Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shadow play - Wayang Kulit


I daresay  it was a treat so rare to have had a professor in dentistry, former VC of Universiti Malaya ( 2003-2006), now VC of IUNC ( International Univesity College of Nursing) as our esteemed  Tok Dalang ( master puppeter and storyteller) in early December at the Museum of Asian Arts for a special performance. Indeed it was an extraordinary morning with Dato Prof Hashim Yaacob. In my humble opinion, he's had his fair share of awarding marks to all his students under his wings. But that morning  it was our turn  to give him top marks for an entertaining lecture on the history of wayang kulit in Kelantan. And  for being the dalang as  he carried an admirable performance  in 'Sir Isaac Newton and The Fallen Apple'.

Oops! an apple on Sir Isaac Newton's head!

Sitting  cross -legged on the floor,behind a white screen cloth, Prof  Hashim  and his gamelan musicians were in full synergy. Prof Hashim held court - he narrated, he was the 'action man'  with the puppets  manipulating them accordingly and sweeping  his characters across the face of the screen. He breathed life into the plot and there were many hilarious moments at the surprise turn of events.

Head of the orchestra demonstrating the different musical instruments - serunai, gong, drums, cymbals

Tree of life  is always shown before the start of any wayang kulit theatre - to remind us mortals of our connection with the earth.

Salutation by way of silat before the play
In the moment - mesmerizing the audience

 Players more than tickled, enjoying themselves too

Curtain call - a thunderous applause

The shadows cast by the light source, which in this case is an electric bulb (oil lamp in the old days), make silhouettes. The story entitled Sir Isaac Newton and The Fallen Apple was specially commissioned a decade ago when science syllabus was taught in English. Plonk! fell the apple on Sir Isaac's head.And a magical journey began when  Sir Isaac Newton travelled  to the Malay Archipelago  to consult a well known Malayan scientist  on the puzzling phenomenon of falling apples. The trusty friend helped formulate the famous theory of gravity. But they were threatened by 2 monsters. Much drama ensued. With luck on their side, the heroes survived. Good triumphed over evil and Sir Isaac stayed in Malaysia to help teach English!

Traditionally the wayang kulit depicts scenes from  the Hindu epics - Ramayana and Mahabharata but there are also Kelantan folklore with elements from the Ramayana. The most popular shadow play is wayang kulit Siam also known as wayang kulit Kelantan.Invariably  the play climaxes with good triumphing over evil.

The stark reality is  that there are only 5 dalangs  in Malaysia. The well known dalang, Merah passed away last year. I can't recall when I saw a wayang kulit performance. Was it when I was  a young girl?? Looks like urbanization and modern entertainment have shoved this cultural entertainment out of people's lives. In the days of yore, the wayang kulit  was a social occupier during weddings, births, circumcisions, homages to teachers etc. People gamely connected and looked forward to spending  the evenings following epic stories as the dalang mesmerized them with his telling. What a twist of fate for the wayang kulit too. In 1990, there was a ban imposed on this theatre  in the heartland of wayang kulit  - the state of Kelantan! Some sense has prevailed for the ban  has since  been lifted. Hopefully  this theatre will  pick itself out of the doldrums  with some serious practioners around to revive the glory days of the shadow play.


Smaller puppets as souvenirs were snapped up

My friend Grace , up close with a huge Hanuman  puppet

19 comments:

  1. It is nice to see Wayang Kulit still being perform,
    i last saw it in public in the early eighties at Kuantan Town padang for merdeka celebration.

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  2. That puppet theatre looks great. It would be fun to watch or participate in.

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  3. Lovely capture of the performance. I have a pair of cocktail stirrers in the shape of the wayan kulit.

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  4. Very special treat, indeed! You always attend wonderful events.

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  5. This looks wayang kulit with a modern touch.

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  6. You open up a whole new world for me to know every time I visit your blog! So many interesting things to learn, and your photos are just fantastic too!

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  7. We have similar shows in India.The puppet shows of Rajasthan are famous.I think there are many things in common.

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  8. What a lovely story and Im sure it was hilarious too by looking at the puppet of Sir Isaac Newton! Great post Keat to remind us of our traditional forgotten culture. Sorry, no time to pick the plant yet, will let you know soon! Maybe after CNY.

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  9. I've seen puppet show but where...I can't remember! Bali?
    It's great we still have some traditions...

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  10. The puppet show looks wonderful!

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  11. Hi... got here through Bangchik's blog... I have never been to a wayang kulit show... think Msia should focus more efforts on this performance art...

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  12. This goes to show we don't need technology to have fun and produce quality performances. He had a bulb hanging from a cord and still managed to put on an impressive show.
    Very interesting.

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  13. Beautiful puppets. I wished I was there, watching the show! I am so amazed at the Professor's participation in the project. He has a loving heart.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog, and for your sweet comment :-)

    Doris

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  14. Keats, I have been dying to see one of such performances forever! it's a dying art and so many people dont know much about it....maybe one day I'll get to see it. I know they have it in Kota Bahru, every week ...but every time I balik kampung its for Raya..and they are closed. gong xi gong xi! May the year of the Rabbit brings you prosperity, happiness and good health :)

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  15. What an interesting and engaging theme for a Wayang Kulit play, Keats! I love it! I wish I had gone to watch it! I remember watching Wayang Kulit back in Terengganu as a child but I found it dull then. It was only when I was in my teens that I understood the different components of the performance. Thank you for the note on the significance of the Tree of Life. What a beautiful reminder, indeed.

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  16. you've made everything interesting <3

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  17. Wow! A great artist! My daughters would have loved this.

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  18. Keats,
    That is so awesome! I used to be scared of puppets when I was little. But now I appreciate how complicated they are.
    Rosey

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  19. wayang kulit is a typical Indonesian culture, as an Indonesian citizen I am proud of wayang kulit,

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Great to have you popping in!