Wayang Kulit

is an ancientIndonesian form of art that has impacted the modern art in many ways.In the modern language of Indonesia, the term ‘Wayang’ meanspuppet while ‘Kulit’ means leather or skin. Some would say thatthe term ‘Wayang’ comes from the Indonesian word for a shadow,which is ‘Wayang.’ The origin of the word is also claimed to havecome from the old Indonesian words Waya, which means ancestorsdescending and Ang, which means a symbol. There are various types ofthe Wayang plays including Wayang Lemah, which takes place indaylight without a screen, Wayang Wong where dancers are alwaysmoving and Waynag Golek where the rod puppets appear in threedimensions (Backshall 78).

utilizes theIndonesian culture to deliver a message to the viewers, entertain anddepict the importance of Indonesian rituals. The shadow puppettheater involves projecting fine shadow images on a screen withelectric light or an oil lamp. Dalang, who is the shadow artists thatdirects the play, manipulates the curved skin figures between thesource of light and the screen to make the shadows appear live. is very famous in Bali and Java, which are located inIndonesia. In Bali, the people interpret Wayang to mean a puppetwhile those living Java go on to apply the term to the other forms ofWayang (Colville 23).

Brief History of Wayang

Inthe ancient times, Wayang was used as a generic term to mean theIndonesian traditional theatre. There are no records to show whetherWayang existed before the arrival of the Indian traders to SoutheastAsia or not. Some authors have claimed that there might have beenother storytelling traditions in Indonesia that facilitated thegrowth of the traditional puppet theatre. The Indian traders broughtwith them the Hinduism religion even before arrival of the ChristianMissionaries, and the Indonesian people adopted it as their beliefsystem. Wayang saw many changes at this time since the Hindus and theMuslims changed it inorder to spread their religious ideologies(Backshall 80). The stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata aresome of the few examples of Hindus art that were borrowed from the. Wayang plays were praised because they promoted theharmony between the traditional Indonesian culture and Hinduism.

In Java, the traditionalists bythen, continued to play the old Wayang plays, but, due to theinfluence of the Hinduistic religious beliefs, the traditionalstories were abandoned and some integrated to the Hindu stories.However, in Bali, the Wayang figures prevailed and they are stillpresent in the ancient Balinese paintings even today. It is notablethat the interpretations of the term, ‘Wayang’ varied in thesetwo regions because of the spread of Hinduism and Islam (Liu 56). Theinternational cultural organizations such as UNESCO recognize Wayangas a shadow puppet theater depicts the Indonesian culture and how ithas transformed for the last 800 years.

The Origin of

is believed to havebeen born from the traditional Wayang plays, which were laterconverted to shadow theatre that coincided with the Islamic beliefs.When Islam gained popularity in Indonesia, the display of gods inform of human beings was prohibited, and thus the Wayang shadowtheatre was suppressed. Leaders from Java insisted that the shadowplays should have remained in its traditional form, but the Muslimreligious men could not grant them the permission to continue withthe ancient Wayang plays. The Muslim religious leaders changed theWayang Golek to Wayang Purwa, and at this time, they displayedshadows and not the human figures. As a result, was bornwhere the shadow pictures of the forbidden figures were displayed onthe screen (Colville 23).

plays were claimed tocreate harmony between Hinduism, Islam and the traditional Indonesianculture. Today, Wayang is considered to be one of the most ancientand popular form of shadow puppet theatre that has influenced themodern theatre industry. Many people, today, spend their nightswatching the superstar performers in concerts and live performances,whereby extravagant fees are paid. Ki Anom Suroto, Ki Nartosabdho andKi Sugino are some of the most famous artists in recent history. forms part of the Indonesian cultural heritage, whichhas now become internationally acceptable with celebrities goingaround the world to promote this genre of theatrical performances(Colville 29).


As stated earlier, isa shadow puppet theater that emerged from the story telling traditionin Indonesia. It employs light and shadow and this makes it a uniqueform of puppet theatre in history. The human form puppets are madefrom buffalo hide or skin and then mounted on slender bamboo sticks.These puppets are then held up high with a piece of white clothingplaced behind them to cast shadows on the screen when the oil lampilluminates them. The plays are usually based on the classic romantictales of the Indians such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. There areother plays which borrow from the current issues or local happeningsin the Indonesian culture (Backshall 90). The artist behind theshadow puppet theatre directs the course of action by moving theshadows on the screen.

was an intuitive andinteresting form of art because the main story is narrated using themoving shadows, which can be seen but cannot be touched. Theproducers of this form of art believed that when the souls of theIndonesian ancestors were brought to life in form of shadows, theycould easily deliver their advice and support to the audience. Thus,the art performances had magical and spiritualperformances for the Balinese and Javanese people (Liu 59). Thosepeople who attend the performances strongly believe that they areprotected from any evil while the art is being played on the screen.Some people can even sponsor a live performance as a way of givingthanks to someone, who has been healed or is recovering from astrange illness.


The design of the artuses items including a buffalo hide, bamboo sticks, a piece of whitecloth, an oil lamp and a screen. The screen is perceived to representthe white universe where people live their everyday life. The screenhas a bright and a dark side where the former represents the materialworld and the latter represents the mysterious life after death. Theoil lamp, which resembles the shape of a Garuda bird, is viewed asthe sun rays that give life to the living things. The moving parts ofthe puppets are the arms, which are hinged at the elbow and theshoulder. The puppets, which are manufactured by many artisans arealso colored or patterned to create specific meanings of the story(Liu 57).

A character may have severalpuppets with different clothing and different colors, which usuallyindicates the character’s mood. Black represents calmness, anger orstrength while gold represents love of beauty. Red shows the physicalstrength of the characters while white shows the flexibility natureof the character. The Dalang is the man behind the performance, andhe narrates the story while sitting behind the screen (Colville 33).He modulates tones of the orchestra music playing in the backgroundto create suspense and heighten the drama. The critical combinationof sound and color is aimed at climaxing the reputation of good overevil.


Theartistic effects of are still felt today since there arecertain features of the ancient Indonesian culture that haveremained. For example, Galigi, an itinerant performer from Indonesiawas requested to perform in a royal event, and he presented the storyof the heroes from Mahabharata and Bhima. Since the first record ofWayang in 930 CE, the art has grown and gained populace in Indonesiaand around the world. The Ramayana and Mahabharata are the Indianepic stories in which most artists develop their narratives from, andhave inspired many cultures especially in Asia. Although Wayang isbased on the eastern philosophies that are not widely recognized inthe Western theatrical tradition, the art have made its way with thetwo Indian epic stories (Liu 61). The Javanese and Balinese combinedtheir own traditional stories with Muslim and Hindu ideas, and thismade Wayang to be viewed as an Indian art borrowing from these tworeligions. The long stories of Wayang are usually divided intodifferent episodes to give room for the audience to pause as theDalang creates suspense.

Works Cited

Backshall, Stephen.&nbspIndonesia.London: Rough Guides, 2003. Print.

Colville, Suzana.Shadow Puppet TheatrePlay of Bali and Java Indonesia – : of Baliand Java Indonesia.Colville, Suzana, 2004. Print.

Liu, Siyuan RoutledgeHandbook of Asian Theatre. London:Routledge, 2016. Print.