Topeng dance

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Topeng (Indonesian for "mask") is a dramatic form of Indonesian dance in which one or more mask-wearing, ornately costumed performers interpret traditional narratives concerning fabled kings, heroes and myths, accompanied by gamelan music.


Indonesian masked dance predates Hindu-Buddhist influences. Native Indonesian tribes still perform traditional masked-dances to represent nature, as the Hudoq dance of the Dayak people of Kalimantan, or to represent ancestor spirits. With the arrival of Hinduism in the archipelago, the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics began to be performed in masked-dance. The most popular storyline of topeng dance however, derived from the locally developed Javanese Panji cycles, that based upon the tales and romance of Prince Panji and Princess Chandra Kirana, set in 12th-century Kadiri kingdom.

One of the earliest written record of topeng dance is found in 14th-century Nagarakretagama, which described King Hayam Wuruk of Majapahit — wearing a golden mask — as an accomplished topeng dancer.[1] The current topeng dance form arose in the 15th century in Java and Bali where it remains prevalent, but it is also found in other Indonesian islands — such as Madura (near East Java). Various topeng dances and styles are developed in various places in Indonesian archipelago, the notable ones are those in Cirebon, Yogyakarta, Malang and Bali. The well-developed topeng technique is now studied in universities of Europe and America.

Balinese topeng[edit]

Various Balinese topengs (dance masks), Taman Mini Indonesia Indah.

It is believed that the use of masks is related to the cult of the ancestors, which considered dancers the interpreters of the gods. Topeng performances open with a series of non-speaking masked characters which may not be related to the story to be performed. These traditional masks often include Topeng Manis (a refined hero), Topeng Kras (a martial, authoritarian character), and Topeng Tua (an old man who may joke and draw-out the audience).

The story is narrated from a Penasar, a jawless half-mask that enables the actor to speak most clearly. In group topeng, there are usually two penasars providing two points of view. The performance alternates between speaking and non-speaking characters, and can include dance and fight sequences as well as special effects (sometimes provided by the gamelan). It is almost always wrapped-up by a series of comic characters introducing their own views. The narrators and comic characters frequently break western conventions of storytelling by including current events or local gossip to get a laugh.

In topeng, there is a conscious attempt to include many, sometimes contradictory, aspects of the human experience: the sacred and the profane, beauty and ugliness, refinement and caricature.[2] A detailed description and analysis of "topeng pajegan," the one-man form of topeng, is available in Masked Performance[3] by John Emigh, a western theater professor who has become a performer of Balinese topeng.

Cirebon topeng[edit]

Topeng Kandaga, a Sundanese form of Topeng dance

Cirebon mask dance or tari topeng Cirebon is a local original art of Cirebon, including Kuningan, Indramayu and Jatibarang, West Java and including Brebes, Central Java. Cirebon mask dance has a lot of variety and experienced growth in dance as well as stories to be conveyed. Sometimes the mask dance performed by solo dancer; it can be played by several people. Cirebon mask dance might take the story of Prince Panji from 15th century East Java or other Majapahit story. Topeng Klana Kencana Wungu is Cirebon mask dance in Parahyangan mask style, depicted the story of Queen Kencana Wungu of Majapahit being chased by the grotesque and rough King Minak Jingga of Blambangan. The Sundanese Topeng Kandaga dance is similar and influenced by Cirebon topeng, where the dancer wearing red mask and costumes.

Topeng in Malang[edit]

In East Java topeng dance is called Wayang Gedog, the most famous artform originated from Malang Regency, East Java. Wayang gedog theatrical performances include themes from the Panji (prince) cycles stories from the kingdom of Janggala, and 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 of the performances is the story of Raden Panji and Candra Kirana. This is a love story about princess Candra Kirana of Kediri (historical kingdom) 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".

Jogja topeng[edit]

In Yogyakarta tradition, the mask dance is part of Wayang Wong performance. Composed and created by Sultan Hamengkubuwono I ( 1755–1792 ) certain characters such as wanara (monkey) and denawa (giant) in Ramayana and Mahabharata uses masks, while the knight and princesses are not wearing any mask. The punakawan (jester) might use a half mask (mask without jaw) he can speak freely and clearly. Significantly here, the mustache is painted in black. The Topeng Klono Alus, Topeng Klono Gagah, and Topeng Putri Kenakawulan dances are classical Yogyakarta court dances derived from the story of Raden Panji from the 15th century Majapahit legacy. The Klono Alus Jungkungmandeya and Klono Gagah Dasawasisa are masked dances adapted from Mahabharata stories.

Surakarta topeng[edit]

Topeng of Surakarta Sunanate court is similar in style and theme with Yogyakarta ones. Differences are seen in the craftmanship of masks; facial hair is represented with hair or fibre, while Yogyakarta-style uses black paint. And similarly to Yogyakarta, the Sukarta topeng punakawan (jester) often uses jawless half-mask.

Betawi topeng[edit]

Betawi mask dance or tari topeng Betawi is a mask-dance of the Betawi people of Jakarta.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sosok Rahwana dalam Tari Topeng Kelana" (in Indonesian). Indonesia Kaya. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  2. ^ Bohème Magazine Online, The Secret of Masks Archived 2010-09-24 at the Wayback Machine, June 2003.
  3. ^

External links[edit]