Warrior Kings and Divine Jesters: Indonesian Rod Puppets

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Cover: Puppet master (dalang) and master carver M. Ahim with his wayang puppets in Ciampa, Indonesia, from Voices of the Puppet Masters:
The Wayang Golek Theater of Indonesia by Mimi Herbert (2002). Photograph by Tara Sosrowardoyo. Reproduced by permission.
Warrior Kings and Divine Jesters:
Indonesian Rod Puppets
A Workshop for Educators
July 10, 2003
Warrior Kings and Divine Jesters:
Indonesian Puppets from the Herbert Collection

Workshop materials (including Introduction, Slide Descriptions, and Lesson Plan and Activities) prepared by
Stephanie Kao, School Programs Coordinator, Asian Art Museum, with contributions by:
Kathy Foley, Professor of Theater, University of California, Santa Cruz: Types of Wayang; Indonesian Puppetry:
The World of Wayang; Performance Outlines of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata; Glossary of Terms; and Bibliography

Tonja Morris, Asian Art Museum Conservator: Conservation of the Wayang Golek Collection
Manager of Publications: Tom Christensen
Editorial Associate: Robin Jacobson
Graphics Specialist: Jason Jose
Photo Services Coordinator: Debra Baida
Museum Photographer: Kaz Tsuruta
Special thanks go to Bindu Tushara Gude, Assistant Curator of South Asian Art; Donna Strahan, Head of
Conservation; Forrest McGill, Chief Curator and Wattis Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art; and Natasha
Reichle, Assistant Curator of Southeast Asian Art for reviewing the contents of the packet; as well as to Deborah
Clearwaters, Manager of Public Programs; Alina Collier, Education Resource Coordinator; Brian Hogarth, Director
of Education; Ana Hortillosa, Public Programs Assistant, Performing Arts; Mimi Tsang, Family Programs
Coordinator; Sarah Weems, Education Assistant, School Programs; and Allison Wyckoff, Public Programs Assistant,
Art Education.
We are grateful to Mimi Herbert for permission to use photos from her book Voices of the Puppet Masters: The
Wayang Golek Theater of Indonesia;
and photographers Tara Sosrowardoyo, John Marston, and Maria Farr, whose
photos from this book are featured in this educator’s packet.
The Asian Art Museum would like to thank the following foundations and corporations for their generous
grants. Educational programs and activities (primary support): The Freeman Foundation and the Wells Fargo
Foundation. Educational programs and activities (ongoing support): The William Randolph Hearst Foundation
Educational Endowment, the California Arts Council, AEGON Transamerica Foundation, the Cisco Foundation,
Stanley S. Langendorf Foundation, and the Joseph R. McMicking Foundation.

Table of Contents
Notes to the Reader
Introduction to Indonesia
Indonesian Puppetry: The World of Wayang
Conservation of the Wayang Golek Collection
Slides and Slide Descriptions
Lesson Plans and Activities
Performance Outlines of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata
Glossary of Terms
Map of Indonesia

Notes to the Reader

This packet is designed to give educators an introduction to the world of Indonesian three-dimensional rod puppet
theater (wayang golek) and to the stories told in performances using these puppets. Wayang golek features a diverse
repertoire including Islamic and Javanese historical tales as well as Indonesian versions of the Ramayana (Life of
Rama) and the Mahabharata (Great Chronicle of the Bharata [Barata] Dynasty), the great Hindu epics; the most
popular cycle of stories told by puppet masters (dalang) derives from the Mahabharata. It is important to note that,
while Indonesian versions of Hindu epics follow a broad outline of the Indian stories, many variations appear. (In
this packet, the first time the name of a character from a Hindu epic appears, the Sanskrit version is followed by the
Indonesian form of the name in parentheses; thereafter, the Sanskrit names are used.)
Guide to Pronunciation of Bahasa Indonesia
as in father
like the a in late (when stressed); like the e in get (when unstressed)
like the ee in meet
as in go
like the oo in shoot
as in Thai
like the ow in how
like the wa in Washington (when at the start of a word)
like the ch in chop
as in grass
as in singer
like the ng in anger
as in join
rolled, as in the Spanish pero
like English h but a bit stronger
like English k, except at the end of the word, when it is more a closing of the throat with no sound
as in canyon
Types of Wayang
The term wayang is used to refer to a wide variety of Indonesian theatrical forms. Wayang figures come in all shapes,
sizes, and mediums, including picture scrolls, shadow puppets, rod puppets, masked figures, and puppets twice
human height. For most genres, wayang is the first term, indicating a form of traditional theater with or based on
puppets. The second term identifies the medium or puppet type: scroll paintings (beber), three-dimensional rod pup-
pets (golek), animal skins (kulit), or human beings (wong). There may be a third term in the phrase, usually designat-
ing the presentation of a story cycle such as the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (purwa), Islamic
(menak, meaning “aristocratic”), or historical chronicles of the East Javanese prince Panji, the grasscutter-turned-
prince Damar Wulan, and the wali (saints).

Wayang beber is the art form considered to be the predecessor of Indonesian puppetry. In this narrative tradition,
long, painted scrolls are explicated by a human performer. Tosay, wayang beber is rarely performed.

Wayang kulit is performed with shadow puppets made of water buffalo hide and is said to have developed from
scroll puppetry. This form is most popular in Bali, where it is called wayang kulit parwa, and in Central Java,
where it is called wayang kulit purwa. The leather puppets are carved with intricate designs and painted. Buffalo
horn is used for the rods that manipulate the figures.

Topeng (Masks) and Wayang (Scenic Shadows) (detail), from Raffles’s History of Java by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles,
FRS (1817).

Wayang wong is human dance drama based on wayang puppet theater. This genre was popular in both courts and
villages until the 1960s.

Wayang golek is performed with three-dimensional wooden rod puppets. It is most popular along the north coast
of Java and in Sunda, the highland area of West Java. Wayang golek has two major variants:
Wayang (golek) cepak is a form employed by dalang on the north coast. They use puppets that sport Javanese
dress to perform a repertoire consisting of tales from the Javanese and Islamic traditions: stories of Prince
Panji’s endless search for his beloved princess, of grasscutter Damar Wulan’s rise from doing menial work to
marrying a queen and defeating her bitter foe, and of Amir Hamzah, the uncle of Muhammad, and his
defeat of those who attack his Islamic kingdom. An alternate name for the tales of Amir Hamzah is wayang

Wayang golek purwa has been the favored form in the highlands of West Java for the past 150 years. Here the
dancing puppets present stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana repertoire. Wayang golek purwa
puppets will be the primary focus of this packet.

Introduction to Indonesia
by Stephanie Kao

The Southeast Asian country of Indonesia consists of more than 17,000 tropical and volcanic islands that straddle
the equator between the Indian and Pacific oceans. Among Indonesia’s principal regions are the islands of Java, Bali,
and Sumatra, as well as large parts of Borneo and New Guinea (a contested region). Today, Indonesia is home to
more than three hundred ethnic groups with approximately five hundred spoken languages and dialects. Eighty-seven
percent of the population, or some 200 million people, is Islamic, making Indonesia the largest Muslim nation in the
For thousands of years Indonesians developed complex agricultural societies with rich artistic and cultural traditions
rooted in a belief in ancestral spirits and animism. The history of Indonesia also chronicles the influx of maritime
trade, the transmission of religions, the rise and fall of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms, 350 years of colonization by
the Dutch, invasion by the Japanese, and the establishment of an independent nation in 1949. The Indonesian peo-
ple have nurtured a world view that incorporates diverse religions and traditions with indigenous beliefs that lie at
the heart of Indonesia’s cultures.
For two thousand years, merchant ships have traversed the Straits of Melaka, the sea route connecting South Asia
(the Indian subcontinent) and East Asia, carrying maritime traders in search of gold and fine spices. Midway in their
journeys along this thoroughfare, in the archipelago of Indonesia, traders from India and China in search of exotic
trade items discovered goods ranging from gold, nutmeg, and cloves to rhinoceros horn and kingfisher feathers.
During this time Indonesian rulers drew upon new religions and cultural ideas brought by these foreign traders, who
were sometimes accompanied by Hindu and Buddhist priests. After these Indian religions were established on the
island of Java, Indonesian rulers in turn patronized the development of religious sites in India.
The story of how these diverse religions coexist with and support the indigenous beliefs of Indonesia is told in the
arts and architecture of the islands. The Southeast Asian tradition of rulers claiming close association with divine
beings extended to Indonesian kings who patronized Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. To honor the ancestors
and to legitimize their rule, these kings built monumental structures to adorn the island of Java. The most famous
are the Buddhist monument of Borobudur and the Hindu temple complex at Prambanan. In the late 1200s the
Javanese kingdom of Majapahit emerged, during which time both Buddhism and Hinduism were practiced in the
royal courts. However, the spread of Islam centuries later had an even more lasting influence on the people of
Indonesia. Originally brought to the islands by Arab, Chinese, and Indian traders, Sufism (a mystical branch of
Islam) was practiced in royal courts. In the 1500s the Sultan of Demak, originally a Hindu king, converted to Islam
and conquered Majapahit, furthering the spread of that religion throughout the island.
Although aspects of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths may appear to be in conflict with one another, the way
these religions coexist with indigenous Indonesian beliefs may be viewed as a natural expression of its people’s spiritu-
ality. Some Indonesians believe that these religions hold common teachings of morality and virtue. This is reflected
in the theater tradition of shadow puppet theater (wayang kulit) and three-dimensional rod puppet theater (wayang
), in which a Muslim puppet master (dalang) entertains and educates the people using puppets to reenact indige-
nous versions not only of Islamic legends but also of the Hindu epics and Javanese traditional tales. In a wayang per-
formance the spirit world and the earthly world converg,e and the inner struggles of human existence—love, passion,
hate, fear, and pain—are played out, revealing the history, spirit, and values of the people.

Indonesian Puppetry:
The World of Wayang
by Kathy Foley

For more than a thousand years Indonesians have used wayang theater as a method of addressing the conundrums of
life. The lively puppet traditions of South and Southeast Asia have portrayed epic stories that shrank the cosmos
down to a miniature world. The vast expanse of the earth could symbolically be reduced to the few feet of a puppet
stage. The puppeteer’s lamp became the sun, throwing light on myriad creatures who, in their nobility or baseness,
make up the world. The greatest stories ever told could be sung with one voice, and battles that “shook the world”
could be fought by the two hands of the puppet master. By using the small world to represent the large, the puppet
master (dalang) challenged himself and those who watched to understand the forces, seen and unseen, that make up
the universe.
In the contemporary opening song of the rod puppet theater (wayang golek) of Sunda (West Java), the puppet master
The dalang dances the puppets. The puppets are danced
not knowing in whose hand.
The screen hides the Lord, the power unseen.
The chant expresses an analogy familiar to Indonesians: the parallel between the puppeteer and the mysterious,
divine force behind the universe. Ideologically, the puppet stage is a space via which the audience can come to under-
stand the world from the viewpoint of a god; epic stories frame the region’s religious and philosophical thought.
Simultaneously, through jester characters (punakawan, also known as clowns or clown servants), the puppet master
infuses the epic world with his comic political commentary on contemporary life. Puppet theater is a combination of
some of the most archaic and the most up-to-date aspects of Indonesian culture.
Puppetry is the preeminent performance art of Indonesia; in this country, even theater with live actors often follows
the patterns, movements, and stories borrowed from the puppet arts. Wayang is a key to Indonesian thinking, reflect-
ing the lives and world view of the Indonesian people. Contemporary political scientists have studied puppetry in
order to analyze the changing dynamics of Indonesian society (Anderson 1965). Anthropologists have plumbed the
secrets of puppetry in order to analyze the country’s social structure and cultural values (Keeler 1987). The
Indonesian government terms puppeteers “information officers” and encourages them to promote government pro-
grams. Wayang is especially popular among the lowland Javanese, the Sundanese who inhabit the highlands of West
Java, and the people of the adjacent island of Bali. For them, puppetry has long served both ritual and entertainment
The term for puppetry, wayang, comes from the Indonesian word for shadow bayang. Wayang kulit, shadow puppetry
using figures made from water buffalo hide, is considered to be the oldest freestanding puppet form; the earliest ref-
erences to it date from the 800s. A court poet during the reign of King Airlangga (1035–1049) wrote: “There are
people who weep, are sad and aroused watching the puppets, though they know they are merely carved pieces of
leather manipulated and made to speak. These people are like men who, thirsting for sensuous pleasures, live in a
world of illusion; they do not realize the magic hallucinations they see are not real” (Brandon 1993, 3).
It has been debated whether or not puppetry is indigenous to Indonesia or was introduced from India or China.
Indigenous origins are argued by scholars who point toward connections between the jesters and ancestral spirits; the
jester characters that appear in every play have no clear Indian precedent. Indeed, Semar, the principal jester, is some-
times said to be the ancestral spirit of the island of Java itself, and this character is sometimes used in healing or pro-
tective rites. Even today in some areas of Indonesia, carvings, puppets, and gongs are considered by some to be
objects that ancestral spirits can temporarily inhabit. Performances of puppetry are still held once a year at cemeteries
where the founders of each village are buried. Ancestors are believed to have particular favorite stories. There is evi-
dence that local animism has been a source of the puppet arts. In times past, if the harvest was threatened by various