The Duration

Traditionally a performance last an entire night, starts soon after sunset with an overture (talu) of gamelan music and continues without a break until dawn. The audience is not expected to sit silently, people meet friends and talk to them, look around, sometimes they get a snack from the stall, those who need to rest take a nap, the point being not the content of the story but the ritual efficacy of the performance. Sometimes people regard the puppets themselves as being entered by spirits during the performance; and a good dalang (puppeteer) is often said to be entranced.
From experience everyone more or less knows how a wayang play will proceed, and the exciting parts that they like to watch: the fight scenes and, in particular, the moment when the hero appears with his servants (panakawan) at midnight. According to tradition, any one at wayang performance is safe from evil influences which normally plague people, even though they may be so far from the screen that they can barely hear the voice of the dalang.

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The Gunungan (Mountain)

To signal the beginning and the end of the performance – but also strong emotions, scene changes, the elements of fire, earth, air and water – the dalang uses the gunungan, the most important requisite in the wayang theatre. The gunungan (gunung, mountain) or kayon (forest) is a representation of the ancient Tree motif originating from India. This consist of two parts: a mountain and a tree. The Tree motif is rendered as a combination of two different trees: the fig tree rooted in heaven; and the earthbound lotus tree rising from the waters. The former, placed above, has implanted its root in the top of the stem of the tree-shaped lotus. The lotus is the very symbol of life springing from the water. The celestial fig tree represents ‘creative breath’ or fire, which is as essential in creating life as the water’s essence.

In the Javanese gunungan the lotus part can assume an hourglass form, with a small building with a pair of closed doors, or that of a lake or pot filled with water. Guardians stands on both sides of the stronghold. Their task is to guard treasures, particularly the mount Meru (heavenly mountain), and the liquid elixir of life. A pair of huge wings flank the upper half. The shape of these wings may actually be derived from lotus leaves or other vegetation. The gate building with closed doors can be understood as female, whereas the tree represents the male. Together and united they form life. The gunungan is placed in the centre of the screen before the drama begins, separating the opposed groups of characters that lie to the right and left of the dalang. The meditation undertaken by the dalang before the performance seeks a train of associations leading from the gods of the Hindu pantheon to the kayon. During the performance, the gunungan is the backdrop with which time and space are delineated, and it determines the atmosphere. Its association with the Tree of Paradise makes it an apt image to suggest the idyllic world of the kingdoms of the wayang lakons (plays) before the activities of men and supernatural beings upset the ideal balance.

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The Punakawans

In Wayang, the ksatria of Pandawa, especially Arjuna was always accompanied by their loyal servants clown, by the name of Ponokawan. Semar and his sons Gareng, Petruk and Bagong are the servants of kings and ksatrias with good behavior fighting for the truth. Togog and Bilung, on the contrary are serving bad rulers and knights.

Although they are only servants with ugly faces and disproportional bodies, but they are very wise and good advisers.

Semar, a very fat man with big belly and enormous buttock has an uncontrollable disposition for farting.
Petruk, a tall man with a very long nose.
Gareng, with his misshapen arms and cross-eyes.
Bagong, With a squat body and has very big eyes.

They are joking most of the time and ridicule each other but they reflect wisdom and truth. Ponokawan (pono means clear vision, clever and Kawan means companion, who are clever with clear vision, can give a wise advice.

Semar or Sang Hyang Ismoyo is the elder brother of the supreme god - Guru. He is assigned to live in the earth to escort ksatrias. Figures of Semar and Ponokawan are purely Javanese Wayang. The words of Semar are from sengsem (to lure) and Marsudi (to search, to do) meaning one is lured to search or do good things.

The Ponokawan always refer to the ksatrias as 'Ndara Den Bagus' (ndara from bendara means master, den abbreviation of Raden, a male court title, bagus means good and handsome), meaning "Master, do a good things".

The other names of Semar are :
1. Badranaya : Badra means dark cloud; Naya means face. As a clever man, one has to have a bright face (happy, do not appear with dark face).
2. Bojagati : boja (food) symbolizing knowledge, gati (real, true) meaning a true and correct knowledge. So, it is meant a wise man always teaches a true and correct lesson.

The four ponokawan symbolizing also the four good lessons from :
1. Guru (teacher) and knowledge
2. Examples of good leaders on other people
3. Own experiences
4. Divine inspirations

They live in the village of Karang Kabolotan, Bolot means human body's dirt, someone who is looking only for material wealth in his life should end in trouble.

In the whole night wayang kulit (leather puppet) performance, the Ponokawan appears in the midnight episode called Goro goro and after that episode actively take part in helping the ksatrias.

Their appearance in and after midnight has a meaning that the middle age people between the age brackets of 30 years to 60 years have to do honest deeds, throwing away the bad ones.

White tufted hair (Kuncung Putih)
Kuncung : tufted of hair above forehead
Putih : white
Semar with kuncung putih indicates that he is a wise man, a perfect meditator.

White face of Semar
Symbolizing a teacher with a kind and honest face, his pupils shall follow all his instruction gladly. On the contrary, a teacher with a black face, the pupils shall abide the instruction because they are afraid of him.

One tooth of Semar
A teacher should speak only of the truth.

Kampuh polong Batik
The dress he wears is batik with patterns kampuh polong with four colors, meaning there are four kind of lusts.
Red : amarah - anger, like the character of Rahwana.
Yellow : supiyah - greedy like Sarpakenaka, Rahwana's sister.
Black : aluamah - desire of eating and sleeping like Kumbakarna.
White : mutmainah - doesn't have any desire, like holiness, in wayang is Wibisana.

A man at least, must be able to harmonize these four desires for positive things. It is very difficult for a living human being to defeat these desires totally.

Some well-known figures in wayang kulit wearing kampuh polong are Anoman, Bima, Antareja and Setyaki.

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The Dalang

The dalang manipulates the puppets, sings and taps out signals to the orchestra. He also speaks the parts for all characters; he must be able to render the shy sweetness in the voice of a princess, the spiteful whine of a lackey and the righteous but controlled anger of a noble hero.

Not everyone can be a dalang. A Dalang is a most extraordinary man. First of all, he is a public entertainer. To amuse a great number of people is not an easy matter. He must be physically strong and healthy, otherwise he would not be able to stand the strain. Just imagine, he is seated cross-legged for nine successive hours. He cannot even have a wink of sleep. He cannot get up from his seat until six o'clock the next morning. He also has to strike the kechrek (rattle) with his right foot almost incessantly. He handles the puppets with both hands, imitates their different voices, tell jokes at the right times, and even sings every now and then. In addition, he controls the musicians without anyone among the audience ever noticing it.

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Wayang Kulit

The word ‘wayang’ means shadow or imagination and ‘kulit’ means skin and denotes to the leather from which puppets are made up of. The Wayang Kulit (Leather Puppet Shadow Play) besides being a form of entertainment is also the bearers of culture. These Indonesian shadow plays are regarded as one of the earliest forms of animation. The culture of Indonesia is reflected in the plays that act as a carrier of myth, morality play, and form of religious experience rolled into one. These shadow puppets are conceived to possess great spiritual power, and are "brought to life" by special ceremonies executed by the puppet master and story teller who is popularly known as dalang. The dalang is a man with versatile talents. He must have a repertory of hundreds of stories, play the music, have an elan for showmanship, execute the essential sanctified rituals, and also know how to make the intricate, flat, leather puppets.

The stories that are narrated in the Wayang Kulit (Leather Puppet Shadow Play) are usually mythical & morality tales. These stories generally reflect on the rich, colorful and diverse culture of Indonesia. The dalang with the help of the shadow puppets narrates the story line and beautifies the universal themes with the means of improvisational digressions comprising the local village's gossip or occurrences. The asides are generally used to make the audience laugh. The main aim behind the Wayang Kulit (Leather Puppet Shadow Play) is to educate and entertain the audience at the same time.

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