Wayang Kulit (Leather Puppet), the Masterpiece of Javanese Performance Arts
When you spend the night in Yogyakarta while enjoying leather puppet show, it will feel vivid. The melodious rhythm of the gamelan in harmony with the voice of the female singers will not let you fall asleep. The story presented by the dalang as the puppeteer as well as the storyteller will bring you into being one of the characters in the story. You will soon learn the greatness of Javanese culture in the past.
Leather puppet show is a performance art that has been more than half a millennium of age. Its presence has its own story, in relation with the entrance of Javanese Islam. One of the Wali Songo or the nine pious leaders who spread Islam in Java created the puppet by adopting Wayang Beber or Beber Puppet that grew during the triumph of Hindu-Buddha. Such an adoption was done since leather puppet had been attached to Javanese people so that it became the proper media to spread Islam, while Islam prohibited plastic arts. Consequently, leather puppet was made in order for people to be able to see shadow.
Leather puppet show is done by the puppeteer who is also the storyteller who is possibly considered the best entertainer in the world. All the night, he plays all the characters of the leather puppets forming human characters made from buffalo skin decorated with motif as the product of leather carving. He has to change the voice character, switch the intonation, produce humor and even sing. In order to make the atmosphere vivid, the storyteller is assisted by musicians who play gamelan - the traditional Javanese music instruments - and the female singers called sinden who sing Javanese songs.
The total characters in leather puppet show number in the hundreds. The puppets that are not played are stuck in banana stem that is placed close to the storyteller. While being played, the puppets will look as shadow from rear view of the white screen in front of the storyteller. The shadow is created by the light from the oil lamp placed at the upper rear of the storyteller that is cut off by the puppets being played on the screen.
Each puppet performance presents different story or act. The act variations are divided into four categories namely lakon pakem, lakon carangan, lakon gubahan, and lakon karangan. Lakon pakem is the standard story that entirely originates from leather puppet literature while lakon carangan is only the main story that also refers to the leather puppet literature. Lakon gubahan does not origin from the leather puppet stories but it uses the places in accordance with leather puppet literature; lakon karangan is entirely a free story.
The stories in the leather puppet originated from some old books such as Ramayana, Mahabharata, Pustaka Raja Purwa and Purwakanda. Now, there are some books containing lakon gubahan and karangan that have been hundreds years to be liked by the society such as Abimanyu Kerem, Doraweca, Suryatmaja Maling and so on. Among the old books, Purwakanda book is most often used by the puppeteers from Yogyakarta Kingdom.
The leather puppet show begins when the dalang takes out a puppet in the shape of a mountain called gunungan. A nightlong leather puppet show in Yogyakarta style is divided into 3 scenes with 7 jejeran or acts and 7 war acts. The first scene, called pathet lasem, has 3 jejeran and 2 acts of war accompanied by pathet lasem Javanese musical composition. Pathet Sanga as the second scene has 2 jejeran and 2 war acts, while Pathet Manyura as the second scene has 2 jejeran and 3 war acts. One of the scenes that most spectators mostly wait is gara-gara that presents typical Javanese humor.
Sasono Hinggil that is located in the south square is the place that very often performs nightlong leather puppet shows. Usually, the performances are done on the second and fourth weeks, beginning at 09.00 p.m. Another place for leather puppet performance is Bangsal Sri Manganti in the complex of Yogyakarta Kingdom. The leather puppet performance in that place is done on Saturdays, beginning at 10.00 a.m.
Text: Yunanto Wiji Utomo