Wayang Golek

It is uncertain whether the shadow theatre is indigenous to Java or was brought from India, but the wayang kulit technique of having a single seated puppeteer who manipulates puppets, sings, chants narration, and speaks dialogue seems to be an Indonesian invention. Unlike most court arts, wayang kulit has had centuries of performance in the folk tradition as well, so that today, with several thousand puppeteers active, it is the strongest traditional theatre form in Southeast Asia.

Plays are set in mythological times, some relating to indigenous animistic festivals and worship of local spirits, some directly dramatizing episodes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, while the majority--the Pandawa (Pandav in Sanskrit) cycle of about 100 plays--are essentially Javanese creations in which the five heroic Pandawa brothers are placed in different situations. Three and sometimes four god-clown-servants and a set of ogre-antagonists who are not in the epics at all suggest how far removed the shadow plays are from the epics.

The wayang puppeteer works within one of the world’s most carefully organized performing arts, making possible a virtually solo performance without intermission, from around nine at night until the gray before dawn. Each play is in three parts, coordinated with three keys of music played by the gamelan ensemble. Certain standard scenes appear in a standard order, though some may be dropped. “Opening Audience” introduces the play’s conflict, “Inner Palace” shows the king meeting his queen(s), and in “Outer Audience” the army is dispatched. In “Forest Clearing” the first battle scene occurs, and in “Foreign Audience” the antagonist kingdom, usually one of overseas ogres, is introduced. Concluding part one are “Foreign Outer Audience,” in which the second army marches forth, and “Opening Skirmish,” a battle scene between the two armies. The puppeteer chooses from among 150 musical selections, matched to scene type, character, mood, or action. The puppet figures are carved to indicate character type and status according to fixed patterns for nose, eyes, gaze, stance, body build, and costume. The puppeteer can choose one or another puppet of the same character, coloured gold or black or with a stern or relaxed countenance, to indicate the mood of the figure in a particular scene. In battle scenes, he develops individual encounters between opponents, drawing upon a repertory of 119 movements that are classified for use by god, female, refined hero, muscular hero, ogre, or monkey. Formula narrative phrases describe famous kingdoms and characters, and battles are preceded by challenges couched in standard phrases. Although the puppeteer works only from a brief scenario, he is able to extemporize each performance, adding contemporary jokes for the clowns and molding the performance to suit the occasion and the audience. He and his supporting musicians and female singers are improvising within completely known, although exceptionally complex and subtle, artistic conventions.

This artistic system, developed within the shadow theatre for performance of Pandawa plays, has proven to work so well that it has been widely imitated. The entire body of wayang kulit drama was adopted in Bali and in Malaysia. At least 25 other play cycles have been performed in Indonesia as shadow drama within this system, including the Pandji cycle (wayang gedog), Islamic Amir Hamzah plays (wayang menak), and plays dramatizing the revolutionary struggle against the Dutch (wayang suluh). The Pandawa wayang kulit repertory was transposed to the doll-puppet theatre (wayang golek) in Sunda, the western part of Java, and to dance-drama in eastern and central Java (wayang orang) and in Bali (wayang wong).

Performances are commissioned for special occasions and usually can be interpreted in religious or mystical fashion. There may be offertory plays at harvest time or animistic, ritualistic exorcisms protecting children from being devoured by the voracious god Kala. In The Reincarnation of Rama the divine attributes of the god Wisnu (Vishnu in Sanskrit) reincarnate in Ardjuna (Arjuna), hero of the Pandawa cycle and ancestor of the Javanese race. The translucent screen can be interpreted as heaven, the banana-log stage as earth, the puppets as man, and the puppeteer as god, and the Pandawas can symbolize the manifold attributes of righteous behaviour.

Wayang Topeng

Wayang wong, human theater, with the topics of Jenggala Kingdom, where the players are wearing masks (Gedog comes from the word kedok = topeng, which is meant mask).

A true love story between Princess Candra Kirana of Kediri and Raden Panji Asmarabangun, the crown prince of Jenggala. Candra Kirana was incarnation of Dewi Ratih (goddess of love) while Panji was incarnation of Kamajaya (god of love). The story of Raden Panji and Candra Kirana was written in a poem called ‘Smaradahana’ the fire of love. At the happy ending, they got married and a son by the name Raja Putra was born. Panji Asmarabangun throned as a king of Jenggala with the names Sri Kameswara or Prabu Suryowiseso or Hino Kertapati.
Wayang topeng is still popular up to the present date. It is performed in a shorter period, in a special gathering, wedding parties, etc, entertaining the guests for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Wayang Golek or Wooden Puppet

Wooden puppet is performed almost the same way as the wayang kulit, but there is no screen in front of the puppeteer, and no banana trunk to stuck the wayang. In stead a ‘Plangkan’ (permanent wooden table with holes) to support the wooden puppets is used.

In Central and East Java, wayang golek is telling a story of Menak, Amir Hamzah, the uncle of Prophet Muhammad, called also wayang Menak. While in West Java, wayang golek is more popular with the topics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The name of Amir Hamzah in Java are several : Amir Ambyah, Wong Agung Menak, Jayengrana, etc. It was created in the 16th century in Kudus to help spread the teachings of Islam. The more famous figures in wayang golek are : Umar Maya,Umar Madi, Lamdahur, etc. A book ‘Serat Menak’ was written by Kyai Yosodipuro I from Karaton Surakarta.

Wayang Karucil or Klitik

It is another type of wooden puppets, it’s a flat wooden puppets. The topics are taken from East Java kingdoms such as Jenggala, Kediri and Majapahit. Jenggala and Kediri with the stories of Raden Panji and Cindelaras, village youngsters with his fighting cock. While Darmawulan is a hero from Majapahit, a grass cutter of the chief minister’s houses who could kill a dangerous enemy of Majapahit’s queen, Minakjinggo. Later he married queen Kencana and Lady Anjasmara (the chief minister’s daughter) and become king of Majapahit. This is a story full with battles and love affairs.

Wayang Beber

The dalang should unroll and stretch the screen with picture of wayang. Then the dalang should tell the story to the small audience. The story could be from Mahabharata and Ramayana epics or Jenggala Kingdom. In the old days, in the court compound, wayang beber told with the gamelan music being played, but outside Karatons it was accompanied only by a rebab (a kind of violin). Nowadays, only a few screen of wayang beber from the old time preserved. One is in Wonosari, Yogyakarta, another is in Mangkunagaran Museum, and the third is in Pacitan.

Publicly, wayang beber is not popular, the owner of wayang beber believed that its performance is needed for protection again evil things, epidemics, etc.


Network Indonesia
Indonesia Culture by Suryo S. Negoro
Proffesor Sejarah Sunda