Wayang Puppets

One of Java’s traditional performing arts is the wayang performance. “Wayang” literally means “shadow” in Javanese, but wayang has become an expression embracing most types of dramatic performances. The early history of the art is uncertain, but it is believed it was developed from ancient ancestral worship and originated in China, India or Java.

There are many varieties of wayang performances:
  • Wayang kulit – leather (buffalo skin) shadow puppets
  • Wayang beber - a paper scroll play unwound during the narration
  • Wayang topeng - masked dance
  • Wayang wong or wayang orang - live actors with spectacular and colorful costumes
  • Wayang kelitik or kerucil - flat wooden puppets
  • Wayang golek - three dimensional wooden puppets

Wayang performances are commissioned to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special events. They are traditional morality plays which portray the fight between good and evil. The good normally win, but evil is not completely vanquished. Many performances are excerpts from the Ramayana or Mahabharata, two great Hindu epics over a thousand years old. In the ninth century, these were translated from Hindu to Javanese language and are to this day normally performed in this language.