Wayang Kulit

Wayang Kulit is a traditional shadow puppet theatre especially popular on the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali. In 2003 the UNESCO gave Wayang Kulit a status of Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Wayang Kulit puppet
Wayang Kulit puppet

Puppets in this special theatre are made of leather. Handles and controls used to hold and animate the puppet are made of buffalo horn. The stories performed in Wayang Kulit shows are those from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Javanese classic Serat Menak.

Very popular group of characters present in Wayang Kulit shows are called Punakawan or "clown servants." They are Semar and his three sons Gareng, Petruk and Bagong. Semar (in Javanese "secret, mysterious") is the Javanese dhanyang (guardian spirit). According to local beliefs he is the human form of god Sang Hyang Ismaya. Punakawan characters appear in interludes of the play.

Wayang Kulit puppet from Bali
Wayang Kulit puppet from Bali

Puppets differ from region to region. In Java the most popular puppets are those from the city of Surakarta (Solo) located in the central part of island. In Bali puppets are small and more naturalistic. Lombok is an island in the Lesser Sunda Islands. Puppets there are representing real people. Wayang Kulit plays today also include objects like cars, planes or ships.

Wayang Kulit in Yogyakarta,Indonesia
Wayang Kulit play in Yogyakarta,Indonesia

Wayang Kulit plays are traditionally presented with an oil lamp on a cotton screen. But nowadays most organizers use a halogen electric light, spotlights, colour lights etc. It is interesting to know that after Wayang Kulit plays children can often buy simple puppets made of cardboard.