Hanacaraka: The Old Javanese Script

Have you heard about Hanacaraka? People living in central and eastern part of Java Island tend to use Javanese in their daily communication. Hanacaraka itself is the first five syllables of Javanese alphabet. There are twenty syllables of Javanese alphabets: ha-na-ca-ra-ka, da-ta-sa-wa-la, pa-dha-ja-ya-nya, and ma-ga-ba-tha-nga. The way we pronounce “a” in Javanese alphabet is quite similar to the way we pronounce “o” in the word “door”. Those twenty characters are also known as aksara legana which means naked letters. We can make hanacaraka as a means of writing by adding sandangan (clothes) and Javanese punctuation. I was introduced to hanacaraka when I was in elementary school. Hanacaraka is not merely Javanese alphabet. There is a history behind it.

There is a historical meaning of hanacaraka. The meaning is:  there were two emmisaries or soldiers, they began to fight, their audacity was equal, both of them died. There was a king who devoted his two strong emissaries. The king told the first emissary to take the Keris (an ancient weapon which has magical power) and commanded him to not give it to anyone. A few years later, the king summoned the second emissary and asked him to take the Keris back. When the second emissary met the first emissary, they both fought. Each of them had king’s message and they did not want to break the loyalty to their king. They have equal powers and in the end, both of them died. Knowing that, the king was deeply regretted. He, then, said, “Hana (ana) caraka, data sawala, padhajayanya, magabathanga.”

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