Indonesia’s art of Wayang Kulit, more popularly known as the Wayang Shadow Play, is among the world’s greatest story-telling tradition and is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Embedded in the ancient Javanese culture since the 8th century, the art has been performed in villages to cities and royal courts for hundreds of years, and remains very much alive until today.
Although the audience watches the story unfold in shadows of figures thrown from behind the screen, the characters of the play are not mere puppets, but are in fact crafted of very finely cut and carved untanned leather which are then beautifully painted over. For this reason, in Indonesia, the performance is called Wayang Kulit, or the Wayang Leather puppet performance, to distinguish it from other forms of wayang puppets that may be made of wood, for example.
Wayang stories are usually taken from episodes of the Hindu classic sagas of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These stories are not only entertaining but, moreover, teach lofty values and contain deep philosophical thoughts. Accompanied by the remarkable live music of the Javanese gamelan percussion orchestra, Wayang Kulit performances are always present during folk festivities and significant events such at births, weddings, or other celebrations, and lasts the whole night. The particular story presented and messages conveyed are usually relevant to the event. A performance celebrating a birth might tell a story about the birth of a heroic character, for instance.
Wayang stories involve moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the characters in their journey through life, love, and war. The stories are about good versus evil, but more than that, they contemplate the existential struggle between right and wrong. They are about the pursuit of living a virtuous, noble life and the search for meaning in life. The means to those ends are not always clear cut. “Good” characters may possess certain negative traits and likewise, not all “bad” characters are entirely immoral. Whatever the circumstance, wayang stories always present philosophical ideas and poignant messages.
Therefore, aimed to preserve and revitalize the sophisticated art of Wayang Kulit, a Wayang Village was established at the Village of Kepuhsari, in the Wonogiri Regency, in the province of Central Java.
Located only two hours’ drive from the cities of Solo or Yogyakarta, the Wayang Village of Kepuhsari has become the center of the Wayang Kulit craft and is home to some of the most skilful Wayang Kulit artisans who have handed down the tradition through generations. Most houses in the village of approximately 6,000 inhabitants have wooden tables in front of their homes to engrave and shape the Wayang Kulit. Artisans of every age spend their time daily at these tables to create the intricate Wayang Kulit puppets. For this reason, Kapuhsari is truly the best place to observe how these masterpieces of Javanese culture are formed.
In September 2012, the village was officially established as a Wayang Village to showcase the age old tradition to visitors. Over 30 houses were converted into homestays for visitors who wish to stay longer to learn more about crafting the Wayang Kulit and to experience up-close the Wayang Kulit art. Aside from Wayang Kulit making, visitors can also learn the art of dalang or how to become a puppet master. The Dalang animates the puppets into living characters by manupaling them, tell the story and changing his voice to match the person speaking.
There are also tour packages available which include a number of interesting activities for visitors.
Initiated by 4 young people, Ariel Pradipta, Fiona Ekaristi, Patricia Sanjoto, and Rieke Caroline, the Wayang Village aims to cater to the interest of the younger generation all over the world who may be searching for life’s meanings and values through Indonesia’s traditions and cultural expressions. These dedicated initiators believe that human beings may receive a deep and more meaningful experiences by reaching out nearer to villagers who have the wayang culture so embedded in their daily life.
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