What do you think of the word ‘puppet’? A small doll fits right into your palm which you need to move your hand around for it to seem alive? Well, close one. The kind of puppet we are about to discuss does need the help of a hand for it to seem alive, but instead of slipping it into your palm or finger, you only need to move around the sticks attached to the each of its slender hand. Imagination aside, here is the kind of puppet which is recognized as the Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity from UNESCO on November 7th 2003:
Alright, now that you have seen what it looks like, go straight to the how and why our main star was enacted, shall we? Starting off really simple, by only using grass as its main material, the purpose of wayang was to worship the respectable spirit of the ancestors and other ritual ceremonies. Historically speaking, there was no literal evidence on how wayang first came to the country before Hinduism was spread around Southeast Asia. Yet it was said that the idea of wayang was brought by Indian merchants to Indonesia. The meaning of the word wayang itself is ‘ghost’ or ‘shadow’.
And that’s only it about wayang! …not. There are plentiful things about wayang and its historical traces. One of them is the characters existed in wayang. The majority of wayang characters are of embodiments of gods—which caused quite a stir back then for some religion—. One of the very famous one is Punokawan or Panakawan, a story of four characters whose main purpose is to be ‘clowns’ of the story yet has deep meaning behind their saying and even their bodies are made with philosophy. For example, one of the characters, Semar is said to be an embodiment of god named Batara Ismaya. Also, he is not of male, not of female. His right hand is facing upward and his left hand was put on his back, this has a meaning of he believes and as a symbol of oneness. His left hand resembles of him completely surrender and also as a symbol of his neutrality yet stay sympathetic at the same time.
Wayang spectacle is usually exhibited by playing the wayang behind a huge white screen and the light comes from behind the screen as well. There would be one person called dalang who would give voices to each of the characters and playing the wayang himself. Aside from characters, there is also one item which always present on every wayang spectacle; gunungan. Gunungan, which borrows the term ‘mountain’ in Indonesia which is ‘gunung’. Gunungan has the shape of pentagon or five-sided, the pointy side on gunungan resembles the mountain itself and has a purpose of telling to always remember The Almighty.
So, nope, wayang is not only a puppet. It’s a heritage with meaningful history behind it. But as there are cinemas growing and more popular even in the country of its origin, do you think wayang would still survive? Or would all its astounding tales remain history?