Lectures and master classes with Tamara explore the impact of ancient arts in modern times; the culture, history and religions of Southeast Asia and Indonesia's shadow puppet theatre - they include:
The over-all shape of the mountain (the Gunungan), reveals at the base a number of steps leading up to two temple doors. On either side of the doors stand two Raksasas, giant gate keepers, who guard our spiritual temple. At the beginning of the performance, when the music begins to play, the dalang symbolically opens the temple doors and invites his audience to enter the magical world of Wayang where our perceptions will change.
The roof of the temple is flanked by two Garuda birds. Garudaís flight sets us free. Atop the temple roof grows our tree of life. It is nourished by spirituality. Like our family, the tree of life spreads its branches and multiplies, creating shelter and harmony for all living things.
As we strive upwards through many lifetimes to reach Nirvana, symbolized by the "Tundjung" flower blossom in the tip of the Gunungan, we must first pass Naga, the snake wrapped around the tree facing downwards. Naga is our grounding and earth attachment. Centered, is the face of Banaspati, symbol of protection from danger, who guides us on our journey through life.
The evil side - negative energy
The mountain reveals consuming flames and fire. Centered is a huge demonic face with its tongue hanging out and eyes bulging. Not a pretty sight! This evil energy unleashed, consumes and destroys. It is energy turned negative.
The shadow side - spirit energy
In the context of wayang kulit, the shadow is the ancestral spirit returned to earth to be experienced on a cosmic plane (the screen). The Gunungan's two sides symbolize opposite energies. The third, the shadow side, remains one and the same, whichever side the Gunungan is turned. The shadow is spirit energy.
Western civilization, together with Christianity, was introduced to the archipelago by the Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch, who came for the lucrative spice trade.
If the Javanese kings recognized the importance of the dalang to teach the philosophies and values of the Hindu Pantheon through the art of shadow puppet theatre, so did the Catholic and Protestant missionaries who had settled on Java. They commissioned Javanese puppet carvers to create shadow figures in the image of Joseph and Mary and David and Goliath. The dalangs were instructed in biblical stories and performed what is known as "Wayang Wahyu".
Javanese Shadow Puppet Theatre "Wayang Wahyu" and "Testament Wayang"
teach Christianity and tell of the birth and crucifixion of Christ.
A more recent version, called "Testament Wayang," is still performed in churches on Java telling of the birth and crucifixion of Christ. The image reveals Wayang Purwa expressions, such as Christís black face for calmness and attainment. A snake wrapped around the cross with his head facing down, depicts Christís rising above worldly attachment. A kingís crown tops his cross.
In 1945 "Wayang Revolusie" came into being. During World War II, Japan occupied the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, the Indonesian students begged their popular leader, Sukarno, to declare independence from the Dutch. A war between Indonesian "freedom fighters" and the Dutch ensued. New puppets were carved. A new "lakon" (story), with a political message calling for the Indonesian people to rise against the Dutch, was told by the Dalang with puppets that looked nothing like the earlier ones. Puppet images of President Sukarno, his cabinet members and Japanese soldiers marching with the Indonesian freedom fighters against the Dutch, were created in contemporary design and no longer required a shadow. The winds of change have not left Wayang untouched. The new Sukarno Government made good use of the Wayang media. Dalangs were instructed to promote birth control and family values in their performances and the demand for qualified Dalangs increased. Today, young men can enroll in schools to learn the storytellerís art and become certified Dalangs.
Contemporary puppets from "The Shadow Theatre of Indonesiaís Revolution", 1945-49. President Sukarno, making a speech calling for an end to Dutch Colonialism and an independent Indonesia. August, 1945
Are there any women dalangs? The answer remains elusive like the shadow of the puppet. But, with changes occurring in Indonesia, including a growing womanís movement, professional women dalangs cannot be far behind.
The characters of "Srikandi" and "Sumbadra", two of Arjuna's seven wives, have significant meaning for Indonesian women. "Srikandi" represents a willful and assertive female. She is a popular symbol for Indonesia's women's movement. She is thought of as intelligent, decisive, assertive, courageous, combative and beautiful. The shadow puppet in her image shows a very different posture from Arjuna's "other wife", "Sumbadra." "Srikandi's" face is uplifted, looking one straight in the eye; she struts forth with a wide step, appearing to wear pants which are above her knee and she sports a "kris", a man's dagger, in her belt. She wears a flower in her hair and is confident.
"Sumbadra's" image is submissive, she is non-combative, does what she is told and does not look a man straight in the eye. She is "alus", refined, and she is Arjuna's favorite wife.
Left Srikandi, assertive, female and popular symbol of Indonesian womenís movement; Right Sumbadra, Indonesiaís submissive female
With global communications and a growing exchange of cultural values, traditional wayang kulit theatre is redefined through innovative, artistic concepts. The performances are shortened, the language used is no longer ancient Javanese Kawi which the common man does not understand. Often performed entirely in Bahasa, wayang kulit becomes accessible and understandable, even for those who have never seen it before.
Is traditional art to survive the electronic age with a growing population that wants immediate gratification? The answer is YES!
With wayang gaining popularity outside of Indonesia, the art form is reinventing itself to meet the challenges of the electronic age and beyond It is presented in different countries. Wayang has reached class rooms in America, England, Australia and Holland. Wayang has been included in Hollywood movies and shown on national and cable television. Given the interest it enjoys in the world among people of diverse artistic backgrounds and dynamics, wayang may well be experiencing a rebirth, standing at the steps of the mountain leading to the twenty-first century.
The above text and pictures are excerpted from an original work of a paper entitled: The Indonesian Story - The Shadow Theatre of Java, presented by Tamara V. Fielding at The International Wayang Festival held in conjunction with The Seventh Indonesian Wayang Festival (Pekan Wayang VII) in Jakarta, Indonesia on August 7-14, 1999. No part of this material may be quoted, reprinted or recorded in any form without the express written permission by the author.
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