Wayang, or Javanese puppet show is a result of art and culture before the coming of Hindu. The history of Javanese puppet or generally wayang Indonesia related with the coming of Islam and Hindu, Islam, Christian culture, and Chinese. These things enrich the style of the Javanese puppet itself. The functions of puppets in Indonesia own an important value to its society. It functioned as a way of education, information, religion, and entertainment.
The word ‘wayang’ predictably came from the word ‘wewayangan’ which means shadows. This prediction fit to the fact that in every performance of leather puppet, is using kelir (thin fabric), as a border between the puppeteer (dalang) who play the puppets and the audience. Audiences only watch the puppets movements through the shadows in the kelir. In ancient times, wayang performances only escorted by a simple gamelan (Javanese traditional orchestra) consist of saron, todung, and kemanak. Other musical instruments in gamelan and sinden (traditional women singers, usually appears in every Javanese puppets performance, singing traditional songs) predictably haven’t exist yet.
Javanese puppet show is the top of Indonesia’s art and culture, which is the most notably from many others art works. Javanese puppet culture covers the art of act, art of singing, art of music, art of retelling, art of literature, art of paintings, art of carving, and art of symbolizing. Javanese puppet culture which continue to develop from time to time also a media of explanation, religious speech, education, philosophy comprehension, and entertainment. According to history experts, Javanese puppet is a genuine art culture from Indonesia, especially java. Even the popular Javanese puppet stories nowadays are the result of adaptation of Indian work of art—Ramayana & Mahabarata–, those two stories has changed much and being added with other values to fit with the genuine philosophy of Indonesia.
The adjustment of this philosophy concept also talks about the Javanese’s view of philosophy toward the position of gods in Javanese puppets world. Gods in Javanese puppets world are no longer a figure that free from mistakes, but as the same as other creatures of god, which sometimes can do mistakes. The existence of Punakawan (four figures in Javanese puppet consist of Semar, Gareng,Petruk, Bagong) in Javanese puppet intendedly created by Indonesia’s culture experts (especially Javanese’s culture experts) to strengthen the concept of philosophy that in this world, none of creatures that purely good, or purely evil. Every creature contains good and evil side.
Types of Javanese puppets are varying. Some of popular puppets in Java Indonesia are, leather puppet (wayang kulit), human puppet (wayang wong), wayang golek, klitik puppet (wayang klitik), beber puppet (wayang beber), and suket puppet (wayang suket). Most of them is a popular puppets show in Central Java, Yogyakarta, and West Java.
Leather puppet or wayang kulit is the most famous puppet type in Java Indonesia. The puppets are made from young cow leather, processed, painted into many figures. Leather puppet is widely developed in java island. Wayang kulit played by the puppeteer which also as the dialog narrator for the puppets characters. This puppet performance escorted by gamelan orchestra, which played by a group of nayaga (gamelan players) and sinden.
Puppeteer (dalang) plays the puppets behind the kelir, while in the backside, a lamp (electric / oil lamp) is being lighted in that kelir, so the audience can only see the shadow in the kelir. To understand the stories of Javanese puppets, audience should have knowledge about the puppets characters whose the shadows appears in the kelir.
Next puppets are human puppets. It also called ‘wayang wong’ in Javanese language. Wayang means puppets, wong means human. Human puppets are puppets uses real human as the characters. It performs human as the replacement of leather puppets.
They wear the same outfits as in leather puppets. To get a similar face, to be seen from side, the human puppets are using make up with additional pictures or paintings. You can watch humans puppet regularly every weekend at Gedung Wayang Orang at sriwedari complex, Solo Indonesia.
Wayang golek is a popular puppet show in west java. Wayang golek is a doll-shapped puppet. the wayang golek character made from wood by whittle and carve it, until it resembles a desired shape. Stories in the wayang golek comes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata with Sundanese language and Sundanese gamelan accompaniment.
Next puppets are klitik puppets. Klitik puppets or wayang klitik, is puppet made from wood (in Javanese klitik means wood). Unlike golek puppets which shaped like dolls, klitik puppets shaped flat like leather puppet. The story’s repertoire also different with leather puppet’s has, which take stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata epic, klitik puppet’s repertoire taken from stories of panji and damarwulan.
Another puppet show is beber puppets. Beber puppet or wayang beber is puppet made from strands which formed into puppets characters. This kind of puppet arose and developed in Java Island in pre Islamic era and still developing in certain areas in Java Island.
Next puppet show is suket puppet. Suket puppet or wayang suket is imitation version of leather puppets, made from grass (in Javanese, suket means grass). Suket puppet usually made as a game tools or as a tools to convey puppets stories to children in villages. To make suket puppet, some leaves and grass are connected then arranged to shape like leather puppet figures. Since the material is grass, this kind of puppets couldn’t last longer.