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Candrasengkala: Art of Chronogram  

by on Monday, 4 June 2007No Comment | 1,392 views

History to Balinese is not just something to be buried in the past, but it is something that has to be remembered and used as a guidance to face the future. An attempt to immortalize the history is by memorializing an important event with Candrasengkala.

Candrasengkala is combination of words representing numerical values that is used to denote the year of an important events, chronogram in short. It is written in Kawi language or High Balinese using traditional Balinese alphabet (aksara Bali). Candrasengkala can be found in ancient buildings, artifacts, work of arts, traditional literature, and in coat of arm of a city or organization. Candrasengkala can also be found in ancient letters. Candrasengkala that is found in ancient building or coat of arm of a city or organization denotes the year of establishment of the building, city, or organization.

In traditional literature, and ancient letter, Candrasengkala denotes the year of the making of the literature or letter, if the literature deals with important event in the past, the Candrasengkala is used to denote the year of the occurrence of the event. Candrasengkala is also used to record the defeat, and fall of a kingdom, the death of a king, war, commotion, plague, disaster, occurrence of a comet, royal edict, visit of an import person, even a mythical or pseudo-mythical event is recorded with a Cadrasengkala.

Candrasengkala is best explained by using an example. The construction date of Taman Ayun Temple is expressed on a carved door with Candrasengkala, or chronogram reads “Sad Bhuta Yaksa Dewa,” the numerical values of these words are 6-5-5-1, the numerical values have to be read backward in order to find the Caka year of the construction, it means 1556 Caka. To translate Caka year to Gregorian year just added 78 to the respective Caka year. Therefore, 1556 Caka means 1634 A.D.

Deciphering a Candrasengkala is not always an easy task. A simple Candrasengkala which used simple Balinese number may be easy to decode, for example: Panca Lima Asta Tunggal, the meaning of these four words that form this Candrasengkala are simply five-five-eight-one, or 1855 Caka or 1933 A.D, no further effort needed. For a complex Candrasengkala, a good deal of knowledge on Balinese language, religion and philosophy is obligatory, for example: Brahmana Maguna Bhuta Sasih, the meaning of these four words can be explained as follow, “Brahmana” means priest; “maguna” derives from the word “guna” means “behaviour”; the word “bhuta” means “power” and the word “sasih” means “moon”. After finding the meaning of the words, further effort is needed to find out the numerical value of these words, here the knowledge plays important role.

The word “brahmana” has numerical value of 8, since a brahmana or priest is considered having 8 additional talents known while a mere mortal has none of them. The numerical value of the word “guna” is 3, since human is considered to have three basic behaviors known as Tri Guna. The numerical value of the word “bhuta” is 5, since in Hindu cosmology, the world is formed by five great powers known as Panca Maha Bhuta. And the word “sasih” has numerical value of 1, since there is only one moon in the sky, of course based on Balinese belief. The result of these arduous deciphering processes is 8-3-5-1 or 1538 Caka or 1616 A.D.

Unfortunately, in Bali, nowadays, Candrasengkala is seldom used to date a contemporary event, but it still prevails in traditional literature. Most of Balinese do not even aware it exists. The number of people who is able to create and decipher Candrasengkala is diminishing year by year.

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