Shadow Puppets

Wayang kulit, or shadow puppets, are without a doubt the best known of the Indonesian wayang. Kulit means skin, and refers to the leather construction of the puppets that are carefully chiselled with very fine tools, supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and control rods, and painted in beautiful hues, including gold. The stories are usually drawn from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

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Making a wayang kulit figure that is suitable for a performance involves hand work that takes several weeks, with the artists working together in groups. They start from master models (typically on paper) which are traced out onto skin or parchment, providing the figures with an outline and with indications of any holes that will need to be cut (such as for the mouth or eyes). The figures are then smoothed, usually with a glass bottle, and primed. The structure is inspected and eventually the details are worked through. A further smoothing follows before individual painting, which is undertaken by yet another craftsman. Finally, the movable parts (upper arms, lower arms with hands and the associated sticks for manipulation) mounted on the body, which has a central staff by which it is held. A crew makes up to ten figures at a time, typically completing that number over the course of a week. However, unfortunately there is not strong continuing demand for the top skills of wayang craftspersons and the relatively few experts still skilled at the art sometimes find it difficult to earn a satisfactory income.

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With Putra‘s expertise and and help, you will be guided you through making and painting your own puppet from start to finish over 1 or 2 days, depending on your availability. Contact Putra to book your puppet-making workshop.

History

Hinduism arrived in Indonesia from India before the Christian era. Sanskrit became the literary and court language of Java and later of Bali.ย The Hindus changed the Wayang (as did Muslims) to spread their religion, mostly telling stories from the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. This mixture of religion and wayang play was later praised as harmony between Hinduism and traditional Indonesian culture.ย When Islam began spreading in Indonesia, the display of God or gods in human form was prohibited, and thus this style of painting and shadow play was suppressed. King Raden Patah of Demak, Java, wanted to see the wayang in its traditional form, but failed to obtain permission from Muslim religious leaders.ย Religious leaders attempted to skirt the Muslim prohibition by converting the wayang golek into wayang purwa made from leather and displayed only the shadow instead of the puppets themselves.

 

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