Ethereal music from bronze instruments plays a tune somewhat discordant to your ears. An oil lamp or single bulb sends out a light projecting images of kings and princesses, clowns and demons onto a white cloth. A dalang is the shadow puppet master of the Wayang Kulit, who, behind the cloth, calls up the spirit of ancestors, following a tradition of more than a thousand years.
The puppets act out scenes from the Ramayana, an epic poem brought to the Indonesian islands of Java and Bali by Indian traders and sailors. Or the Mahabharata, one of the world’s longest poems that also contains the Bhagavad-Gita.
The play will last three to four hours. Careful if you find yourself drifting off. You may find strangers from the play enter your dreams—Semar who is both a clown servant and a god. He serves Prince Rana, reincarnated from the Hindu god Vishnu. The beautiful Sita, Rana’s wife, also appears, as does the magical bird, Jatayu, who dies when it attempts to rescue Sita. Or perhaps members of the Pandawa and the greedy Korawa families play out their rivalry in an epic conflict from the Mahabharata.
No matter the play or poem, you will spend time deep in a forest thick with greenery, filled with creatures hiding where the sun doesn’t linger. The forest is the scene of banishment or refuge.
“All is clouded by desire, Arjuna,” Kresna tells the prince of the Pandawa family. “As a fire by smoke, as a mirror by dust. Through these, it blinds the soul.”
With one movement of a prince’s hand, giants are defeated.
See my post, Water from the Moon, to find out how I was introduced to the Wayang Kulit.