Museum Gedong Kirtya in Bali

Bali Museums

Gedong Kirtya is a manuscript museum in Singaraja, north Bali, which houses a vast collection of thousands of old Balinese manuscripts inscribed on lontar palm-leaves. These lontar books cover subjects of literature, mythology, history and religious works and are some of the oldest written works on the island.

The manuscripts record ancient knowledge and wisdom of older Balinese generations and are historical references of all Balinese daily activities, rituals and art. Singaraja houses this only lontar museum in the world. Formerly it was referred to as the Liefrinck van der Tuuk library, named after its Dutch founders.

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The lontar derives its name from the local word for the Asian Palmyra palm, or Borassus flabellifer, which grows in dry regions. The leaves are further dried and used as pages upon which writings are carved into by the aid of a special sharp-tipped blade called a temutik.

The pages are bound by woven strands between two pieces of wood into an order known collectively as a lontar book. These ‘books’ have long been used as references among the Balinese people for knowledge and local wisdom, encompassing religion, rites of passage, and traditional shamanism or medicine.

The forms of lontar are found throughout the islands of Indonesia, from Java, Lombok to other parts of Indonesia. Most of the lontar date back to the 13th century and are mainly written in the ‘Kawi’ script in old Balinese, old Javanese and Sanskrit.

Gedong Kirtya was built in 1928 as a repository of these manuscripts with collections coming from various islands other than from Bali itself. The volumes are kept in special wooden boxes and sorted under different categories, from Vedic renditions and mantra hymns, religion, wariga or Balinese astronomy, itihasa or epic tales and poems, babad or Balinese genealogy, to tantri or folklore.

Some are authentic and original pieces, sourced from the royal courts throughout Bali. Others are copies and even feature prasi art or accompanying illustrations.

Good to Know about Museum Gedong Kirtya

Gedong Kirtya was previously known as Stichting Liefrinck Van der Tuuk, a foundation that mainly focused on the preservation and storage of the lontar manuscripts. This library was founded as a follow-up from a meeting known as the Pertemuan Kintamani held by Dutch Indies scholars together with Balinese religious figures and the royalties in 1928.

F.A. Liefrinck was an official in the Dutch administration on Bali and Lombok who had great interest in Balinese culture and had written extensively about the islands. Dr. H.N Van der Tuuk, a Dutch historian provided the piece of land where the museum stands now.

The building also once served as the storeroom for scientific journals of research conducted on Bali, and has since sourced and documented lontar collections dispersed throughout public possession to be copied and catalogued. Up until 1987, Gedong Kirtya has reproduced and listed around 4,000 manuscripts covering various topics.

The museum is located at the Sasana Budaya complex in Singaraja, the once capital city of the Lesser Sunda Islands during the Dutch occupation, and which is an old royal palace situated on Jalan Veteran. Gedong Kirtya is open from Monday to Friday, and is closed on weekends. Entrance fees apply, and donations for the maintenance of the library are welcome.

Museum Gedong Kirtya

  • Opening Hours: Mon - Thu 07:00 - 14:30, Fri 07:00 - 12:00
  • Address: Jalan Veteran No. 20, Singaraja, North Bali
  • Tel: +62 (0)362 25 141
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