Saturday, March 8, 2008

Wayang Wong Bharata survives on love, devotion

The vast archipelagic nation of Indonesia is blessed with a wealth of indigenous cultures that stretch across from Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam to Papua. So diverse and various is Indonesian culture that the national slogan Bhinneka Tunggal Ika -- "Unity in Diversity" -- is an apt reflection of this plurality.

One art form that is part of this richness is the wayang (traditional puppetry), influenced by Hinduism, and the history of which can be traced as far back as the 9th Century in Indonesia.

The wayang exists from Sumatra to Lombok, but in various versions according to the local culture. There are many types of wayang, from the wayang kulit (shadow puppet) to the wayang topeng (masked puppet) to the famous wayang wong or wayang orang.

Wong in Javanese and orang in Bahasa Indonesia both mean person, and the "puppets" in this art form are human performers.

Wayang wong was historically staged only within the palaces of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, but its popularity rose and wayang wong came to be performed in public. In wayang wong, the dalang (narrator and troupe leader) only provides a suluk (prelude) to the story, and the performers dance, sing and speak -- usually in Javanese -- to act out the drama.

The wayang developed and adapted to suit the local way of life. For example, the punakawan, the comical and wise servants of Pandawa, are found only in the Javanese wayang, and do not exist in the country of its origin, India.

In the 1960s, about six wayang troupes existed in Jakarta. One of them, Panca Murti, had three different groups of performers: one performed at the Realto Theater in the Senen area while the other two toured Java and Sumatra. When the Panca Murti dispersed in 1972, several of its members formed another group called Wayang Orang Bharata that continued to perform.

Today, only the Wayang Orang Bharata survives in the capital, but the troupe continues to face a life of struggle for their art.

As with the fate faced by many other traditional artists, the Bharata troupe members are uncertain about their future. Will they still be able to perform? Will they survive another year?

It is solely because of their profound love for the wayang wong that they keep Wayang Wong Bharata -- and this traditional art form -- alive.

Wayang Wong Bharata Jl. Kalilio 15 Senen, Central Jakarta Tel: (021) 927175

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