Wayang is an Indonesian word for theatre (literally “shadow”). When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theater, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang. Performances of shadow puppet theater are accompanied by gamelan in Java, and by “gender wayang” in Bali.
UNESCO designated Wayang Kulit, a shadow puppet theater and the best known of the Indonesian wayang, as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity on 7 November 2003. In return of the acknowledgment, UNESCO demanded Indonesia to preserve their heritage.
History of Wayang Kulit
Wayang is a generic term denoting traditional theatre in Indonesia. There is no evidence that wayang existed before Hinduism came to Southeast Asia sometime in the first century CE brought in by Indian traders. 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
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.
Wayang Kulit plays are invariably based on romantic tales, especially adaptations of the classic Indian epics, “The Mahabarata” and “The Ramayana”. Some of the plays are also based on local happenings (current issues) or other local secular stories. It is up to the conductor or “Tok Dalang” 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.
Hinduism arrived in Indonesia from India even before the Christian era, and was slowly adopted as the local belief system. Sanskrit became the literary and court language of Java and later of Bali. The Hindus changed the Wayang (as did the Muslims, later) to spread their religion, mostly by stories from the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. Later this mixture of religion and wayang play was praised as harmony between Hinduism and traditional Indonesian culture. On Java, the western part of Sumatra and some smaller islands traditionalists continued to play the old stories for some time, but the influence of Hinduism prevailed and the traditional stories either fell into oblivion or were integrated into the Hinduistic plays.
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.
When Islam began spreading in Indonesia, the display of God or gods in human form was prohibited, and thus this style of painting and shadow play was suppressed. King Raden Patah of Demak, Java, wanted to see the wayang in its traditional form, but failed to obtain permission from the Muslim religious leaders. As an alternative, the religious leaders converted the wayang golek into wayang purwa made from leather, and displayed only the shadow instead of the figures itself. Instead of the forbidden figures only their shadow picture was displayed, the birth of the wayang kulit.
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 Sunarya, Ki Sugino, and Ki Manteb Sudarsono.
Wayang kulit, shadow puppets prevalent in Java and Bali in Indonesia, 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 chiseled with very fine tools and supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods.
The stories are usually drawn from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Serat Menak.
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 puppets figures themselves vary from place to place. In Central Java the city of Surakarta (Solo) is most famous and is 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 kulit (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.
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 or wayang gedog
Wayang wong also known as Wayang orang (literally human wayang) is a type of Javanese dance theatrical performance with themes taken from episode of Ramayana or Mahabharata.
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 wong has fixed patterns of movement and costume:
For male performers:
- Alus: very slow, elegant and smooth movement. For example, the dance of Arjuna, Puntadewa and all other refined and slimly built Kshatriyas. There are two types of movement, lanyap and luruh.
- Gagah: a more masculine and powerful dance movement, used commonly for the roles of strongly built kshatriyas, soldiers and generals.
- Kambeng: a more powerful and athletic dance, used for the roles of Bima, Antareja, and Ghatotkacha.
- Bapang: gagah and kasar for the warriors of antagonist roles such as Kaurawa.
- Kalang kinantang: falls somewhere between alus and gagah, danced by tall, slim dancers in the roles of Kresno or Suteja.
- Kasar: a coarse style, used in portraying evil characters such as Rakshasa, ogres and demons.
- Gecul: a funny court jester and commoners, portraying ponokawan and cantrik
- Kambeng dengklik: for ape warriors, such as Hanuman.
- Kalang kinantang dengklik: for ape warriors, such as Sugriwa and Subali.
For female performers: Kshatriya noblemen. Costumes and props distinguish kings, kshatriyas, monks, princesses, The movements known as nggruda or ngenceng encot in the classical high style of dance consist of nine basic movements (joged pokok) and twelve other movements (joged gubahan and joged wirogo) and are used in portraying Bedoyo and Srimpi.
Today, the wayang wong, following the Gagrak style of Surakarta, is danced by women. They follow the alus movements associated with a Kshatriya, resembling Arjuna. Following the Gagkra style from Yogyakarta a male dancer uses these same Alus movements to depict princes and generals. There are about 45 distinct character types.
Wayang golek (rod puppets)
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. 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 mountains of 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. 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 (Damarwulan) 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.
The 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. 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 dhalang (puppeteer, narrator) 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 dhalang 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 Kedhiri, 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. 
This form was created in the 1960s by the Javanese Jesuit Bruder (Brother) Timotheus L. Wignyosoebroto (modern spelling 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 a popular as an alternative method of telling Bible stories.
- ^ Poplawska 2004
- ^ Poplawska 2004
- ^ Mair, Victor H. Painting and Performance:Chinese picture recitation and its Indian Genesis. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1988. p. 58.
- ^ Indonesian Wayang Inscribed in 2003 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
- 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
Shadow play (Chinese: pí yĭng xì) or shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment using opaque, often articulated figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. It is popular in various cultures. At present, more than 20 countries are known to have shadow show troupes.
Shadow puppetry originated during the Han Dynasty when one of the concubines of Emperor Wu of Han died from an illness. The emperor was devastated, and he summoned his court officers to bring his beloved back to life. The officers made a shape of the concubine using donkey leather. Her joints were animated using 11 separate pieces of the leather, and adorned with painted clothes. Using an oil lamp they made her shadow move, bringing her back to life. Shadow theatre became quite popular as early as the Song Dynasty when holidays were marked by the presentation of many shadow plays. During the Ming Dynasty there were 40 to 50 shadow show troupes in the city of Beijing alone. In the 13th century, the shadow show became a regular recreation in the barracks of the Mongolian troops. It was spread by the conquering Mongols to distant countries like Persia, Arabia, and Turkey. Later, it was introduced to other Southeastern Asian countries. The earliest shadow theatre screens were made of mulberry paper. The storytellers generally used the art to tell events between various war kingdoms or stories of Buddhist sources. Today, puppets made of leather and moved on sticks are used to tell dramatic versions of traditional fairy tales and myths. In Gansu province, it is accompanied by Daoqing music, while in Jilin, accompanying Huanglong music forms some of the basis of modern opera.
Chinese shadow puppetry is shown in the 1994 Zhang Yimou film To Live.
The origins of Taiwan’s shadow puppetry can be traced to the Chaochow school of shadow puppet theatre. Commonly known as leather monkey shows or leather shows, the shadow plays were popular in Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Pingtung as early as the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.). Older puppeteers estimate that there were at least a hundred shadow puppet troupes in southern Taiwan in the closing years of the Qing. Traditionally, the eight to 12-inch puppet figures, and the stage scenery and props such as furniture, natural scenery, pagodas, halls, and plants are all cut from leather. As shadow puppetry is based on light penetrating through a translucent sheet of cloth, the “shadows” are actually silhouettes seen by the audience in profile or face on. Taiwan’s shadow plays are accompanied by Chaochow melodies which are often called “priest’s melodies” owing to their similarity with the music used by Taoist priests at funerals. A large repertoire of some 300 scripts of the southern school of drama used in shadow puppetry and dating back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries has been preserved in Taiwan and is considered to be a priceless cultural asset..
A number of terms are used to describe the different forms.
- (皮影戏, pí yĭng xì) is a shadow theatre using leather puppets. The figures are usually moved behind a thin screen and is not entirely a show of shadows as it is more of a silhouette shadow. This gives the figures some color, and is not 100% black and white.
- (纸影戏, zhĭ yĭng xì) is paper shadow theatre.
- (中國影戏, zhōng guó yĭng xì) is Chinese shadow theatre.
The show began to spread to Europe in the mid-18th century, when French missionaries in China took it back to France in 1767 and put on performances in Paris and Marseilles, causing quite a stir. In time, the Ombres chinoises (French for “Chinese Shadows”) with local modification and embellishment, became the Ombres françaises and struck root in the country.
The art was a popular entertainment in Paris during the 19th century, especially in the famous nightclub district of Montmartre. The tradition in France dates back to at least the mid-18th century when it was brought back by travellers to the Orient. The puppeteer Dominique Séraphin first presented the spectacle in Paris in 1776, and in Versailles in 1781.
The cabaret Le Chat noir (“The Black Cat”) produced a number of popular Ombres chinoises shows in the 1880s, organized by the artist Henri Rivière, using up to 20 assistants and a large, oxy-hydrogen back-lit performance area. The Ombres evolved into numerous theatrical productions and had a major influence on phantasmagoria.
It was claimed by Sunul Chakraborty that the ancient Indian art of storytelling with the help of pictures began with the Harappans civilization. Several Harappan seals show ancient Indian traditional folk tale in a progression of scenes. This archaeological finds prove that pat, the folk painting of Bengal, exist before the arrival of the Aryans in India. Modern Indian names: Killekyata, Killikets (these two also present shadow plays), citrakathi, c[h]itrakar, patua, patidar, pat, par, para, etc. Their ancient names were: yamapattaka, mankha, maskari, and saubhika. The latter is however very controversial, a difficult word, and much disputed among scholars. There is lack of agreement on the meaning of saubhika mentioned in the ancient texts. But the majority make out the meaning as either “picture showman” or “shadow player”. Shadow puppets remained popular until recently in modern India, including in Andhra Pradesh and as leather puppets in Karnataka.
In Malaysia, shadow puppet plays are also known as wayang kulit. In Malay, Wayang means shadow or imagination, while Kulit means skin and refers to the leather that puppets are made from. Stories presented are usually mythical & morality tales. There is an educational moral to the plays which usually portray a battle between Malay shadow plays are sometimes considered one of the earliest examples of animation. The wayang kulit in northern states of Malaysia such as Kelantan is influenced and similar to Thai shadow puppets, while the wayang kulit in southern Malay peninsula, especially in Johor is influenced by Javanese wayang kulit.
The puppets are made primarily of leather and manipulated with sticks or buffalo horn handles. Shadows are cast using an oil lamp or, in modern times, a halogen light, onto a cotton cloth background. They are often associated with gamelan music.
Shadow plays is popular in Cambodia. It is performed during sacred temple ceremonies, at private functions, and for the public in the villages. The performance is accompanied with Pinpeat orchestra in Cambodia.
Shadow theatre in Thailand is called Nang Yai; in the south there is a tradition called nang Talung (หนังตะลุง). Nang Yai puppets are normally made of cowhide and rattan. Performances are normally accompanied by a combination of songs and chants. Performances in Thailand were temporarily suspended in 1960 due to a fire at the national theatre. Nang drama has influenced modern Thai cinema, including filmmakers like Cherd Songsri and Payut Ngaokrachang.
The Ottoman Shadow Play and its Turkish descendants
The Turkish tradition of shadow play called Karagöz and Hacivat was widespread throughout the Ottoman Empire and featured characters representing all of the major ethnic and social groups in that culture. It was performed by a single puppet master, who voiced all of the characters, and accompanied by tambourine (def). Its origins are obscure, deriving perhaps from an older Egyptian tradition, or possibly from an Asian source.
During the 19th century these characters were adapted to the Greek language and culture, Karagöz and Hacivat becoming Karagiozis and Hadjiavatis with each of the characters assuming stereotypically Greek personalities. This tradition thrived throughout Greece after independence as popular entertainment for a largely adult audience, particularly before competition arose from television. The stories did, however, retain the period setting in the late years of the Ottoman Empire. Karagiozis theatre has undergone some revival in recent years, with the intended audience tends largely juvenile.
Shadow puppetry today
In the 1910s the German animator Lotte Reiniger pioneered silhouette animation as a format, whereby shadow play-like puppets are filmed frame-by-frame. This technique has been kept alive by subsequent animators and is still practised today, though cel animation and computer animation has also been used to imitate the look of shadow play and silhouette animation.
Shadow theatre itself is still popular in many parts of Asia. Prahlad Acharya is one famous Indian magician who incorporates it into his performances.
It also appears occasionally in western popular culture, for example in:
- The children’s television show Bear in the Big Blue House
- The staging of Jethro Tull’s Rock Island tour
- The 1983 film The Year of Living Dangerously, opens with a scene from an Indonesian Wayang shadow play
- The 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America, where it is occasionally seen in the Opium house.
- The 1998 short film Humdrum
- The 2002 horror film Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary
- The 7th Season of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia has an extensive variety of Chinese shadow puppets in their Asian collection.
- The entertainer Bablu Mallick, who used used shadow play in his act during 1980’s TV appearances, including on Paul Daniels Magic Show.
Richard Bradshaw OAM is a famous Australian shadow puppeteer. His character Super Kangaroo is just one in his varied repertoire. The skill of Bradshaw has been featured in television programs made by Jim Henson.
The Shadow Theatre of Anaphoria (relocated to Australia from California) combines a mixture of reconstructed and original puppets with multiple sources of lights. The company is under the direction of Kraig Grady.
Wayang kulit as seen by the audience
Wayang kulit puppet in Bali, Indonesia
Karagöz and Hacivat
Shadow puppet from Kelantan.
Short video showing shadow play in Kota Bahru, Malaysia, including behind the scenes