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wayang kulit

Februari 21, 2010
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Dalang is performing Wayang Kulit

Wayang Kulit Performance & Duration

Usually, Wayang Kulit (shadow puppets) is played overnight, from evening to dawn, at the celebration such as wedding. Wayang is a Javanese word meaning shadow, kulit means leather. The wayang kulit use two-dimensional puppets chiseled by hand of buffalo or goat parchment; like paper dolls, but with arms that swivel. The dalang (puppet master) is seated in front of the white linnen screen (kelir) to play wayang. Gamelan orchestra and a few female singers accompanies the dalang.

The Dalang requires several assisants to hand him his puppets, ranged along the banana tree trunks, to the left and right of the dalang.

DALANG (The Puppet Master or The Story Teller)

Wayang Kulit Performance & Duration

The puppet master, called dalang, narrates old stories from Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabarata but they were transformed by generations of Javanese tellers. Gamelan orchestra and a few female singers accompanies the dalang. The dalang is seated in front of the white linnen screen (kelir). The dalang has to sit cross legged for eight hours on a mat to perform wayang. He requires several assisants to hand him his puppets, ranged along the banana tree trunks, to the left and right of the dalang.

Deciding the title of wayang story (Lakon)

After deciding the title of wayang story, a dalang (puppet master), a dalang to perform the show must be appointed. Dalang position is very important, as he is the leader of the performance. Sometimes dalang could be chosen first, afterwards a consultation with him could be held to choose an appropriate title. Dalang comes from the words juru udalan (juru : an expert, a skillful man – udalan abbreviated to dalan, then becomes dalang means to tell stories), so dalang is a story teller.

Dalang is an overall artist. He must have a broad knowledge of several disciplines of arts, such as :

  1. Mastering deeply the stories of wayang Ramayana as well as Mahabharata, knows the characters of wayang figures.
  2. Having a thorough knowledge of Javanese philosophy and moral ethics, as Javanese philosophy and moral ethics are inter-connected, or might be almost similar.
  3. Having an accurate information in many aspects of life in the country (or even internationally in this era of information and globalization).
  4. Having a good and clear voice, as he has to imitate about 50 (fifty) wayang figures with different voices. He has to explain every occasion, which has or should happened. And he has also to perfectly master the language ‘high’ and ‘ordinary’ used in dialogue, song and narration. He has to be a good singer, as he has to sing a lot during a performance.
  5. Having the ability of preparing the scenario, so that plot of stories should flow smoothly, in accordance with standard patterns.
  6. He has to know gamelan (Javanese musical instruments) used to accompany the show. He has also the capacity of a conductor as he should command the gamelan music; when it should begin and stop, and he should ask the gamelan crew what kind of music or song to be played.
  7. He has to lead the chorus of pesinden (women singers), usually consists of three to five singers and wira swara (male singers).
  8. He has to be skillful to move the puppets attractively.
  9. He has to know how to make good jokes, at the sametime advising the audience unnoticeably.
Raden Angka wijaya and his Ponakawan, the clown servants, as seen from the front of screen

This part of play occurred at midnight at the Goro-goro episode, which last about one hour. During that time the Ponokawan appears. At most occasion the dalang plays a role as mouthpiece of the sponsors. In a performance organized by Agency of Family Planning, he should arise the topics of Family Planning. In front of the arm forces or police forces, he should speak of leadership and discipline. Before an audience in university he should speak of knowledge, good conduct and the goals of life. In the village, he should speak about the spirit of cooperation, development and any topics, which should give optimism to the villagers. The topics might be different, but here are similarities; he should tell it jokingly, interrupted by many songs, sung by the pesinden – women singers, accompanied by gamelan music. He should insert some advises on morality, hard working and every deed must be conducted properly not hurting other’s feeling, not breaking the laws, especially the highest law such as the law of God. Generally the Goro-goro time is full of laughters and musics, which make the audience happy and entertained. Last but not least a dalang must be a healthy man or woman (nowadays, there are some women dalang), with a good physical endurance because dalang has to sit cross legged for eight hours on a mat to perform wayang.

Niyogo playing Rebab
Niyogo playing Gender

NIYOGO (gamelan orchestra musicians)

The traditional gamelan orchestra accompanies the dalang, who manipulates the puppets from behind on the same side of the screen, providing a nearly continuous music appropriate to each scene. Gamelan orchestra musicians are called Niyogo, they are seated on the floor during performance. The gamelan orchestra consists of a large array of bronze and percussion instruments which are of two different tunings, quite different in character, named slendro and pelog.

Though the dalang never looks back at them, and nearly never says a word to the players, each of them seems to know precisely what to do. There are two musicians in the group who have important functions in the unspoken communication between the dalang and the musicians, the drummer and the gender player. The ways in which the dalang communicates his intentions to the gamelan players is a whole study in itself in the area of the non-verbal communication.

Raden Angka wijaya and his Ponakawan, the clown servants, as seen from the behind of screen


It is needed to accommodate the performance, sometimes it is an elevated stage around 0,5 to 1 meter higher than audience’s chairs. On stage there is a white cotton screen illuminated by blencong (an oil lamp, hangs above the dalang), nowadays, a spotlight is used. From behind the scene, some audience watch the performance. They see the shadow of the puppets. Shadow in Javanese is wayang, from here the words of wayang kulit come. The mass of the audience sits in front of the screen to watch the wayang played by dalang. On the right and left side of dalang, the wayang figures were arranged stuck to a banana tree poles. And at the left and right ends of the screen, banquets of bananas and leaves tree are decorated. Behind dalang the gamelan music instruments are arranged and played by the niyogo (gamelan players).


PESINDEN (women singers) and WIRA SWARA (male singers).

The chorus of some pesinden (woman singers) as well as male singers are sitting there too. Next to the left side of dalang, there is a wooden box used by dalang to beat his instruments. The ‘keprak’, several pieces of small size iron plates hit by dalang by using right foot. From time to time, dalang during narration hit the wooden box with his hand by a ‘cempolo’ (wooden mallet).
During wayang peerformance, all the players: Dalang, Niyogo, Pesinden and Wira Swara using Javanese Traditional Costumes.



The gunungan (from gunung : mountain) or kekayon, a mountain like leather puppet has an important part in wayang performance. Symbolizing the power of life of the creator, gunungan is used to begin the play, change one scene to other or imagine wind, obstacles, mountain, clouds or seas. Before commencing wayang performance, a set of traditional offerings have been prepared with incense burning, a prayer to God Almighty is said in the hope the wayang performance should be conducted safely and the message should be accepted by the audience. The pattern of wayang show begins with court audience, followed by a battle between a ksatria and giants (buto) lead by Buto Cakil. The ksatria wins the battle by killing Buto Cakil, it’s symbolizing that every good efforts should end successfully after eliminating the obstacles. Then, the appearance of the famous Ponokawan, which is very comical and full of laughter, songs and music. Nowadays, some guest stars such as local famous singers and jokers might take part in the interlude made the show livelier.

Followed by some meeting and decisive battles until morning. At the end a wooden puppet (in javanese Golek) is played by dalang. The word golek means to search, in that case the audience is requested to search, the meaning of the story which has been performed the whole night. Gunungan is stuck in the middle of the screen.