bone, and bamboo.

Although as elsewhere in the world, the print revolution brought about a decline in the manuscript tradition. In Indonesia it remained alive long after it had died in the West. In fact illuminated manuscripts were being produced in Indonesia well into the twentieth century and in Bali, even today, the production of lontar palm-leaf manuscripts continues.

John McGlynn

To read more about Indonesian manuscripts, read our essay, Writing Traditions of Indonesia, by Ann Kumar, Professor and Historian.

Serat Yusuf
Page from a Serat Yusup originating from Pakubuwana IV's royal scriptorium.
Sewaka Darma
A Sundanese language Sewaka Darma manuscript from the hand of the female writer, Buyut Ni Dawit.
Silsilah Raja-Raja Pagaruyung
The family tree of the kings of Pagaruyung : silsilah raja-raja pagaruyung.
Silver seals from Aceh
Four silver seals from Aceh late nineteenth century.
Singosari Stone
The Singosari stone, an example of the monumental style of later kawi script, dating from the Majapahit dynasty (1273 Saka, A. D. 1351) The history of Singosari forms part of the text of Nagarakertagama.
Srikandi Maguru Manah
Candi like frontispiece from the story Srikandhi Meguru Manah copied in Pekalongan c. 1897 north coast.
Suluk Daka
Naskah tulisan pegon ini merupakan turunan semasa Dr. Brandes di Bataviaasch Genootschap (1890an), menyalin dari babon yang tidak disebutkan. Berisikan teks piwulang berjudul Suluk Daka, disusun dalam bentuk tembang macapat, sebanyak empat pupuh: asmarandana, dhandhanggula (di sini dinamakan dalung dawa), sinom, dan dhandanggula lagi. Menjabarkan tentang ajaran tarekat dan makripat.
Suluk Jawa
A Cirebonese manuscript dating from the mid 1700s.
Surat Raja Ali
A letter from Raja Ali of Riau Penyengat to the governor general of the Dutch East Indies, dated A.H. 1265 (1749).
The Seal on this letter has been impressed with the silver seal matrix shown second from right in the figure on page 94.
Surat-surat Raja-raja Bangli
Lontar letters, one open one closed and one in its silk wrapper from the kings of Bangli, klungkung and Gianyar.