Kawi is a writing system used to write the Old Javanese literary language. It is mostly used to write old fables, epics, chonicles, rituals, and in courts of law. It is used both in Java and Bali. The script is derived from Pallava script, an Indic script which itself can be traced back to Brahmi. The script maintains its ancient predecessor's abugida quality. The letters of Kawi are all consonants with an inherent 'a' vowel. This vowel can be altered through the writing of diacritics. Also similar to its predecessors, Kawi has no method of writing consonant clusters, because of the inherent vowels. This is solved through a unique method. All consonant symbols have 'subscript' forms that are written below, beside, or around the initial consonant of a consonant cluster. Thus, Kawi resorted to a shorthand instead of conjunct method, which is used by modern Devanagari and other scripts of India and Southeast Asia.

The consonants expressed by Kawi, with their inherent vowels are ha, na, tsa, ra, ka, da, ta, sa, wa, la, pa, dha, ja, ya, ña, ma, ga, ba, tha, nga, and two alternate signs for 'ra' and 'la' in which the inherent vowel is a schwa. The vowel diacritics are a, uh, i, u, e, and o ('uh' being a poor phonetic representation of a schwa). Beyond these letters there are the vowelless subscript forms. From here Kawi marks a separation from its Indic roots in that it possesses capital letters as well. They are only used for the most common consonants, and will be written throughout the proper noun, not just at the beginning. Punctuation contains standard marks for commas and periods, but also highly ornate symbols for introducing and concluding poems, writing letters to individuals of greater, lesser, or equal rank, or beginning a chapter. There are ten Kawi numerals, distinct from the consonant letters and designated by a special punctuation mark.


Daniels, Peter T., Bright, William. The World's Writing Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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