[note: This article and the following glossary were first prepared as an oral presentation following work on a UNESCO grant. The author drew on her own long experience with wayang, as well as, David Irvine's Leather Gods & Wooden Heroes. Java's Classical Wayang and Kathy Foley's article on wayang for the World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts. It is possible, therefor, that not every citation is marked as such and we apologize for any oversight in this connection. –Editor]

Presented by Karen Smith

In 2003, Indonesia's traditional theatre – wayang – was proclaimed a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Intangible and Oral Heritage of Humanity.

The wayang traditions of Central and Eastern Java, the Sunda region of West Java, and Bali, on the whole, continue to attract practitioners and audiences and are more or less flourishing. But there are wayang styles that are struggling to survive. The shadow theatres, Wayang Banjar of South Kalimantan, and Wayang Palembang of South Sumatra, for example, are in danger of dying out.

The various arts of wayang include the art of the dalang (or puppeteer) and the dancer-actor (of wayang wong, also called wayang orang); the gamelan musicians and singers; the puppet makers; and the makers of the gamelan musical instruments.

What is Wayang?

Wayang is the traditional theatre found all over Java, including the Sunda region of West Java, in Bali, Lombok, Sumatra, and Kalimantan. It includes theatre with puppets as well as human actors. Puppetry is considered to be the elder art: in fact, the traditional human theatre is modelled on the puppet form. The dancers of the traditional dance-drama, wayang wong (Javanese) also known as wayang orang (Indonesian: literally, "human wayang"), could indeed be called "human puppets".

Music and dance are central to wayang performance, whether the performers are puppets or humans. The gamelan orchestra, or specific gamelan instruments, as well as the human voice accompany the traditional wayang performances.

The Dalang – puppeteer – and the Wayang Text

Wayang performers – the dalang – generate their text according to rules. It is the structure that a student dalang studies. As well as manipulating the wayang figures and creating the many characters of the story, the dalang narrates, sings the mood songs, and cues the gamelan. The accomplished dalang needs to be a playwright, producer and director, a fine actor, a master puppet manipulator and a musician, singer and orchestra conductor, as well as a comedian, social commentator and critic.

Because of the educational, ethical, and at times ritual or spiritual nature of wayang performances, dalang today continue to be considered guru-priests as well as entertainers.

The Role of Improvisation

While the structure of a traditional wayang performance is set, it is in the clown scenes and the actions of ogres that a dalang can improvise and create his or her individual mark on the art. Indeed, it is during the clown scenes that topical issues and contemporary concerns can be aired and discussed.

Genre, Medium, Story cycle, Language/culture area

Potentially there are hundreds of kinds of wayang.

There are usually two or more terms describing each specific kind of wayang.

1st term = Genre:

"Wayang" usually means a performance narrated by a dalang, accompanied by a gamelan, using types and structured improvisation.

2nd term = Medium of the performance:

Some examples of the medium of performance include the following: painted scrolls (beber), leather shadow puppets (kulit), flat wooden puppets (klitik), wooden rod puppets (golek), masks (topeng), unmasked dancers (wong or orang)

3rd term = Story cycle:

The terms, Wayang Purwa (purwa, meaning "old", "ancient") and Wayang Parwa ("book"), refer to the four cycles of traditional drama: Mahabharata, Ramayana, Arjuna Sasrabahu based on Indian epic stories, and the Jawa Dewa, old Hindu-Javanese plays based on the mythology of traditional propitiation and purification rituals.

Other story cycles include:

Wayang Menak (menak = "aristocrat"). These are wayang scenarios based on Arabic stories of Amir Hamzah, uncle of the Prophet Mohammed, considered the perfect king. This cycle of stories was introduced in the 16th century by the Islamic walis of the north coast of Java. (The nine walis were Sufi teachers who spread Islam and performed a variety of powerful acts across Java.) Wayang Menak is usually portrayed with wayang golek puppets.

Wayang Cepak, also called Wayang Pegon. Cycle of wayang tales from the 16th century relating the chronicles of the north coastal city of Cirebon and the spread of Islam into West Java, usually portrayed with the distinctive small wayang golek puppets associated with Cirebon.

Wayang Dupara. Cycle of stories devised in the 19th century using kulit (skin, leather) puppets and relating the history of the second Mataram dynasty, told from the viewpoint of the Surakarta kratons (courts/palace culture).

Wayang Kuluk. Cycle of stories devised in the 19th century by Sultan Hamengkubuwono V (1822-1855) using kulit puppets and relating the history of the second Mataram dynasty told from the point of view of the Yogyakarta kratons.

Wayang Calonarang. Balinese stories based on the Airlangga period (11th century), told with leather kulit shadow puppets. The central story deals with the defeat of the powerful witch-widow, Calon Arang.

Wayang Gambuh or Wayang Cupak. Balinese wayang stories based on the exploits of the legendary hero, Prince Panji.

Wayang Gedog. Cycle of stories created from the 16th century about Javanese kings, such as Prince Panji, legendary hero of the 12th century East Javanese Kediri-Singosari periods; and Damar Wulan (King Brawijaya), of the later Majapahit period. Traditionally performed with kulit or klitik puppets, also as illustrated stories (wayang beber), and dance-drama form (wayang langendria).

Wayang Babad. Historical chronicles.

Wayang Jawa. Cycle of stories about the modern Javanese hero, Prince Diponegoro, who led a rebellion against the Dutch between 1825-1830, performed with kulit puppets.

Wayang Dobel. Modern cycle of wayang stories based on the old prophets of Islam.

Wayang Wahyu (wahyu = "power", "revelation"). Christian Bible stories, performed with kulit leather puppets.

Wayang Potehi. Traditional glove (hand) puppets telling Chinese stories.

Wayang Cina Jawa. Kulit or shadow puppets telling Chinese stories.

Wayang Madya (madya = "middle"). 19th century cycle of stories relating the history of the kings of Java in the period bridging the legendary kings of wayang purwa (such as the Mahabharata hero Yudhistira and his descendants) and the Javanese rulers (such as Panji and Damar Wulan [King Brawijaya]). The principal figures of Wayang Madya are the East Javanese kings, Airlangga (11th century) and Jayabaya (12th century).

Wayang Kancil. Indonesian folk stories featuring a mouse-deer (kancil), usually with an environmental message. Performed with kulit puppets.

Wayang Sasak. Islamic stories believed to have been brought to the island of Lombok in the 16th century by a student of Sunan Kalijaga, one of the nine walis (saints) of Islam, told today using kulit shadow puppets.

Wayang Suluk. Traditional stories of West Java, relating the exploits of the Sundanese hero, Siliwangi, usually with golek (3-dimensional rod puppets).

Wayang Suluh or Wayang Perjuangan. Stories of the 1945 revolutionary heroes of Indonesia, such as Soekarno and Hatta.

Wayang Pancasila. Stories devised to popularize independent Indonesia state ideology.

And so on. And so forth. The above-mentioned are only a sampling of the variety of story cycles portrayed through wayang.

4th term = Language/Culture area of the performance:

e.g. Jawa, Sunda, Betawi, Bali, Banjar, Palembang . . .

wayang kulit purwa Jawa

wayang golek purwa Sunda

wayang golek Betawi

Descriptions of Some of the Styles and Forms of Wayang Puppets

1. Wayang Kulit puppets

Wayang kulit is shadow theatre requiring a white cloth screen (kelir) and a light source (the traditional oil lamp [blencong] or a light bulb powered by electricity) to throw the shadow. A gamelan orchestra with singers accompanies the shadow play.

Kulit or "leather" puppets are made from buffalo or goat hide. The master craftsman draws the features of the character in precise detail on a piece of prepared leather. With a variety of sharp tools and a light mallet, the craftsman incises the design into the leather.

There are 36 carving tools that make a range of patterns or motifs for different parts of the puppet, producing facial features, hair, beards, headdresses, batik costumes, ornaments, such as back wings, and jewellery. The whole process demands intense concentration and attention to detail.

The wayang kulit puppet is then carefully painted according to the specific rules and moods laid down for each character. The most alus (refined) characters are coated in gold leaf instead of gold paint.

Articulated arms are attached to the body with fastenings. The completed puppet is coated with clear varnish.

Another craftsman makes the puppet's main handle (or rod) and two arm sticks/rods) from the horn of a buffalo. The horn is cut and then fashioned over a low flame into the desired shape. Wood handles are also used.

Leather kulit puppets are distinguished by their size, shape, colouring and dress. Further differentiation in the facial characteristics, ornamentation and the shape of the hands ensures that each character has its own recognizable individual puppet.

The color of the face, for instance, is indicative of the mood of the character — a gold face reflects inner harmony; a black face anger or great physical strength, or maturity; a red or pink face or body suggests a bold and aggressive nature; green and blue also indicates aggressiveness; a white face indicates youth, innocence or purity.

Variations in the puppets' size, shape of facial features, the incline of the face, distance between the puppet's feet, clothing, hair, ornamentation, etc., also may change for each character, again reflecting the status, age, mood or personality type at the particular moment the character appears in the story. These are very subtle variations!

Wayang Purwa:

Types of Characters in Wayang Purwa

Gods and Goddesses, Brahmans and Sages, Noble Kings, Warrior Heroes (Kesatrias) and Noble Ladies, Commoners, Clowns and Servants, Giants, Demons and Ogres, Animals (including Garuda birds, monkeys, the most famous being Anoman (also Hanoman and Hanuman), serpents, dragons, as well as elephants, horses, and other animals).

The punakawan is a special category of clown figures. They are the friends and assistants to the heroes in wayang purwa stories. The term punakawan means "wise friend" in Javanese. The heroes rely on the punakawan's wisdom and advice in their pursuit of truth and greatness.

These clown attendants are very important characters in wayang. They appear in every purwa or "classical" story. Besides providing the humour, they are the link between the world depicted in the wayang story being performed and the world of today's audiences. The clowns are the commentators of both the classical and the contemporary world.

These wise clown-attendants of Javanese wayang purwa are Semar, Petruk, Gareng and Bagong.

There are also clown-servants of the anti-heroes, such as Bilung and Togog. These clowns are stupid, led by self-interest.

There are also female clown servants — the rail-thin Cangik and her clumsy and fat daughter, Limbuk. They provide physical as well as verbal humour, and from the female perspective.

2. Wayang Golek puppets

Golek are three-dimensional stick (or rod) puppets, carved from wood, painted and decorated. They have horizontally articulated heads. These days some of the golek clowns and giants even have vertically articulated necks or jaws. Some golek puppet characters can smoke, be cleaved in two, drip blood from knife or gun wounds, even spew spaghetti that simulates vomit or guts!

Wayang golek puppets are thought to be a relatively recent arrival on the Javanese scene. Possibly introduced by the Sunan of Kudus in the late 16th century to portray the characters in wayang purwa and in the Menak Cycle of stories of Amir Hamzah, uncle of the Prophet Mohammed. The style was also used for the Panji and Damar Wulan stories and for local historical Islamic tales.

Since the early 19th century wayang golek has been a favourite medium for the Sundanese of West Java to perform local stories about the exploits of the Sundanese hero, King Siliwangi (see Wayang Sunda) or stories from the traditional wayang purwa cycles.

Wayang golek performances are especially popular in West Java and the pesisir (north coast cities), especially Cirebon, Bandung and Bogor. Each region has its own distinctive style of puppets.

Wayang golek performances are also held in Yogyakarta, but golek rod puppets have never challenged the supremacy of kulit shadow puppets in Central and East Java.

Wayang golek puppets are usually made by the dalangs themselves. This requires that they be master wood carvers. The dalang's wife or daughters usually sew the puppets' clothes, which may be elaborated with hundreds of gold beads stitched onto the character's jacket or chest covering.

The center body stick is made of wood, and the arm rods are also usually carved from wood rather than buffalo horn.

Like the kulit leather puppets, golek puppets are distinguished by their size, shape, colouring and dress. They generally follow the rules laid down for the standard characterizations of wayang kulit, although there are some differences in colouring, ornamentation and headdress.

There are variations in the fine detail of wayang golek puppets carved in Cirebon, Bandung or Bogor.

In West Java, the clown-attendants are Semar, Udawala (or Dawala, similar to Petruk), Udel (similar to Gareng), and Cepot (or Astrajingga, similar to Bagong).

3. Wayang Wong

Central Javanese human dance-drama, or Wayang Wong, as we see it today in Surakarta and Yogyakarta is around 200 years old. It is a sophisticated and highly stylized kraton-based artistic form. The repertoire is drawn from the major wayang cycles, but with an emphasis on Ramayana and Mahabharata stories.

It is heavily influenced by wayang kulit, in terms of speech, posture and movement of the actor-dancers. Nevertheless, many of the complex and highly refined eye, hand, finger, and head movements are directly reminiscent of classical dance traditions in India, Thailand and Cambodia.

In recent years, Indonesian comedians have adapted the clown-servant characters from wayang purwa — Semar, Petruk, Gareng, Bagong, Limbuk and Cangik — into stand-up comedy routines for travelling road shows and the national television and radio.

Irvine, David. Leather Gods & Wooden Heroes. Java's Classical Wayang.
Singapore: Times Editions, Pte. Ltd., 1996.

CENTRAL JAVA 1. Wayang Kulit Purwa Jawa puppets

The Surakarta and Yogyakarta traditions –

Surakarta wayang kulit puppets are slightly more delicate in appearance than those from Yogyakarta. Dress and ornamentation also differ, reflecting the local style of batik (traditional wax-dyed cloth), keris (ceremonial dagger), and other regional features.

In the classical repertoire of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories (which originated in India) there are usually between 200 to 600 separate puppets. Some characters, such as Kresna, Arjuna or Bima, for example, require a number of different puppet figures to reflect the status, age, mood, emotional state or personality type at the particular moment the character appears in the story. The overall appearance of a puppet is called its wanda. Bima has more than 15 different puppets to reflect the hero at any given moment.


2. Wayang Kulit Parwa Bali puppets

Balinese leather puppet figures depicting the classical stories based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata are less stylized than Javanese shadow puppets, and closer to "life".

A full set of Balinese wayang parwa figures (depicting characters from the Ramayana, Mahabharata) usually numbers between 120 and 150 puppets.

The ancient origins of wayang were in part linked to religious ritual. This function of wayang is particularly evident on modern Bali, where the local brand of Hinduism imported from Java at least as early as the 11th century remains such a vital element of the daily spiritual lives of the Balinese. Wayang performances on Bali are held in conjunction with the myriad of local religious festivals. Wayang serves a necessary mystical religious function.

The punakawan (the wise friend or clown attendants) of Bali are Tualen (similar in function to the Javanese Semar) and Merdah. They assist and advise the heroes. Their counterparts, who associate with the anti-heroes and "baddies" are Delem and Sangut. The female clown servant is Condong.


3. Wayang Banjar puppets

The wayang kulit purwa (Ramayana and Mahabharata) shadow puppets are, in general, based on the Yogyakarta Javanese models. For instance, notice the two eyes seen in profile on some of the puppets, such as certain ogres and Hanoman, which is a feature of the Yogyakarta wayang tradition.

The Wayang Banjar puppets are smaller in size, and less detailed in their carving, than their Javanese counterparts. The colouring of the puppets is distinctive: pastel shades, especially pink and turquoise.

A full set of Wayang Banjar puppets is around 120 figures.

Wayang Banjar relates variations of the Hindu epics as well as local folklore.


4. Wayang Palembang puppets

These wayang kulit purwa (Ramayana and Mahabharata) shadow puppets are based on the Yogyakarta Javanese models, a noticeable feature being the two eyes seen in profile on some of the puppets, such as Hanoman, which, as mentioned earlier, is a feature of the Yogyakarta wayang tradition.

The Wayang Palembang puppets are slightly smaller in size, with slightly less detail in their carving as compared with their Javanese counterparts. Notice that there is a preponderance of the colours red and green.

Wayang Palembang relates variations of the Hindu epics and local folklore.


5. Wayang Golek Purwa Sunda puppets

In the classical purwa repertoire of Ramayana and Mahabharata stories, there are usually between 50 to 70 separate puppets. A wayang golek set might contain more than one or two puppets of the same character. But the concept of wanda (the overall appearance of a puppet denoting mood, emotional state, age) is not considered to the same degree of subtlety as in central and East Javanese wayang kulit.

Like wayang kulit, the individual status, age and mood of a character are also reflected through the use of colour.

Wayang golek, however, uses a wider variety of facial and body colouring than wayang kulit. Alus (halus in Indonesian, meaning "refined") characters may have white, pale pink or orange faces. Women's faces are generally white. The more aggressive kesatria warrior characters have pink, blue or green faces or bodies. As the character becomes more and more crude (kasar), the facial colouring progressively darkens from pink to deep red.

Like the other regional forms of wayang, the Sundanese gamelan has its own distinctive sound and some musical instruments are unique to the region.

Irvine, David. Leather Gods & Wooden Heroes. Java's Classical Wayang.
Singapore: Times Editions, Pte. Ltd., 1996.