The Lontar Master
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ᝰ THE STORY
The hands of Wayan Muditadnyana are featured here reading his favorite handmade lontars— a type of dried palm leaf that is used to record sacred stories, religious texts, and poetry, seen as an important part of Balinese identity and cultural legacy, as it is passed on from one generation to the next one. The lontar is seen as a symbol of spiritual power and is considered to be a living archive of Balinese culture, stories, and knowledge. With fewer and fewer Balinese people able to read and write Sanskrit, it is today extremely hard to execute flawless lontars without any typographic mistakes, but Pak Mudita is a true exception and is believed to be the last remaining person able to perform such manuscripts.
The 92-year-old man is worried about the next generations and has kept a sharp sense of awareness rare to find among people of his age. “I have been wanting to teach the young children of Tenganan the high level of Balinese language. They cry because it is too hard! It seems they no longer have the ambition to learn new things. It makes me dizzy at times to see what our world has become,” he confesses to me, with a soft tone tinted with deep dismay and regret. “Today’s biggest obstacle seems to be the smartphone”, he continues. “Children from the early morning until the late night play the phone! I do not agree with that, but what can I do? They do not want to learn the things they have to learn. When I was a kid, there was no radio, no TV, no phone. Our lifestyle strictly adhered to the Balinese cultural core. My childhood was filled with puppet shows, reading lontars, writing poetry, and practicing our traditional dances.”
Born as a true savant and a distinguished scholar, Pak Mudita still masters the art of writing and speaking no less than five languages, including the old Javanese language or Kawi, among all the different levels of Balinese as well as its ancient script, natively known as Aksara Bali. “I wrote this lontar by myself. It took me two years. It is one of my favorite ones. I even engraved its title in golden letters. The story depicts a young hero facing several twists. I will try to chant a few verses for you now”, he enthusiastically tells me as this photograph is being taken.
Lontars have been used for centuries to document the stories, myths, and teachings of the Balinese people, and although these manuscripts are still preserved today, they are becoming very rare. No more lontars like Pak Mudita’s are now written as it is way too complicated. Pak Mudita also refused to sell his when some men from UNESCO came and proposed to him 400 million Rupiah (about 25.000 USD).
📍Karangasem, Bali 🗓 2023