History of Wayang

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  • Topic: Gamelan, Wayang, Ramayana
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  • Published : March 12, 2012
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History of Wayang

Wayang is a Javanese word for theatre. When the term is used to refer to kinds of puppet theatre, sometimes the puppet itself is referred to as wayang. There is no evidence that wayang existed before Hinduism came to southeast Asia sometime in the first century CE. However, there very well may have been indigenous storytelling traditions that had a profound impact on the development of the traditional puppet theatre. The first record of a wayang performance is from an inscription dated 930 CE, which says "si Galigi mawayang," or "Sir Galigi played wayang". From that time till today it seems certain features of traditional puppet theatre have remained. Galigi was an itinerant performer who was requested to perform for a special royal occasion. At that event we know he performed a story about the hero Bima from the Mahabharata.

Hinduism arrived in Indonesia from India even before the Christian era, and was slowly adopted as the local belief system. Sanskrit became the literary and court language of Java and later of Bali. The Hindus changed the Wayang (as did the Muslims, later) to spread their religion, mostly by stories from the Mahabharata or the Ramayana. Later this mixture of religion and wayang play was praised as harmony between Hinduism and traditional Indonesian culture. On Java, the western part of Sumatra and some smaller islands traditionalists continued to play the old stories for some time, but the influence of Hinduism prevailed and the traditional stories either fell into oblivion or were integrated into the Hinduistic plays.

The figures of the wayang are also present in the paintings of that time for example the roof murals of the courtroom in Klungkung, Bali. They are still present in traditional Balinese painting today. Wayang today is both the most ancient and most popular form of puppet theatre in the world. Hundreds of people will stay up all night long to watch the superstar performers, dalang, who command extravagant fees and are international celebrities.


Types of Wayang

Wayang Kulit


Wayang Golek


Wayang Beber


Wayang Wong (Wayang Orang)


Wayang Karucil or Wayang Klitik


Major Wayang Stories

Plots are taken mainly from the Indian Epics, the Ramayan and the Mahabharata

The Mahabharata

The Mahabharata, is the greatest, longest and one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, The main story of the Mahabharata describes problems of succession to the throne. Two brothers, Dhritarastra and Pandu are heirs to the throne of Astinapura. Dhritarastra is the older, but he is blind, so Pandu (who is an albino) rules instead.

Dhritarashtra has 100 sons, the Kauravas; Pandu has 5 sons known as the Pandavas. After Pandu dies, the younger generation cannot agree on which group is to rule. The Pandavas are more popular, since they are just, brave, etc. They are:
Yudhisthira, the oldest, the embodiment of justice; Bhima, extremely powerful and strong; Arjuna, very handsome, with supernatural strength; and Nakula and Sahadewa, the twins. All the Pandavas are in fact descended from the gods. (Yudisthira from Dharma, Arjuna from Indra, Bhima from Bayu and Nakula and Sahadewa from the twin Aswin gods.)
 The Kauravas, headed by the eldest son, Duryodhana, are mean, tricky, etc. They trick the Pandavas out of their share of the Kingdom in a dice game (in which they cheat with the help of their uncle, Sakuni). 
After losing the dice game, the Pandavas have to go into exile in the forest for 12 years, and spend another year in disguise, after which they return to claim their kingdom. 
The Kauravas refuse to yield, and there is a terrible battle, 
the Bharatayuddha, in which the Kauravas are all killed. One of the Pandavas' allies is Krishna (actually an incarnation of the god Vishnu) whose participation insures their victories.

The Ramayana...
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