Wayang is a Javanese word for particular kinds of theatre. When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theatre, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang. Performances of shadow puppet theatre are accompanied by a gamelan orchestra in Java, and by gender wayang in Bali.
UNESCO designated wayang kulit, a shadow puppet theatre and the best known of the Indonesian wayang, as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003. In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve their heritage.
The term 'wayang' is the Javanese word for shadow, or bayang in standard Indonesian . In modern daily Javanese and Indonesian vocabulary, wayang is most often associated with the puppet itself or the whole puppet theatre performance.
Wayang is a generic term denoting traditional theatre in Indonesia. There is no evidence that wayang existed before the first century CE, after Hinduism and Buddhism were brought to Southeast Asia. This leads to the hypothesis that the art was imported from either India or China, both of which have a long tradition of shadow puppetry and theatre in general. However, there very well may have been indigenous storytelling traditions that had a profound impact on the development of the traditional puppet theatre.
The first record of a wayang performance is from an inscription dated 930 CE which says si Galigi mawayang, or "Sir Galigi played wayang". From that time till today it seems certain features of traditional puppet theatre have remained. Galigi was an itinerant performer who was requested to perform for a special royal occasion. At that event he performed a story about the hero Bhima from the Mahabharata. The kakawin Arjunawiwaha composed by Mpu Kanwa, the poet of Airlangga's court of Kahuripan kingdom, in 1035 CE describes santoṣâhĕlĕtan kĕlir sira sakêng sang hyang Jagatkāraṇa, which means "He is steadfast and just a wayang screen away from the 'Mover of the World'." Kelir is Javanese word for wayang screen, the verse eloquently comparing actual life to a wayang performance where the almighty Jagatkāraṇa (the mover of the world) as the ultimate dalang (puppet master) is just a thin screen away from us mortals. This reference to wayang as shadow plays suggested that wayang performance is already familiar in Airlangga's court and wayang tradition has been established in Java, perhaps earlier. An inscription from this period also mentioned some occupations as awayang and aringgit.
Wayang kulit is a unique form of theatre employing light and shadow. The puppets are crafted from buffalo hide and mounted on bamboo sticks. When held up behind a piece of white cloth, with an electric bulb or an oil lamp as the light source, shadows are cast on the screen. The plays are invariably based on romantic tales, especially adaptations of the classic Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Some of the plays are also based on local happening or other local secular stories. It is up to the conductor or dalang or master puppeteer to decide his direction.
The dalang is the genius behind the entire performance. It is he who sits behind the screen and narrates the story. With a traditional orchestra in the background to provide a resonant melody and its conventional rhythm, the dalang modulates his voice to create suspense thus heightening the drama. Invariably, the play climaxes with the triumph of good over evil.
The figures of the wayang are also present in the paintings of that time, for example, the roof murals of the courtroom in Klungkung, Bali. They are still present in traditional Balinese painting today. The figures are painted, flat woodcarvings (a maximum of 5 to 15 mm thick—barely half an inch) with movable arms. The head is solidly attached to the body. Wayang klitik can be used to perform puppet plays either during the day or at night. This type of wayang is relatively rare.
Wayang today is both the most ancient and most popular form of puppet theatre in the world. Hundreds of people will stay up all night long to watch the superstar performers, dalang, who command extravagant fees and are international celebrities. Some of the most famous dalang in recent history are Ki Nartosabdho, Ki Anom Suroto, Ki Asep Sunandar Sunarya, Ki Sugino, and Ki Manteb Sudarsono.
Wayang kulit, or shadow puppets, are without a doubt the best known of the Indonesian wayang. Kulit means skin, and refers to the leather construction of the puppets that are carefully chiselled with very fine tools and supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods. The stories are usually drawn from the Hindu epics the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or from the Serat Menak, (a story about the heroism of Amir Hamza).
There is a family of characters in Javanese wayang called Punakawan; they are sometimes referred to as "clown-servants" because they normally are associated with the story's hero, and provide humorous and philosophical interludes. Semar is the father of Gareng (oldest son), Petruk, and Bagong (youngest son). These characters did not originate in the Hindu epics, but were added later, possibly to introduce mystical aspects of Islam into the Hindu-Javanese stories. They provide something akin to a political cabaret, dealing with gossip and contemporary affairs.
The puppet figures themselves vary from place to place. In Central Java the city of Surakarta (Solo) and city of Yogyakarta are most famous and the most commonly imitated style of puppets. Regional styles of shadow puppets can also be found in West Java, Banyumas, Cirebon, Semarang, and East Java. Bali produces more compact and naturalistic figures, and Lombok has figures representing real people. Often modern-world objects as bicycles, automobiles, airplanes and ships will be added for comic effect, but for the most part the traditional puppet designs have changed little in the last 300 years.
Historically, the performance consisted of shadows cast on a cotton screen and an oil lamp. Today, the source of light used in wayang performance in Java is most often a halogen electric light. Some modern forms of wayang such as Wayang Sandosa created in the Art Academy at Surakarta (STSI) has employed spotlights, colored lights and other innovations.
The handwork involved in making a wayang kulit figure that is suitable for a performance takes several weeks, with the artists working together in groups. They start from master models (typically on paper) which are traced out onto skin or parchment, providing the figures with an outline and with indications of any holes that will need to be cut (such as for the mouth or eyes). The figures are then smoothed, usually with a glass bottle, and primed. The structure is inspected and eventually the details are worked through. A further smoothing follows before individual painting, which is undertaken by yet another craftsman. Finally, the movable parts (upper arms, lower arms with hands and the associated sticks for manipulation) mounted on the body, which has a central staff by which it is held. A crew makes up to ten figures at a time, typically completing that number over the course of a week. However, unfortunately there is not strong continuing demand for the top skills of wayang craftspersons and the relatively few experts still skilled at the art sometimes find it difficult to earn a satisfactory income.
The painting of less expensive puppets is handled expediently with a spray technique, using templates, and with a different person handling each color. Less expensive puppets, often sold to children during performances, are sometimes made on cardboard instead of leather.
Wayang wong and wayang topeng
While wayang gedog usually the theatrical performance that took the themes from the Panji cycles stories from the kingdom of Janggala, in which the players wear masks known as wayang topeng or wayang gedog. The word gedog comes from kedok, which, like topeng means "mask". The main theme is the story of Raden Panji and Candra. This is a love story about princess Candra Kirana of Kediri and Raden Panji Asmarabangun, the crown prince of Jenggala. Candra Kirana was the incarnation of Dewi Ratih (goddess of love) and Panji was an incarnation of Kamajaya (god of love). Kirana's story was given the title Smaradahana ("The fire of love"). At the end of the complicated story they finally can marry and bring forth a son, named Raja Putra. Panji Asmarabangun ruled Jenggala under the official names Sri Kameswara, Prabu Suryowiseso, and Hino Kertapati. Originally, wayang wong was performed only as an aristocratic entertainment in four palaces of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. In the course of time, it spread to become a popular and folk form as well.
Wayang golek are wooden doll puppets that are operated from below by rods connected to the hands and a central control rod that runs through the body to the head. The simple construction of the puppets belies their versatility, expressiveness and aptitude for imitating human dance. Today, wayang golek is mainly associated with Sundanese culture of West Java. However the wooden wayang also known in Central Java as Wayang Menak, originated from Kudus Central Java.
Little is known for certain about the history of wayang golek, but scholars have speculated that it most likely originated in China and arrived in Java sometime in the 17th century. Some of the oldest traditions of wayang golek are from the north coast of Java in what is called the pasisir region. This is home to some of the oldest Muslim kingdoms in Java and it is likely the wayang golek grew in popularity through telling the wayang menak stories of Amir Hamza, the uncle of Muhammad. These stories are still widely performed in Kabumen, Tegal, and Jepara as wayang golek menak, and in Cirebon, wayang golek cepak. Legendary origins of wayang golek attribute their invention to the Muslim saint Wali Sunan Kudus, who used the medium to proselytize Muslim values.
In the 18th century the tradition moved into the mountainous region of Priangan West Java where it eventually was used to tell stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabarata in a tradition now called Wayang Golek Purwa, which can be found in Bandung, Bogor and Jakarta. The adoption of Javanese Mataram kejawen culture by Sundanese aristocrats was probably the remnant of Mataram influence over the Priangan region during the reign of expansive Sultan Agung. While main characters from Ramayana and Mahabharata are similar with wayang kulit purwa version of Central Java, some of punakawan (servant also jester) were rendered in Sundanese names and characteristics, such as Cepot or Astrajingga as Bagong, Dawala or Udel as Petruk. Wayang golek purwa has become the most popular form of wayang golek today and the most famous puppeteer family is the Sunarya family which has produced several generations of stellar performers.
Wayang karucil or wayang klitik
Wayang klitik figures occupy a middle ground between the figures of wayang golek and wayang kulit. They are constructed similarly to wayang kulit figures, but from thin pieces of wood instead of leather, and, like wayang kulit figures, are used as shadow puppets. A further similarity is that they are the same smaller size as wayang kulit figures. However, wood is more subject to breakage than leather. During battle scenes, wayang klitik figures often sustain considerable damage, much to the amusement of the public, but in a country in which before 1970 there were no adequate glues available, breakage generally meant an expensive, newly made figure. On this basis the wayang klitik figures, which are to appear in plays where they have to endure battle scenes, have leather arms. The name of these figures is onomotopaeic, from the sound klitik-klitik, that these figures make when worked by the dalang.
Wayang klitik figures come originally from eastern Java, where one still finds workshops turning them out. They are less costly to produce than wayang kulit figures.
The origin of the stories involved in these puppet plays comes from the kingdoms of eastern Java: Jenggala, Kediri and Majapahit. From Jenggala and Kediri come the stories of Raden Panji and Cindelaras, which tells of the adventures of a pair of village youngsters with their fighting cocks. The Damarwulan presents the stories of a hero from Majapahit. Damarwulan is a clever chap, who with courage, aptitude, intelligence and the assistance of his young lover Anjasmara, makes a surprise attack on the neighboring kingdom and brings down Minakjinggo, an Adipati (viceroy) of Blambangan and mighty enemy of Majapahit's beautiful queen Sri Ratu Kencanawungu. As a reward, Damarwulan is married to Kencanawungu and becomes king of Majapahit; he also takes Lady Anjasmara as a second wife. This story is full of love affairs and battles and is very popular with the public. The dalang is liable to incorporate the latest local gossip and quarrels and work them into the play as comedy.
Wayang beber relies on scroll-painted presentations of the stories being told. Wayang beber has strong similarities to narratives in the form of illustrated ballads that were common at annual fairs in medieval and early modern Europe. They have also been subject to the same fate—they have nearly vanished although there are still some groups of artists who support wayang beber in places such as Surakarta (Solo) in Central Java.
Chinese visitors to Java during the 15th century described a storyteller or unrolled scrolls and told stories that made the audience laugh or cry. A few scrolls of images remain from those times, found today in museums. There are two sets, hand-painted on hand-made bark cloth, that are still owned by families who have inherited them from many generations ago, in Pacitan and Wonogiri, both villages in Central Java. Performances, mostly in small open-sided pavilions or auditoriums, take place according to the following pattern:
The dalang gives a sign, the small gamelan orchestra with drummer and a few knobbed gongs and a musician with a rebab (violin-like instrument held vertically) begins to play and the dalang unrolls the first scroll of the story. Then, speaking and singing, he narrates the episode in more detail. In this manner, in the course of the evening he unrolls several scrolls one at a time. Each scene in the scrolls represents a story or part of a story. The content of the story typically stems from the Panji romances which are semi-historical legends set in the 12th-13th century East Javanese kingdoms of Jenggala, Daha and Kediri, and also in Bali.
This newly developed form is used by teachers of Islam to show the principles of Muslim ethics and religion to the natives of Java and Bali.  The term sadat derived from shahada (Arabic: الشهادة aš-šahādah).
Wayang wahyu or "revelation wayang" is a modern form created in the 1960s by the Javanese Jesuit Brother Timotheus L. Wignyosubroto who sought to show the Javanese and other Indonesians the teachings of the Catholic Church in a manner accessible to the audience. In the beginning, the puppets were often made of paper because it was less expensive than the traditional water buffalo hide. It became popular as an alternative method of telling Bible stories.
The Wayang Wahyu or biblical wayang is a unique artform that introduced in the 1960s as a means to preach the gospel through puppets. Bible stories are depicted through shadow theater, accompanied by the music of the traditional gamelan. Wayang Wahyu uses Javanese language, music and other supporting platforms to complete an artistic religious expression. It is an evolved form of the Wayang but uses the pattern of the traditional version as it combines the cross-over of cultures and religions. It uses Hindu-Islamic influenced art to propagate Catholicism in a predominantly Islamic Abangan population. It is presented through a light entertainment of the puppet theater, and yet it contains moral and religious messages.
- Indonesian wayang Inscribed in 2003 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- Mair, Victor H. Painting and Performance: Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988. p. 58.
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- Eckersley. M.(ed.) 2009. Drama from the Rim: Asian Pacific Drama Book. Drama Victoria. Melbourne. 2009. (p15)
- Simon Sudarman, 'Sagio: Striving to preserve wayang', The Jakarta Post, 11 September 2012.
- Ganug Nugroho Adil, 'Joko Sri Yono: Preserving "wayang beber"', The Jakarta Post, 27 March 2012.
- Ganug Nugroho Adil, 'The metamorphosis of "Wayang Beber"', The Jakarta Post, 19 April 2013.
- Ganug Nugroho Adil, 'Sinhanto: A wayang master craftsman', The Jakarta Post 22 June 2012.
- This article was initially translated from the German-language Wikipedia article.
- Poplawska, Marzanna. Asian Theatre Journal. Fall 2004, Vol. 21 p. 194-202
- Brandon, James (1970) On Thrones of Gold — Three Javanese Shadow Plays. Harvard University Press
- Clara van Groenendael, Victoria (1985) The Dalang Behind the Wayang. Dordrecht, Foris
- Keeler, Ward (1987) Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves. Princeton University Press
- Keeler, Ward (1992) Javanese Shadow Puppets. OUP
- Long, Roger (1982) Javanese shadow theatre: Movement and characterization in Ngayogyakarta wayang kulit. Umi Research Press
- Mellema, R.L. (1988) Wayang Puppets: Carving, Colouring, Symbolism. Amsterdam, Royal Tropical Institute, Bulletin 315.
- Mudjanattistomo (1976) Pedhalangan Ngayogyakarta. Yogyakarta (in Javanese)
- Soedarsono (1984) Wayang Wong. Yogyakarta, Gadjah Mada University Press
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Wayang.|
- Historical Development of Puppetry: Scenic Shades (includes informations about wayang beber, kulit, klitik and golek)
- Seleh Notes article on identifying Central Javanese wayang kulit
- Wayang Orang (wayang wong) traditional dance, from Indonesia Tourism
- Wayang Klitik: a permanent exhibit of Puppetry Arts Museum
- Wayang Golek Photo Gallery, includes description, history and photographs of individual puppets by Walter O. Koenig
- Wayang Kulit: The Art form of the Balinese Shadow Play by Lisa Gold
- Wayang Puppet Theatre on the Indonesian site of UNESCO
- The Wayang Golek Wooden Stick Puppets of Java, Indonesia (commercial site)
- An overview of the Shadow Puppets tradition (with many pictures) in a site to Discover Indonesia
- Wayang Kulit exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art
- Wayang Kulit Collection of Shadow Puppets, Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology digitized on Multicultural Canada website