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Wayang Puppetry in both of Java and Bali, Indonesia, has a long history. It’s one of many old traditions of art telling in the world. Like Togalu Gombeyaata in India, the Huns Krabok and the Nang Yai in Thailand, or Karagoz in Turkey, and many others.
Base on Wibowo research on 1977, it says that the name of Wayang is base on word of Bayangan, a Javanese word for called the Shadow. In the narrow scale, Wayang can be interpreted as the shadow of a figure object exposed to light. But in a deeper meaning, Wayang can be interpreted as a personification or symbol of the existing properties in the human soul, such as anger, virtue, greed, and others.
Although there has been no further research, some people believe that the puppet has a fairly close relationship with an animist ceremony that occurred at the time of Neolithic or around the year 1500 BCE. An ancient ritual ceremony calling for spirits by setting a coconut oil lamp and show shadows on the wall or screen of white cloth.
Meanwhile, based on Timbul Haryono research in 2009, there are several inscriptions which record the existence of Wayang in the 8th century. Some of the inscriptions are the Kuti epigraph in the year of 840 on Joho Village at Sidoarjo (East Java), and the Tajigunung epigraph in the year of 910 on the Taji village at Central Java. Not only that, the Jajang Sunarya research in the year 2001, mentions that the word of Wayang has also written on some inscription, such as the Ugrasena Epigraph in the year of 896 and the Balitung epigraph in the year of 907 that founded on Kedu at Central Java. These inscriptions also show that the Wayang performances are led by a narrator, or in local language called Dalang. In the show, the Dalang tells an epic or legendary figures and characters using dozens of puppetry. At first, a puppet show is heavily influenced by Hindu beliefs and its literary-themed stories, the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. But then due to the influence of various cultural acculturation, Puppet grew to reach 60 varieties. However, the core functions of the puppet itself still survive until today. A performing art that closely related with an educational system of beliefs and moral values in social life.
Until now, Wayang puppetry is still considered sacred by most of the population in Java and Bali. So the Wayang performances are held only at certain times, such as on the customary celebration or important event in the tradition of a Javanese family.
Not only that, the selection of stories in Wayang performances are also regulated by customs or traditions that are taught from generation to generation. The selection should be in conformity with the type or theme of the celebration which is being held. If this abstinence is violated, some people believe that the family or person will be experiencing distress or others catastrophe.
Regardless of that, there are several forms of Wayang Puppetry is quite popular in Java and Bali. Namely, The Wayang Kulit (Shadow Puppetry) and The Wayang Golek (wood carving Puppetry). In the show, Wayang performances are equipped with a musical environment such as Javanese Gamelan Orchestra and Tetembangan (Javanese Folk Song) that sung by both of Waranggono (female singer) and Penggerong (Male Singer).
Wayang Kulit is a shadow Puppetry that is based on the penetration of light through a translucent screen or sheet of cloth. According to tradition, Wayang Kulit made of buffalo leather (Kulit also mean of Leather) that carved and painted. At first, the audience sees only shadows or silhouettes formed on the screen. But in modern times, puppet show has a new trend. Wayang the days can now be enjoyed from the back side so ornaments and the colours of the puppets, including The Dalang and The Gamelan orchestra can be seen in their entirety.
Wayang Golek is the Wayang puppetry that bases on the form of the marionette theatre. This type of Wayang are mostly could be found in many regions of West Java. Unlike the Wayang Kulit, Wayang Golek using puppets made of wood carved to resemble human faces and bodies. As a tradition performance, Wayang Golek is performed in Sundanese language.
During its development, several other the Wayang puppetry variations that can still be found despite the limited and very rarely is the Wayang Suket and the Wayang Klithik. Basically, both of them are very similar to the basic form of Wayang Kulit. The Wayang Klithik are made from thin wood. From several sources, it was compose by the first king of Kasunanan Surakarta that called Sunan Pakubuwono II in the 18th century. Meanwhile, some believe that the Klithik name comes from the clicking sound of the wood collide when performances take place. While Wayang Suket is reminiscent of the puppet figures of shadow puppet that made from Suket, Javanese word to describe the grass. At first, it is an instrument of children’s games in Java. But then an artist named Slamet Gundono, develop Wayang Suket as a performance art like any other puppet show.
Until now, Wayang Puppetry has proven itself as an art that has become a cultural tradition in Java and Bali. Various shapes and patterns of Wayang Puppetry modification is still underway by the young puppet artists. Not merely as an artistic tradition, but has become a modern art that can be received by the audience from various backgrounds.