Balinese Shadow Puppets – If you haven’t seen a Wayang Kulit shadow puppet play before, they are theatrical tales that illustrate myths, including scenes from Hindu epics such as the story of Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as folklore interpretations. Most commonly found both in Java and Bali, they are still popular performances until today as cultural attractions that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
The Wayang Kulit shadow puppets are of flat leather made from buffalo or cow skin with matching leather lace, then painted and braced onto sticks, and performed behind a stretch of white cloth. The sticks are used to control the movement of arms, legs, and even sometimes the jaws of the puppets. A single puppet may take a couple of weeks to make, whereas the whole set for a long story, which consists of hundreds of characters and background puppets, could take ages to complete.
Their performances are utilized in the context of prayer rites (held in Balinese temples) and celebration ceremonies in Java. Gender wayang, a regional style of playing the gamelan, is performed in tandem with Balinese theater productions of the wayang performance. The Balinese Hindus hold wayang performances with spiritual themes in the highest regard.
Behind the screen, there is a full team of performers consisting of a Dalang, the puppet master; two assistants called ketekong, sitting on the right and left side of the Dalang, and finally four gamelan players. Not only do they have to be able to perform swiftly with dozens of characters (125-130 pieces of wayang) in a story, but they also must be able to craft their own sets, be fluent in the Javanese Kawi language, have a wide vocal range, great musical senses, and great showman to bring the puppets alive within the story.
What happens during a Wayang show?
The show begins when the Dalang lights a kerosene lamp known as a petromax, which is followed by a prologue of the story that is delivered along with the appearance of a narrator, called the kayon (a puppet describing places or events in each scene), indicating the beginning of a story and the changing of the settings later in the show.
When a puppet figure remains quiet throughout the story, their stick is poked on a banana stem log put on the stage floor. However, once a character gets a line, the Dalang will perform it by pulling ropes linked to the puppets’ arms and legs. The assistant to the Dalang’s right will pass the new characters that will emerge on the screen, while the other assistant to the Dalang’s left will gather puppet figures that will no longer appear in the following scene.
According to the narrative of the episode, each scene in the program will be accompanied by gamelan music that details the atmosphere of each scene. Energetic music in the beginning or anytime something exciting happens. Violent music during battle scenes; and melancholic music during a tragic moments. Some performances could go on to last three to six hours, depending on the sort of event.
Bali – Balinese Shadow Puppets: Traditional storytelling of Hindu myths and epics