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Wayang Kulit: Indonesian Cultural Heritage

I live in Indonesia, it is a country which has a lot of cultural heritage. One of the culture and art diversity that is still preserved until now is wayang kulit. I was introduced to wayang kulit when I was in a primary school.

Wayang kulit is a traditional Indonesian art that mainly developed in Java. Wayang comes from the word 'Ma Hyang' which means the spiritual spirit or God Almighty. There is also Javanese interpretation that wayang means 'shadow'. 

In a wayang kulit performance, there's dramatic shadows of flat leather puppets are cast onto a screen, accompanied by music, narration, and dialogue. The genre, also known in its ancient form as wayang purwa, stretches back to at least the 10th century, and was originally inspired by Indian models of dramatic performance. The stories were based on the ancient Indian epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The purpose of the theater was principally moral and religious instruction in Hinduism. Although Islam spread throughout Java in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Hindu culture was so firmly entrenched that the shadow plays with their Hindu stories have survived to the present day. Shadow-puppet theater is also performed in China and throughout Southeast Asia, but the spiritual and religious characteristics of the wayang kulit are particular to Java.

The flat puppets of wayang kulit theater are cut from the cured hide of water buffalo, it's decorated with intricate perforations and paint. Each puppet is supported by a central rod of buffalo horn with smaller rods to manipulate movable arms. The silhouettes of the puppets are projected onto a screen by the light of an oil lamp.

Dalang is the central figure in a wayang kulit performance. The dalang is the puppeteer and storyteller who operates the puppets while narrating the story and speaking all of the dialogue. He povides the sound effects and conducts the musical accompaniment (gamelan). A full show will begin in the evening and continue until dawn, a dalang performance requires considerable endurance. The dalang is also recognized by audience members as a religious leader who communicates with the spirit world during the wayang kulit performance. The ritual function of the wayang kulit is still strong in modern-day Java: Performances are commissioned in villages to celebrate marriages, births, or circumcisions. Dalang is the most important part in wayang kulit. In the terminology of the Java language, the mastermind (barrier) is derived from the acronym ngudhal Piwulang. Ngudhal means to disassemble or disseminate and piwulang means doctrine, education, science, information. So the existence of the manipulator in a puppet show not only on the aspect of spectacle (entertainment) only, but also guidance. Therefore, in addition to master the techniques of puppetry as an entertainment aspect, puppeteer must be a knowledgeable and able to give effect.

The Wayang kulit characters actually contains many symbols and characteristics of human nature. A number of puppet characters clearly also a symbol of male characteristics, such as; Arjuna figures emblems man good looks, Yudhistira likes peace, Bima is a rich man who in love and not easily attracted to women. Generally puppets took the story from the Mahabharata and Ramayana manuscript, but is not limited only with the standard, the mastermind can also play carangan (composition). Some of the stories are taken from the Panji stories.

The wayang kulit puppet show has been recognized by UNESCO on November 7, 2003, as a work culture that is awesome in the field of narrative story and a wonderful heritage and valuable (Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity). Wayang kulit is more popular in the central and eastern Java.


  1. Duhh..pokoke mantaff dehh indonesia kaya akan budayanya yang beragam....maff gk pake englishh...heheh

    1. Betul, banyak banget warisan budaya Indonesia yang perlu kita lestarikan. Ngga apa. Makasih yaaa sudah mampir. :)

  2. I always loveeeee Indonesian traditional cultural heritage, including wayang kulit. And people love it as well..


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