Information before you go
The Wayang Kulit are mystical two dimensional shadow puppets that have entertained the people in Indonesia for generations. In the past is these traditional puppet shows were the most popular form of entertainment and today it is still particularly popular in Java and Bali. 'Wayang' means puppet while 'Kulit' means skin in Indonesian.
The puppets are made out of goat skin leather and their details are securely cut and punched in order to create a clear expression in their silhouettes. Once attached to bamboo sticks and placed between the white screen and oil lamp, the puppets become alive...
Hand-crafted leather puppets made from leather material
The master who gives the puppets their character and voice is called the Dalang. A Dalang has undergone intense training before he is allowed to perform at a shadow puppet theatre as he must know all the stories as no other.
Additionally he must be able to give his own creative touch to the stories through humor, playfulness and mysticism as plays can last a whole night long. Only then will he receive the reputation of an excellent puppet master...
Together with his traditional Gamelan orchestra and his assistance, the Dalang is able to create a magnificent show that usually displays the famous Hindu epic stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata.
During the show the Dalang can choose from around 60 different types of puppets who all have their own character and soul.
Two puppets at a workshop: Rama and Sita are now ready to perform
There are two groups of puppets that represent the good and the evil. The Alus always has a fine character and is sensitive, while the Kasar is more vulgar and aggressive.
The good guys always stand on the right of the screen, while the bad guys stand on the opposite. Always in balance, like many aspects in the Hindu religion. Another prominent puppet in the show is the Kayonan, the tree of life. It appears in the beginning and at the end of the show.
Additionally the Kayonan is always present during important acts, in the form of fire, water or wind creating a mystical and turbulent touch. Other important characters are the servants. These puppets can be easily distinguished from the other main characters as they are always big bellied and look funny, while the other puppets are more graceful.
The oil lamp and the Dalang give life to the puppets
Additionally the servants can actually move their jaws and they translate the vocals sang by the Dalang which is important as the puppets can only be expressed through the ancient Sanskrit language 'Kawi'.
Kawi is a language that the Balinese people don't speak but know and have learnt by heart by watching the puppet performances since childhood. Through repetition they immediately know how the stories go and which puppet represents who.
The Dalang is considered a priest, as he can speak Kawi and despite the simplicity of the show, it is actually amazing how one person can create such a magical spectacle
When you walk around the shops, market or workshops and you see all the shadow puppets you might wonder why they are so beautifully painted. You won't see the colors during the show.
However, the Balinese consider each puppet to have a soul and therefore it must be decorated as beautifully as possible. The colorings also reflect the type of character and role of each puppet.
Rama, Sita and Rawana
For instance in the Ramayana epic the noble Rama is green because he is considered to be the incarnation of Wisnu, the god of life and preservation. His wife Sita is cream colored which indicates modesty, refinement and beauty. Rawana, the evil one is large, hairy, has bulging eyes and has the color red which symbolizes uncontrolled passion.
Either way, when buying a puppet the only thing that counts is that you choose the one that you think is the most beautiful or funny...
Sukawati is the village known for its best puppet makers and masters, who travel through Bali to perform their skills.
If you want to buy a puppet, the best thing you can do is to visit the workshop of a puppet maker. Usually he has a large selection of puppets displayed and he is also happy to explain more about the process of making this Bali craft. Expect to pay around Rp 500.000 for a good quality puppet (medium size) made out of genuine goat or buffalo leather.
If you want the full experience you can also make a shadow puppet yourself. At the Museum Puri Lukisan in Ubud Indonesia (+62 361 971159/ 975136) they offer a 2 day course in which you will learn the function of the puppets and you will make a puppet yourself.
Once a week a wayang performance is also held in Ubud. It is a very small theater but the ambiance is good and you will have the feeling you kind of joined something really special.
Read more on the development of the Balinese wood carving to fully appreciate it. Before you know it you will browsing through the shops searching one to take home.Read more
At this museum you can learn more about traditional and modern Balinese paintings. Besides local art they also displays paintings from other islands.Read more
Mainly known for its amazing collection of art, this museum also offers courses which you can follow such as puppet making but also painting and dancing.Read more
Now and then people send us inspiring emails and this generates even more enthusiasm to share all of the things we know about this lovely island in the hope that you can plan your tropical holiday properly and have as such a great time as we always have. Hope to see you there!
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