On October 14, 1963 I was born at our family home in the village of Mojopuro in Central Java, Indonesia. As with my two sisters before me, my dhalang father was away performing in another village at the time of my birth. Two other daughters were born into my family following my birth. My four sisters and myself were taught how to play the gamelan instruments and the Javanese dance. My father, having come from a dhalang family, began performing at the age of twelve years and studied shadow puppetry at the Kraton Kasunanan, Solo in 1952. My mother's father played the kendhang and my mother learned how to play the balungan at a very young age.

When I was three years old my father began to take me to his performances and I began to develop a knowledge of the wayang stories, wayang characters and gamelan melodies. At ten years of age I performed my first all-night wayang kulit play.

In 1982 I graduated from high school and enrolled at the tertiary institution of Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia (STSI) in Solo to study the art of shadow puppetry. I graduated in 1986 and became a lecturer in the pedalangan department at STSI in 1987. I continued to perform all-night wayang kulit plays and lecture at STSI until I travelled to New Zealand in 1993. I finished my doctorate at Otago University in 2000.

Religious Performance in Java:
Ruwatan, Gamelan, and Shadow Puppets
by Dr. Joko Susilo

This article is about the history, myths and rituals of the Javanese ruwatan ceremony. The ruwatan ceremony is performed as a form of exorcism for people (sukerta) who have fallen victim to personal disaster and are considered magically vulnerable to the evil god Bathara Kala.  The ruwatan is a very ancient tradition of perfomance that dates back to the 10th century if not earlier and combines many different strands of Javanese religion: animism, Hinduism, Tantric Buddhism, and Islam. There have been adaptations and innovations in ruwatan during the modern period, however these changes have served to ensure the survival of ruwatan, and its importance for Javanese people has endured.

Central to ruwatan, and to Javanese ritual life in general, is wayang kulit.1
Rituals involving wayang kulit are held regularly in Java, and the hosts enjoy a temporary position of authority and importance for a variety of reasons. In hosting a grand event a family's status and impression of wealth is maximised despite the mutual assistance from neighbours and family. A host's status in the village may increase with an elaborate and expensive ritual celebration (Susilo 1996, 4). Wayang kulit theatre and gamelan music are closely associated with the festivals and rituals in which all Javanese participate.  Circumcisions, weddings, births, national holidays, anniversaries, house building, exorcising evil spirits and many other ceremonies are occasions for wayang kulit performances.  Walton (1987, 5) acknowledges that: "Indeed, entertainment and ritual are not as clearly separated in Javanese culture as in our own." 

The Dhalang Ruwat

The most important figure in ruwatan is the dhalang ruwat, or puppeteer. The Dhalang conducts the orchestra, manipulates the puppets, sings, narrates and speaks the dialogue. 2 Most dhalang are able to trace their genealogies back through several generations of dhalang.  Those dhalang  who have a long line of descent are believed to possess ngelmu pedhalangan (the esoteric knowledge of the dhalang). The different lines of dhalang families in Java are expected to inherit variants in the tradition, and any member of such families retains at least a little of his father's style, as well as eventually adding his own variations. Years of training and practice are required to master puppet manipulation and attain the knowledge and techniques of the dhalang.   It is generally accepted that a dhalang should be a skilled singer to sing the suluk (mood songs), he must be able to manipulate the puppets skilfully (sabetan), and he must be at least a moderately skilled musician in order to direct the gamelan orchestra.  The dhalang must have knowledge of the characters' genealogy as well as the stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics in order to perform successfully.  Becker (1993, 7) maintains:

Quality craftsmanship, careful execution have always been highly valued; inferior products or performances are routinely rejected.  Javanese dancers, musicians and critics can and do talk endlessly about technique, about execution and about the degree of polish of a performance, and they do so with an extensive technical vocabulary.  In Java and Bali it is a given that performances, especially ritual performances, will be of as high a quality as possible given the skill and experience of the performers and the monetary resources of the sponsors.


Kayam (1994, 105) says that one of the most important factors for the popularity and extension of the dhalang is his auditive power.  Important elements of the performance that increase the auditive power of the dhalang are: the appropriate characterisation of the various characters (antawacana), the use of refined language (udanegara), gendhingaccompaniment, and the timing as well as the intensity of keprakan (the clanging of the keprak against the wayang box on the left of the dhalang).  Other elements that increase the auditive power of the performance are the word play and humour of the dhalang.  His ability to produce refinement, dignity and excitement in his characterisation of the puppets is important. 

The music and techniques of wayang kulit performance are transmitted in many ways. In addition to studying wayang kulit with a teacher, dhalangs may listen to the performances of their colleagues over the radio, watch wayang kulit plays on television and attend live performances. They adopt or copy any humour, manipulation techniques, music and any other elements of style that they like for their own performances. Ki. Anom Suroto, one of the most popular and well paid dhalang in Central Java admits that the role of Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI) was vital in supporting his growth and popularity.  RRI imposed strict standards on wayang kulit performances and it was necessary for Ki. Anom Suroto to improve his skills and knowledge of pedhalangan(the study of puppetry) in order to perform at the radio station. 

However, RRI does not record ruwatan plays, as they are performed specifically as an integral part of the sacred, exorcism ritual.  Thus ruwatan performances have not been standardised in the same fashion as all-night wayang kulit performances. A ruwatan ritual is a rare and important event, and another ruwatan dhalang must be invited to attend.  A dhalang who wishes to learn ruwatan must become apprentice to an older puppeteer. The apprentice dhalang accompanies his mentor to performances (nyantrik) and may learn the unique style of the older dhalang.  The apprentice puppeteer becomes a servant to his mentor during the rainy season when the dhalang does not perform and learns from his wisdom and experience.

The spiritual training of a dhalang is not standardised and depends upon his teacher's style.  There are many different ways for a dhalangto learn strength of batin (spiritual strength).

Among the many types of asceticism Javanese value are fasting, going without sleep, sexual abstinence, doing vigil at the site of a holy man's grave or under a large tree, soaking in a stream after midnight, eating no salt on Monday and Thursday, and walking about without any goal. (Keeler 1987, 41)


The spiritual training laku (step) of the dhalang continues throughout his life. 3 The dhalang must have great stamina to be able to sit in one position for an eight to nine hour period without a break while manipulating the puppets, directing the orchestra and using his voice throughout the night to dramatise the story.
The dhalang is considered the “king” of the wayang kulit  performance.  The dhalang  is not only the playwright and actor in each performance, but is also the director.  As Keeler (1987, 15) has mentioned: 

His [the dhalang's] authority over the performance is total.  He crafts the story, manipulates all the puppets, takes all their voices and directs the gamelan, all at the same time.  In the course of the performance, as dhalangare fond of putting it, the dhalangis king.


The ruwatan dhalang is not only the “king” of the performance but is perceived to have esoteric knowledge and power.  He serves as an “exorcist” with an ability to heal and prevent disaster. 

Prior to the Second World War the Javanese looked to their king for control and authority.  The prestige of Javanese royalty has declined since the 1945 revolution and attainment of independence.  There has been a shifting of power and economy in Java.  Keeler (1987, 86) maintains that today, the Javanese depend on their lurah (village head) for protection and authority.  The role of the dhalang  is also one of authority.  The dhalang  has ascetic knowledge but is not linked to political control.  He  enjoys a higher status in Java today than was the case before as he is no longer seen as a servant of the king. 

Types of Ruwatan Performance

The ruwatan ritual may be performed in the context of wayang kulit theatre led by a dhalang ruwat or as a ritual that is conducted by a dhukun (traditional healer).  In the case of wayang kulit ruwatan the dhalang is the exorcist who is entrusted to rid sukerta people of theirvulnerabilty to Bathara Kala. 

 A. Ruwatan Negara (ruwatan performance for country/kingdom)

Evidence of the existence of ruwatan performance is found on the reliefs ofthe twelfth century Javanese temples such as the Candhi Sukuh and the Candhi Surowono. 4 The reliefs dramatise the Sudamala story which depicts the events in the lives of the youngest Pandhawa brother Sadewa and the goddess Dewi Uma (Haryoguritno 1996, 20). 5Until the year 1949 ruwatan negara rituals were hosted by the rulers of the state to prevent danger and epidemic.  According to Mugiarto (1980, 1) the last known ruwatan negara was hosted by the ruler of the Mangkunegaran kingdom on Monday, 23 October, 1949.  The ritual was performed by the dhalang Ki. Rangga Wignyasutarna in the great hall of the Mangkunegaran palace. The ruwatan was carried out in an attempt to solve the many problems in the country at that time. 
In the present day a ruwatan negararitual (the cleansing of an area such as a village or suburb) is one of the most important ceremonies that is performed in the villages of Java. Village cleansing (bersih desa or dekah desa)  ceremonies are generally held at the end of the rice harvest (musim panen)  when people are more likely to have enough food to share with their neighbours. 

Following rice harvest a village may sponsor an animistic "village cleansing" (bersih desa) performance as part of a purification ceremony of the village and its inhabitants.  A play of the animistic cycle, such as Sri Mantuk, in which Dewi Sri, Goddess of Rice brings rich harvests to mankind would be suitable.  (Brandon 1970, 14) 


Haryoguritno (1996, 44) says the village cleansing ceremony involves all the village inhabitants irrespective of their religious beliefs.  The celebration involves competitions in art, sport andgames that are held a week before the wayang kulit performance.  Awards for the winners of the competitions are usually presented an hour before the all-night wayang kulit play (which follows the eight hour bersih desa wayang kulit play). The story of either Sudamala or Bathari Sri Mulih (Sri Mantuk) is generally chosen for the village cleansing ceremony. 6Bathari Sri is the Goddess of rice and mulih or mantukmeans return (to the village).

Although a form of exorcism is carried out it is not necessary for a dhalang ruwat to perform a bersih desa wayang kulit play.  However, the community members of some villages in Central Java prefer to hire a dhalang who is a descendant of several generations of puppeteers.  It is believed the genealogy of the dhalang will influence the productivity of the local farms.  The only offerings presented at a bersih desa ceremony are the sajen wayang(offerings for the gamelanorchestra and wayang figures), which are presented at every wayang kulit performance.

B. Ruwatan Sukerta(ruwatan for sukerta people)

The Javanese term sukerta comes from the word suker (a disturbance).  Javanese people believe that certain people are magically vulnerable and must have a ruwatan play performed in their honour to remove the disturbance.  The ruwatan sukerta ceremony is hosted by a family who has a magically vulnerable (sukerta) member. 7People who have a sukerta person in their family may believe that they must host a ruwatanperformance to save the life of that person.  The ruwatan play is performed to protect people from the influence of the evil spirit of Bathara Kala (Soetarno 1992, 16). 

 C. Ruwatan Bumi(ruwatan for land)

Ruwatan bumi are performed to cleanse, safe-guard and bring prosperity to a certain area, for example, a farm, field, yard, mountain, river, beach, sea, orbuilding.  The ruwatan bumi ceremony is performed to release the negative influences of the spirits and bring peace to the area.  A Javanese person who needs to remove trees and foliage in order to build on a section will host a ruwatan ceremony called mapak tunggak (to remove the supernatural spirits who dwell there).  Haryoguritno (1996, 45) mentions that prior to building on the section, an offering called tolak bala (to reject negative influences) is given. 

During a ruwatan bumi ceremony a sacrificial offering of an animal such as a buffalo, horse or cow is made.  The head of the animal is buried where the new building is to be built. If the ruwatan ceremony is held at the beach, the buffalo head and other offerings are thrown into the sea.  The story for the mapak tunggak ceremony is generally Babat Alas Marta (Bima builds a kingdom for his family).  Another story may be chosen by the dhalang and host.  It is not necessary for a dhalang ruwatto perform the ruwatan bumi, although a popular and expensive dhalang is generally chosen (pers. comm. Murtiyoso, 15 October 1996).  n 1995 Ki. Timbul Hadiprayitna from Yogyakarta performed a ruwatan for the University of Gadjah Mada.  The ruwatan was performed for the whole university including students, staff and buildings. 

D. Ruwatan Hewan (ruwatan for animals)

The ruwatan hewan ceremony does not involve a wayang kulit performance, but rather is a ritual ceremony to remove either animal or insect pests.  A rice farmer may perform a ruwatan hewan ceremony when the crops are being damaged by insects.  The rice farmer willrecite a chant, present an offering, and leave a scarecrow in the field where the crops are being damaged.  In some villages of Central Java ruwatan ceremonies called budha cemengan/rebo wagen (black Wednesday) were performed to protect domestic animals.  These ceremonies were held in the fields with many shepherds and cattle farmers (Haryoguritno 1996, 46).  A sajen bancakan (food offering) was given at the ceremony to protect the animals from other dangerous animals such as tigers, lions and poisonous snakes.  Ruwatan hewan ceremonies were performed until the 1970s but are not very common today.  Some ruwatan hewan ceremonies are still performed in the more remote areas of Central Java.

Murwakala and Ruwatan in Centhini

Serat Centhini Vol 2 (early 19th Century), transcribed by Kamajaya (1986, 294-341),  tells the Murwakala  story in tembang verse.8Serat Centhini discusses in detail many of the elements of ruwatan performance including the storylines, dialogues, gendhing, narrations, chants and offerings.  Subalidinata (1985, 45) also mentions the Murwakala story and uses Serat Centhini as a source.

Ki dhalang sampun mangarsi, neng ngandhap balencong nulya, nyampala kotak tinampen, ayak-ayakan manyura, bedhol kayon gya medal, jejernya Bathara Guru, lawan garwa Dewi Uma (Kamajaya 1986, 294).


The translation of this passage is "The dhalang has arrived, he is seated under the blencong lamp and, taps the box with the cempala, Ayak-ayak Manyura begins to play, the kayon is removed from the banana trunk.  Bathara Guru with his wife Dewi Uma enter onto the screen."  The Murwakala story begins with the Tembang Asmarandana above.  The storyline of Murwakala in Serat Centhini is as follows:

Scene 1

Bathara Guru and his wife Bathari Uma are in the great-hall of Bale Marcukunda to give audience to Bathara Narada and Bathara Penyarikan.  Bathara Kala, the ruler of the kingdom Nusabarong arrives and Bathara Guru asks him why he has come.  Bathara Kala tells the story of his life in a world in which he can only eat stones and he becomes ill as a result.  (In the ruwatan performances of Ki. Toyo Carito, the character Bathara Kala eats grass, stones, moss and sea-weed).  Bathara Kala tells of a day when a man gathering nderes (unfermented palm juice) fell onto the stones and Bathara Kala ate him mistakenly.  Bathara Kala claims that he felt so good after eating the man that he would like to ask permission to continue eating human flesh.

Bathara Guru is disturbed and worried about the many humans who will be destroyed by Bathara Kala.  However, Bathara Guru says he will grant permission if Bathara Kala agrees to limit his eating of human flesh to humans who block his way and wong sukerta (a list of criteria for sukerta people is supplied in section 2.3).  In this version of the story Bathara Kala has to wound (but not necessarily kill) wong sukerta with his sword (bedama) before eating them. However, according to Subalidinata (1985, 45), Bathara Kala must kill wong sukerta before eating them.  In the performance of Ki. Toyo Carito (22/8/1996), Bathara Kala must shave some hair from the foreheads of wong sukerta before devouring them.   Bathari Uma grants permission for Bathara Kala to eat human babies that have been born during a wayang kulit performance if the baby was not held by the dhalang following the birth.  If the dhalang does hold the baby she becomes Bathara Kala's friend.  Bathara Guru then presents Bathara Kala with a sword (bedama)  and commands Bathara Penyarikan to follow and observe Bathara Kala.

Bathara Kala and Bathara Penyarikan leave the kingdom of Kayangan.  Meanwhile Bathara Guru instructs Bathara Narada to go to the kingdom of Ngutaralayu and inform Bathara Wisnu and Bathara Brama that Bathara Kala is permitted to eat human flesh.  Bathara Kala and Bathari Uma survey the world while flying on lembu Andini.

Scene 2

Bathara Kala and Bathara Penyarikan meet Dewi Durga (the wife of Bathara Kala).  Bathara Kala tells his wife about his new diet, Dewi Durga is delighted and suggests they go west to search for food.  They begin their journey to the west and stop for a rest at a lake with clean, sparkling water.

Scene 3

Bathara Wisnu and Bathara Brama give audience to Bathara Kanekasiwi (Narada).  Bathara Narada informs them of Bathara Guru's wish that they should help and save the humans who Bathara Kala wishes to devour.  Bathara Wisnu and Bathara Brama take a bath and prepare to leave.  Bathara Narada transforms into a human who looks like Bathara Maya and changes his name to Kalunglungan the kendhang player.  Bathara Wisnu transforms into a handsome human who looks like Bathara Kamajaya and changes his name to Dhalang Kandhabuwana.  Bathara Brama transforms into a beautiful human who looks like Bathari Ratih and changes his name to Surani the gender player.

Bathara Wisnu makes puppets out of jack fruit leaves, a puppet box from upih and a gamelan orchestra made from earth.  They go to Medhangkawit village and stay in the home of Mbok Rondho Sumampir.

Scene 4

Bathara Kala, Bathara Penyarikan and Dewi Durga stop to rest under a Kamal tree, they are impressed (akasengsem) with the beauty of the tree and Bathara Kala names it Asem. Bathara Kala falls asleep in the light breeze, while he sleeps he is bitten by a small animal.  Bathara Kala wakes with a start and spits at the small animal who drinks the spit.  Bathara Kala names the animal Kala Jengking (scorpion) and scorpions become his followers.  Bathara Kala falls asleep again and is bitten by another small animal.  Again Bathara Kala spits and names the animal Kelabang (poisonous centipede), centipedes then become his followers. Bathara Kala and his companions continue their journey past valleys and mountains.  Dewi Durga's thighs are seen by Bathara Kala when the breeze blows her sarong.  Bathara Kala becomes very excited at the sight of the bunga pudhak (beautiful white flower) legs, he is so excited that he climaxes, and the sperm drop on the water transforming into fish (loh).  Bathara Kala spits on the water, the Kala Male fish drinks the spit and becomes one of his followers.  The river is given the name Kalias Bathara Kala passes it (the Javanese term kali means river).

One afternoon they meet Bathara Guru and Bathari Uma riding lembu Andini. They exchange greetings. Bathara Guru and Bathari Uma unintentionally block the way of Bathara Kala and he prepares to eat them but before he does so Bathara Guru asks him to solve a riddle.  The riddle is:

Eka egul, eka wancahe
Dwi bagem, dwi purusa, dwi srenggi
Tri nabi nurcahya punika sapta utri
Astha pada, catur guthoneki.


Bathara Kala is unable to solve the riddle and Bathara Guru explains it to him:
The term ekais one and egul means tail (lembu Andini has only one tail).The term dwi is two: bagem means open vagina, dwi purusa means two penises (that belong to Bathara Guru and lembu Andini), dwi srenggi means two horns (that belong to lembu Andini). Tri means three, nabi means navel (belonging to Bathara Guru, Bathari Uma and lembu Andini), Sapta means seven, utri means eyes (there are seven eyes, two belong to Bathari Uma, two belong to lembu Andini and three belong to Bathara Guru).

When an explanation of the riddle has been given, Bathara Kala looks at the sky and realises that the sun has moved west (he may only eat human flesh when the sun is directly above him). Bathara Guru counsels Bathara Kala not to talk to his food and then gives him four chants.  He places one chant (Caraka balik) on the forehead of Bathara Kala, oneon his chest (a list of Bathara Guru's soldiers), one on his back (a list of Dewi Durga's soldiers), and one on his throat.  Bathara Guru informs Bathara Kala that if someone is able to read all of the chants Bathara Kala must obey that person, if he refuses, he will no longer be a god.  Bathara Guru, Bathari Uma and lembu Andini continue their journey.  There is no scene four in the ruwatan plays of Ki. Toyo Carito as his performances are only three hours in duration.

Scene 5

Scene 5 is set in the village of Medhanggati.  The widow Prihatin has one son named Jaka Mulya or Jaka Jatusmati, (in the ruwatan performance of Ki. Toyo Carito, scene 5 is set in the village of Medhangkawit, the widow is called Sumawit and her son is called Jatus Pati).  The family is very poor as their only income comes from selling firewood and plasa leaves.  One day the widow Prihatin receives a message from the Gods concerning her son.  She is told that her son will lead a happy and successful life if he bathes in the Lake Madirda because he is ontang-anting(wong sukerta).  As Jaka Mulya prepares to go to Lake Madirda he asks his mother to make akep-akep jagung buki (corn fritters) for him to eat while sun bathing, then Jaka Mulya leaves.

When Jaka Mulya arrives at Lake Madirda he sees an ogre bathing. The ogre asks him who he is, what he is, and why he has come to Madirda.  Jaka Mulya tells the ogre that he is ontang-anting from Medhanggati.  He tells the ogre that he is the son of the widow Prihatin and wants to bathe to wash away the influences of evil spirits.  The ogre, Bathara Kala, is delighted and prepares to eat Jaka Mulya who escapes, Bathara Kala follows him.  Jaka Mulya hides in the bumbung wung wang (hollow bamboo). Bathara Kala finds him but Jaka Mulya escapes again.  Bathara Kala is very angry and commands his soldiers Waju Barat to take some of the earnings of the people who planted the bamboo because Jaka Mulya hid there(in the performances of Ki. Toyo Carito the wung wang bamboo must be destroyed).  Bathara Kala continues to chase Jaka Mulya into a yard, Bathara Kala's feet become snared by a waluh plant (pumpkin) and he falls down.  Bathara Kala is angry with the people who planted the pumpkins and demands that his soldiers take half of the pumpkins.  The chase continues.

Jaka Mulya comes upon a group of people building a house.  One side of the roof is finished and one side is unfinished.  Jaka Mulya pretends to work with them.  Bathara Kala sees him and asks the people to pursue him but they only hear a rumbling noise and ignore it.  Bathara Kala moves slowly towards Jaka Mulya who sees him and hides behind a pillar.  Bathara Kala pounces at Jaka Mulya who flees quickly and the roof falls on Bathara Kala.  Bathara Kala is furious and names houses with half a roof Dhandhang Ngelak.  He demands that his soldiers take some of the earnings of the people who built the house.  Subalidinata (1985, 48) mentions that Bathara Kala cursed the builder of the house in his anger.  Bathara Kala continues to chase Jaka Mulya while holding his bleeding head and crying. 

A woman is making medicine at her front door.  As she crushes the ingredients with a pestle (gandhik) on a mortar (pipisan) Jaka Mulya squats near the pestle.  Bathara Kala asks the woman to pursue Jaka Mulya but the woman only hears a grumbling noise and ignores it.  Bathara Kala pounces upon Jaka Mulya who jumps away.  As Bathara Kala lands he slips on the pestle and breaks both the pestle and the mortar.  Bathara Kala is very angry because he has hurt his leg and his meal has disappeared again.  Bathara Kala tells his soldiers to take some of the woman's earnings and he continues to chase Jaka Mulya.

An old woman is cooking rice.  She shuts all the doors while she goes into the garden to gather vegetables.  Her husband rests at the front of the house.  Bathara Kala comes to the farm and asks the old woman to return to her home because Jaka Mulya is in her kitchen.  The old woman only hears a grumbling noise and ignores it.  Bathara Kala goes to the house and opens the door very quietly to catch Jaka Mulya by surprise.  Jaka Mulya hides beside the dandang (rice cooker).  Bathara Kala pounces at Jaka Mulya who jumps out of the way and escapes again.  The rice cooker falls onto Bathara Kala.  When the old woman returns to her kitchen she asks her husband why the rice cooker has fallen over.  He tells her that Bathara Kala threatened them and that she should dance around the house naked so people think she is crazy and she will no longer be wong sukerta.  Bathara Kala thinks the old woman is teasing him and becomes very angry.  Bathara Kala tells his soldiers to take some of the woman's rice every day until he catches Jaka Mulya.

A young bride sits at her front door waiting for her husband to return from digging in the sawah (rice fields).  He wears white trousers, a blue belt, batik orang-aring (material with hand painted motifs), iket (material that may be tied to the head), and a silir  (waist coat) with one pocket on each side.  The handle of the hoe is made from aren wood about one meter in length.  Every day the husband returns home with a present: an eel hanging on the hoe's handle, fishes in the left pocket, gundala leaves and semanggi leaves in the right pocket.  While she waits for her husband, the young bride becomes sleepy and yawns.  As she opens her mouth Jaka Mulya climbs in, the young bride becomes very beautiful and her body radiates with yellow light called candik-kala (sunset).  It is suggested in Centhini that one should not make a path on the west side of a house because Bathara Kala uses the path on the west to look for Jaka Mulya.  The bright light that radiates from the young bride's body blinds Bathara Kala and he is unable to continue chasing Jaka Mulya.

In the performance of Ki. Toyo Carito the scenes that involve the pumpkin plant, the woman making medicine and the young bride are not present. Another scene is added, however, in which people working with bamboo throw the waste in the middle of the road and become wong sukerta (a message to inform the members of the audience to remain tidy).

Scene 6

In the village of Medhangtamtu (in the performance of Ki. Toyo Carito, the name of the village is Medhang Kamulyan), Ki. Buyut Wangkeng speaks with his daughter Rara Primpen and her husband Buyut Geduwal (or Joko Sondong) from the village of Mendhang Gowong.  In Subalidinata (1985, 49), the name of the husband is Joko Sondangfrom the village of Mendang Gawang.  In the performances of Ki. Toyo Carito the characters in this scene are given the names of the family members of the ruwatan host.

Rara Primpen is an intelligent, beautiful young woman who is slim and tall with a smooth, clear complexion and beautiful lips.  However, her husband Geduwal has kakkong (short legs and a long torso), has large muscles, brown hair like a corn plant, a forehead like a swan's, big red eyes, a turned up nose, facial hair, a large bottom lip like a goat's and no teeth.  Geduwal is intelligent however, and works hard on his farm.  Ki Buyut Wangkeng asks why they have come to Medhangtamtu.  Buyut Geduwal answers with tears in his eyes. He explains that he is an unhappy husband because his wife does not returnhis love.  Rara Primpen does not take care of the house.  When Geduwal wakes in the morning Rara Primpen just sits down and does not move when asked to do something.  In the afternoon when he asks Rara Primpen to work she walks away with a long face.  When Geduwal returns from working on the farm every night he says: "Girl, your darling is coming."  Rara Primpen is frightened by the tengu (ugly beast) coming towards her and does not answer her husband.  She sleeps in her own room with the door locked every night.  Geduwal tells Buyut Wangkeng that one night when Rara Primpen went to sleep without locking her door Geduwal crept into the room and climbed into bed with his wife. She kicked him so hard in the mouth that he almost swallowed his tongue, he fell out of bed and vomited. 

Ki Buyut Wangkeng asks Rara Primpen if this is true and she tells her father that her husband is ugly, embarrasses her and is always sleepy.  Rara Primpen tells her father that her husband asks her to sweep the floor but they do not have a broom, he asks for hot water but the kendhil (pot) is broken, she has to use coconut trees for fire wood and when she asks her husband to cut the wood he says no.  Geduwal will not peel the coconuts, he will not climb the coconut trees or fetch water so they have to ask the neighbours.  Rara Primpen went to get vegetables while her husband took care of the fire in the kitchen.  He was so sleepy that he drooled on the fire and put it out, he then fell onto the pot, breaking it, and lay asleep in front of the keren (fire place).  Rara Primpen is frightened by Gudawal when he returns from the rice fields with the hoe over his shoulder.  He comes home singing with mud all over his face and goes straight to his bed.  Rara Primpen says she asks her husband to take a bath and he says he will wait until the mud dries.  However, he falls asleep and snores like a cow.  Geduwal chews tobacco (ngganten) every night before he goes to bed.  One night Rara Primpen had a dream that she went to the market to buy some groceries.  On the way home she saw a large hole in the middle of the road.  She tried to jump over the hole but could not reach the other side.  The groceries fell all over the ground and one fell into the hole from where she tried to pick it up with her toes.  Rara Primpen awoke with a start and realised her husband was in her bed sucking her toe, she was so frightened that she kicked him.  As her husband fell, his top lip hit a stone under the door and became so swollen it was as big as a coconut.  He vomited and vomited during the night. 

In the morning Geduwal was so angry that he asked Rara Primpen to dress herself and go with him to talk to her father. After listening to Rara Primpen and Geduwal, Ki Buyut calmly tells his daughter that she has caused their marital problems as a husband and wife should work together.  He says that Rara Primpen agreed to become the wife of Geduwal.  If she wishes to leave Geduwal she will no longer be recognised as his daughter and he will not want to see her again. Rara Primpen cries, apologises to her father and says she will obey her father and be loyal to her husband. Ki Buyut Wangkeng is delighted and wishes to arrange a wayang kulit performance.  Geduwal is asked to go to Medhangkawit to buy some new wayang figures and ask dhalang Kandhabuwana to perform that night at the house of Ki Buyut Wangkeng.  Ki Buyut Wangkeng suggests that some people from Medhangtamtu help to bringthe gamelan and wayang figures while he prepares his home.  Geduwal goes into the kitchen to say good bye to his wife.  Rara Primpen tells him not to talk and to go away before she throws the gandhik (plate for crushing herbs and garlic) at him.  In his hurry to leave Geduwal forgets to take some people from Medhangtamtu to help him carry the gamelan.

Scene 7

In the village of Medhangkawit, Nyai Randha Sumampir meets with dhalang Kandhabuwana, Nyai Saruni and the kendhang (drum) player Kyai Kalunglungan.  Nyai Randha Sumampir explains that she was once very poor and that the population of Medhangkawit was very small before Ki Dhalang Kandhabuwana and his group settled there.  Now Medhangkawit is a prosperous place with a large population.  Ki Dhalang Kandhabuwana declares that her name is now Nyai Randha Sumampir Randha Asemsore (strong and independent).  Geduwal enters the house and explains that he is the son-in-law of Buyut Wangkeng from Medhangtamtu.  Geduwal asks if Kandhabuwana is able to perform that night at the house of Buyut Wangkeng in Medhangtamtu because his marriage has not been a harmonious one.  Kalunglungan laughs and Ki. Kandhabuwana agrees to perform.  Kalunglungan asks who will carry the gamelan instruments because Geduwal has forgotten to bring help.  Kalunglungan suggests that Geduwal uses iket (a head scarf) to pack the gender, gambang, kethuk, kempyang, kecer, saron and suling.  He tells Geduwal to use his sarong to pack the three kenong and suwukan, then put his shirt between the bonang kettles and use his belt (setagen) to tie them.  Geduwal puts the wayang box on top of the screen frame and the kendhang on top of the box.  The gayor (gong's frame) is used to carry two packs on the left shoulder and the frame stand is used to carry the balencong (light) and kelir(screen).  Finally Geduwal uses his two hands to carry the two kempul (medium-sized hanging gong).  Walking slowly Geduwal, Ki. Dhalang Kandhabuwana, Kalunglungan and Saruni leave for Medhangtamtu.

Scene 8

Meanwhile, in the village of Medhangtamtu many wild animals have arrived.  Ki. Demang Wangkeng and his family have been waiting for Geduwal and dhalang Kandhabuwana.  When Geduwal reaches the pavilion, the neighbours help him to prepare the gamelan and wayang figures while Ki. Buyut Wangkeng welcomes Kandhabuwana and his group.  When everything is ready Kandhabuwana begins the performance with Gendhing Talu (the musical introduction).  The wild animals disappear into the forest as the music begins.  Gendhing Talu ends and the Manikmaya story begins.  Rara Primpen finishes dressing and leaves for the party carrying seven things in her hands: a box of cotton buds, kenaren flowers and a knife in her left hand.  In her right hand she carries a pot of flowers, perfume and a corn leaf cigarette (klobot).  She walks to the screen followed by other females and her family.  Rara Primpen gently passes the flowers and other offerings to the dhalang. 

The dhalang accepts the offerings then continues with the performance.  Dhalang Kandhabuwana is very humorous and the audience is enjoying the play.  In the front row of the audience sits Nyi Randha Mendhang Reja and her daughter Rara Lekoh, behind them are Ki. Buyut Mendhang Suka, his son Candramawa and Jaka Belang Yung-yang. 

Scene 9

Jaka Mulya is being chased by Bathara Kala.  He climbs onto the stage and pretends to be a kethuk player.  Bathara Kala stops in front of the wayang kulit performance but is hesitant to move among the gamelan players.   As he watches the performance he gazes at the dhalang sitting on his mat (kala-sa) and leans against a coconut tree (kala-pa) which bends under his weight.

The dhalang tells a joke and the audience laughs. Bathara Kala laughs so loudly that it sounds like thunder and the people flee in fright.  Dhalang Kandhabuwana stops his performance as only Bathara Kala remains. Bathara Kala asks the dhalang to continue with his performance.  Ki. Kandhabuwana answers that he saw Bathara Kala arrive and watch the dhalang sitting on his mat (kala-sa), then lean against the coconut tree.   Bathara Kala is surprised and asks how the dhalang has been able to see and hear him while performing.  Bathara Kala asks the dhalang to continue with the play and offers to pay (dinar satak sawe) for the performance.  Ki. Kandhabuwana asks for a sword (bedama) rather than money.  Bathara Kala agrees and the dhalang continues with his performance.

Meanwhile, four thieves named Kuthila, Langkir, Penthungluyung and Jugilawar-awar enter the pavilion.  They are running because the patrol has seen them.  They run onto the stage and the gamelan players help them to play the kecer and kempyang.  Bathara Kala relaxes and enjoys the performance but he becomes so relaxed that he falls asleep, his head falls back and his mouth falls open.  The dhalang throws two eggs into Bathara Kala's mouth, he awakens and goes outside for a walk.  As Bathara Kala is walking, he passes a couple bathing their new-born child.  He takes the baby from the parents and returns to the performance.  Meanwhile Jaka Mulya realises that Bathara Kala has left the performance and gets up to leave.  As he steps off the stage Bathara Kala grabs him.  Bathara Kala is about to eat both the baby and Jaka Mulya when he remembers that he must wound sukerta people before making a meal of them.  The dhalang stops the performance and Bathara Kala asks him why. 

Ki. Kandhabuwana tells him that the audience has gone and that he would like to return Bathara Kala's sword (bedama) in exchange for the two sukerta people.  Bathara Kala refuses to exchange his next meal so the dhalang refuses to return the sword.  Bathara Kala asks who is older, Bathara Kala or Ki. Dhalang Kandhabuwana.  Bathara Kala claims that he is older, but the dhalang objects and says that he is older because he knows the genealogy of Bathara Kala.  The dhalang signals the musicians(niyaga)  to play Gendhing Dhendha.  He reads the chants Jantur Kalasamur and Sampurnaning Puja then explains that he knows when Bathara Kala was water.  Bathara Kala does not believe Ki. Kandhabuwana and asks for evidence.  The dhalang then reads the chant Santi Purwa (which describes Bathara Kala's birth, see chapter 2.7 for a translation of this chant) and Bathara Kala is impressed.

Bathara Kala asks about the various chants written on his body.  The dhalang says that Bathara Kala has four chants on his body, one on his forehead, one on his chest, one on his throat and one on his back.  Thedhalang reads the chants on Bathara Kala's forehead (Caraka Balik) andchest (Sastra Binedhati) which cause Bathara Kala to become lame and obey the dhalang.  Bathara Kala asks Ki. Kandhabuwana to read the chants Santi Kukus and Mandalagiri (or Bala Srewu), which give access to Bathara Kala's followers and soldiers.  Bathara Kala is very pleased and asks for one more chant to be read (Santi Banyakdhalang).  The dhalang agrees to read the chant but he instructs Kalunglungan to inform the members of the audience who are virgin girls or pregnant women not to watch and listen because of the power of the Banyakdhalang chant. When the females leave, the dhalang reads the Banyakdhalang chant.

Bathara Kala requests a coin and flower bath (kembang setaman).9   While Bathara Kala is bathing the dhalang reads the Padusan chant.  When Bathara Kala is clean and fresh he asks the dhalang to sing Kidung Kekudangan.  Everything that Bathara Kala requests is obeyed which pleases him.  Bathara Kala promises to look after many generations of the dhalang's family and obey their commands.

Bathara Kala tells Dewi Durga and her followers to obey his commands.  The dhalang tells Dewi Durga and her followers to go and settle at Krendhawahana beside the Kendheng and Mengger mountains.  Bathara Kala asks for some provisions including, money (suwidak uwang), kitchen utensils, furniture, and four different types of corset (kemben) which are called pandhan bonetat, ijo ringin, songer, and dringin.  Bathara Kala announces that he grants permission for people who wish to marry to wear the sarong Bangun Tulak Pradan. 

Bathara Penyarikan arrives to ask for provisions including a lontar leaf and a small sword to use as a pen (pangot waja).   The dhalang gives him the provisions and Penyarikan returns to the heavens.  Lebak Kiyuk then arrives to ask for food provisions, the dhalang gives him everything he asks for.  Keblak Dekla then arrives and asks for rice and meat which the dhalang provides.  Kala Banjar then asks the dhalang to place the following offerings in the front yard: a large rice mound, many different meats, flowers, incense (dupa), money (patang keteng).  Kala Enjer arrives from Perempatan to ask for several offerings including a large mound of rice, fried meat, boiled meat, vegetables, flowers, beetle leaves (sirih), incense (dupa), and money.  The dhalang provides him with all of the offerings asked for.  Kala Jatok arrives and wishes to place a few grains of rice upon a stone under the bed (waton).  Kala Jangkung arrives and informs everyone that they must not spit near their beds.  Kala Ijen arrives and tells everyone that they should celebrate their day of birth every month (among-among or kenduri).  Bathara Kala and Dewi Durga's followers leave and the dhalang recites the Gumbala Geni chant.

Dewi Sri and Bathara Sadana arrive and the dhalang asks Dewi Sri to become the Goddess of rice to which she agrees.  She advises people to save a little each day to pay for their many celebrations and rituals.  If a husband and wife are hosting a party, they must bathe first, the wife must then light the fire and her husband wash the rice while calling Dewi Sri's name.  It is important not to argue with one's neighbours prior to hosting a party.  Before the party one should prepare mats (tikar), pillows (bantal), jugs (kendi) filled with clean water, and a coconut oil lamp.  When rice is being placed in the store room (lumbung), the person must bring an offering (kenduri), wear clean clothes and perfume. Dhalang Kandhabuwana then asks Bathara Sadana to be the God of wealth.  Sadana advises people to look after their clothes and to use a bamboo hanger (bambo tutul)for their clothes.  Dewi Sri and Bathara Sadana leave.

Gumbreg the God of buffalo comes to advise people on the correct protocol they should use when they wish to host a party.  When one wishes to kill a buffalo for a celebration they must feed the buffalo well, wear identical clothes, carry a jug, use an umbrella, and bring a pandhan mat (made from pandhan leaves) to cover the buffalo when it has been killed.  If a buffalo is used on the farm it must be given a bath and a good meal at the end of the day and should not be beaten with branches from the penjalin tree.  Every Wage Friday (Jumat Wage) Legi Friday (Jumat Legi) and Kliwon Tuesday (Selasa Kliwon) a person should rub coconut oil and boreh(Javanese herb) on the hooves and chest of his/her buffalo. 10If a buffalo is sick, the owner must hang a rope (kowong) on the south west wall of the barn and place coconut shell (bathok) at the north east side. The dhalang agrees with Gumbreg.  Mariyi the God of fowl comes to advise people that when they wish to kill a chicken for a party, they must give it a good meal first, the dhalang agrees.  Tembalung, the Boar God comes to inform people that they should place wood that has been urinated on (berpencing) on their farms to keep the boar off their lands.

The mother of the baby who was born during the performance (tiba sampir) comes to ask for the return of her baby who was taken by Bathara Kala. The dhalang informs her that the baby now belongs to him and that she must pay a ransom for his return.  The dhalang asks for twenty five coins (slawe picis), two bunches of bananas (gedhang setangkeb) and, betel leaves (suruh ayu).  He then names the baby. Finally the dhalang gives the baby a garlic concoction to prevent crying, a stone (tuluh watu) and a sling (jarik liwatan).

A delegate of Buyut Wangkeng asks whether the performance is finished or not. The dhalang answers that the performance will finish in a few minutes.  He then requests that water is prepared from seven different sources for his bath and for the baths of Buyut Wangkeng, his wife and their sukerta child.  Seven scoops of water are tipped over each of their heads while they hold their breath.  White cotton (lawe wenang) is wound around the house three times.  Four kupat luwar (rice packed tightly in young coconut leaves) are hung at each corner of the house.  A walikukun tree is planted in each corner of the yard to protect the family, the dhalang, the gamelan group, and the village people.  The host is forbidden to sleep in the morning and the delegate meets with him.  Dhalang Kandhabuwana calls Jaka Mulya forward and scoops water over him while reciting the chant Padusan Jatusmati..  The wayang figures are removed from the screen and the dhalang washes the wayang handles (body handles-cempurit, arm handles-tuding), three times with the flower-petal water (kembang setaman).  The dhalang returns the baby to his mother and requests to go home.  Jaka Mulya, the mother and her baby leave.

Penthungluyung and Jugil Awar-awar come forward and explain that they would have surely been killed by the people chasing them if they had not been able to disguise themselves as gamelan players.  Penthungluyung and Jugil Awar-awar promise that they will not bother the dhalang and his family again (if they do they will not live long).  The dhalang agrees and Penthungluyung and Jugil Awar-awar leave.  The dhalang recites the chant Padusan Dhalang and Panjak.  The Ki. Kandhabuwana, Kalunglungan and Suruni have a bath.  Following the bath the dhalang recites the chant Aji Pameling to call the spirit Sapujagad to bring the hoe (garu wesi) and broom (sapu kawat).  The dhalang requests that all of Kala's followers are removed from the house.  Sapujagad requests that several offerings are placed at the right and left sides of the door.  The offerings are: young twin coconut trees(cikal kembar), two bunches of rice plants (gedheng pari), two sugar reeds (tebu), alcohol, cordial, salty rice (nasi gurih), then white and black cloth   (Poleng).  When his wishes have been granted Sapujagad informs the dhalang that the house is clean except for two of Kala's followers.  The moss (Kala Lumut) in the well will not move but has no bones or flesh and does not see.  Sapujagad explains that the host will have to offer sweet food from bran (jenang baro-baro) placed in five small baskets made from banana leaves and five coins.  These offerings should be placed at the mouth of the well while the host recites a chant to ask for family safety.  The children must also be careful when near the well, they should not play noisily or swear.  The remaining Kala follower is moss (Kala Lumer) and lives in the kitchen.  All the family has to do is offer their left overs from dinner for Kala Lumer.  Sapujagat is assured that his demands will be acted upon and he takes his leave.

Akat (the spirit of Sunday) arrives and the dhalang asks where it lives.  The answer is in the North East.  Akat wishes to be with the Gods kasampurnan and is told by the dhalang that he must transform into meat.  Senin (the spirit of Monday), who lives in the North West, arrives and is told to transform into blood.  Selasa (the spirit of Tuesday), who lives in the South is told to transform into muscle. Rabu (the spirit of Wednesday), who lives in the West is told to transform into bone.  Kamis (the spirit of Thursday), who lives in the East is told to transform into marrow.  The dhalang names Jum'at (the spirit of Friday) “Wujud” and invites him to stay at his house.  The dhalang names Setu (the spirit of Saturday) “Jatigana” and invites him to become one with his body.

The dhalang recites the chant Sumbar, then continues with the performance by banging the keprak.11When the music begins the followers of Kala who have been lingering move away.  The music stops and the dhalang begins to meditate.  The dhalang visualises everythingred in the South, yellow in the West, black in the North, white in the East and finally they all merge together to become one.  The soul of the dhalang then flies to meet Sang Hyang Wenang and tell him that he is Jatirasa.  Sang Hyang Wenang asks Jatirasa to sit beside him and changes the dhalang's name to Rasa Sinawur.  Sang Hyang Wenang asks who created the earth and the sky, the dhalang answers that it was Sang Hyang Wenang.  Sang Hyang Wenang gives the dhalang a gift of rasa (feeling) and asks the dhalang what was in existence before the world was created?  The dhalang answers that God was present before the creation of the world.  The dhalang is asked to sit on the chair Betal Balearas and Sang Hyang Wenang disappears.  Ki Kandhabuwana recites the chant Sebet then taps on the wayang box with the
cempala followed by the music sampak.12 The dhalang finally places the kayon figure (the diamond shaped puppet that is used to indicate the beginning and end of scenes) in the middle of the screen to signal the end of the performance.


This essay has examined the history, rituals and myths behind the wayang kulit ruwatan play, and concluded that despite many changes during the modern period, this form of ritual expression is still a culturally meaningful ritual to control supernatural phenomenon in Java today. During the 20th century, wayang kulit has become more a secular rather than religious form of entertainment, and the interpretation of performance content has become more important.  However, fieldwork and analysis of the ruwatan performances in Central Java during the 1990s shows that Javanese people still value traditional ruwatan ritual and often sponsor its performance to relieve the ill-fortune of sukerta children, for personal spiritual beliefs, as a source of entertainment and social gathering, and to preserve the ancient cultural traditions of Java.


1. The term wayang kulit  means "shadow hide" (wayang : shadow and kulit: hide) and refers to the genre of shadow theatre seen during the hot season (generally May to October) in Java.  Hazeu (cited in Kayam 1994, 1), traced the term wayang back to its root in both Javanese and other Indonesian dialects and came to the conclusion that wa means walking to and fro, irregular and hazy, a meaning which appropriately describes the shadows of puppet figures projected onto a screen.

2. Dhalang in Java generally wish that all or one of their children will, one day, become a dhalang(pers. comm. Ki. Toyo Carito, 1 October 1996).  Children of dhalang parents are encouraged to accompany their parents to wayang kulit performances from an early age.  It is not unusual to see a child of the dhalanglying asleep behind his father or sitting with the sindhen (female singers) during the all-night performance.  As the young child attends each performance the various elements of the performance become deeply ingrained in his/her mind.

3. Further discussion about laku can be found in Keeler (1987, 38 - 44).  For further information on the spiritual training of a ruwatan dhalang see Susilo (2000)

4. Candhi means Hindhu or Buddhist temple.

5. Kidung Sudamala (the story of Sudamala) can be found in Subalidinata (1985, 19).


6. A biography of Bathari Sri can be found in Hardjowirogo (1955, 39).

7. For further information on categories of sukerta people, see Susilo (2000)

8.  Javanese poems in various meters and rhyme schemes.  A more detailed description oftembang can be found in  Kartomi, M.J. (1973). Macapat Songs in Central and West Java.

9. The coins sybolise wealth and it is believed that the person's spirit is able to smell the aroma of the flowers.

10. Days in the Javanese calender, a detailed description of the cycles is found in Geertz(1960, 30-37).


11. Keprak: Four of five bronze plates that hang on the wayang box and are struck by the footof the dhalang for sound effect.


12. Cempala: the wooden mallet that the dhalang uses to tap the side of the wayang box to signal dialogue or cue the musicians during the music.



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