Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Values of the Shadow

Indonesia is quite known by its traditional attraction, the shadow play or "Wayang Kulit". The performance has taken place over 800 years even before any religions came into the country. The first form of 'wayang' was 'wayang golek' or the doll puppets. They are performed with rituals of the country's animist background. They believed that during a wayang performance they can call for assistance from their ancestor's spirits. Also during these performances they believe the spirit of the ancestors are protecting them from the evil. After the Hinduism came in Indonesia, they changed the 'wayang' performance into a tool to spread their religion through stories such as their epic of Mahabaratha and Ramayana. When Islam started to spread in Indonesia, they abandonned a human-formed (the doll) type of performance, therefore in Java they started to make the leather flat puppets with very stylized exaggerated forms and proportions.

Wayang kulit (leather puppets shadow play) is often performed in public holidays, religious festivals, weddings, birth celebrations and circumcisions in Java and Bali. The performance takes place for a straight 8-9 hours from dusk till dawn without intermissions. Because of the great challenge to perform a wayang kulit, the Dalang (puppeteer) cannot be just an ordinary people. First he needs to have a very strong physical health and intelligent to be able to sit crossed-legged through out the whole performance and be able to control the action and every detail of elements needed for every scene. The dalang does the whole performance as a one man show for nine successive hours. From narrating sections of expositions and descriptions, speaks the dialouque of each character, sings the mood songs on transitions, directs the 'gamelan' ensemble for the background and has to beat the kechrek (rattle) with his right foot almost continuously. Seriously this dalang is hard core! I don't think many other performing arts can beat what he does.

The dalang in preparation behind the scene

The dalang in action

The wayang mostly presents stories realted to Indian ancient sagas the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The common sets of wayang characters are called ‘Wayang Purwa’ which means ‘ancient puppets’. The ‘Wayang Purwa’ is a kingdom with two competing forces called ‘The Pandawas’ and ‘The Kurawas’ both born from the same clan of family.

‘The Pandawas’ which is a popular set of characters from the good force consist of five brothers with specific abilities. There are many short stories pulled out from the Mahabharata that tells about these five brothers lives and interactions. The most well known character of these five brothers is Arjuna, the well-rounded, brave and cherished hero with seven wives. The other four brothers are named Bima, Nangkula, Yudistira, and Sadewa. Another popular story to tell is the love affair between Arjuna and Srikandhi, one of Arjuna’s seven wives, a skilled archer.

The Pandawas family tree


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12:47 PM  

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