Indonesian Shadow Puppet
Indonesian shadow puppet or Wayang is the most popular art among others in Indonesia. Wayang (Krama Javanese: Ringgit, “Shadow”) is a form of puppet theater art found in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, wherein a dramatic story is told through shadows thrown by puppets and sometimes combined with human characters. The art form celebrates the Indonesian culture and artistic talent; its origins are traced to the spread of Hinduism in the medieval era and the arrival of leather-based puppet arts called Tholu bommalata from southern India.
Wayang refers to the entire dramatic show. Sometimes the leather 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. The dramatic stories depict mythologies, such as episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana, the Mahabharata as well as local adaptations of cultural legends. Traditionally, a wayang is played out in a ritualized midnight-to-dawn show by a dalang, an artist and spiritual leader; people watch the show from both sides of the screen.
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. Wayang has also been a significant historical art form in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
The term ‘wayang’ is the Javanese word for shadow, or bayang in standard Indonesian; the word also means “imagination”. In modern daily Javanese and Indonesian vocabulary, wayang can refer to the puppet itself or the whole puppet theatre performance.
Wayang today is both the most ancient and most popular form of puppet theater 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.
Historically, the performance consisted of shadows cast by an oil lamp onto a cotton screen. Today, the source of light used in wayang performance in Java is most often a halogen electric light, while Bali still uses the traditional firelight.
The dalang, sometimes referred to as Dhalang or Kawi Dalang, is the puppeteer artist behind the entire performance. It is he who sits behind the screen, sings and narrates the dialogues of different characters of 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 dalang is highly respected in Indonesian culture for his knowledge, art and as a spiritual person capable of bringing to life the spiritual stories in the religious epics.
There are many styles of wayang in Indonesia such as; Wayang Kulit, Wayang Golek, Wayang Wong and many more. But 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, supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods, and painted in beautiful hues, including gold. The stories are usually drawn from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.