Wayang Kulit

Category: Performing ArtsOral Traditions and Expressions

Wayang kulit in Singapore is a form of traditional theatre, consisting of shadow puppet play performances. There are many forms and types of wayang kulit in Southeast Asia, and the forms performed in Singapore and Malaysia have Javanese influences. The narrative of wayang kulit typically draws from two Hindu epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as other Javanese stories such as the Panji (a collection of tales of the mythical Prince Panji).

Shadow puppet representing the character Rahwana from Hindu epic Ramayana, as performed in Javanese wayang kulitShadow puppet representing the character Rahwana from Hindu epic Ramayana, as performed in Javanese wayang kulit. Source: Roots.sg

Accompanied by music from gamelan (Indonesian percussion instrument), the performance typically takes place as part of a celebration or ceremony. Of particular importance to the performance is the dhalang (the leader of the performance) as the dhalang will set the tone of the performance. The dhalang also needs to possess a good grasp of the two Hindu epics, the characters of the epics, Javanese philosophy and moral ethics.

During the performance, the dhalang voices the characters and leads the chorus of pesindhem (women singers) and wira swara (male singers). His responsibilities also extend to the arrangement of the wayang puppets, typically hung from a banana trunk, and the manoeuvring the puppets. Due to the complicated nature of the practice, the transmission of knowledge is a difficult and long-drawn process. In Singapore, the last known dhalang was Wak Taslim Harjosanajo, who passed away in 1985.

There have been recent efforts to promote the practice and appreciation of wayang kulit in Singapore and wayang kulit performances are held during local community festivals. Singapore Malay performing arts groups like Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts Ltd also offer wayang kulit performances, although these performances typically include contemporary movie heroes and Singaporean icons.

However, due to the lack of skilled performers and musicians, these wayang kulit performances remain sporadic.


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