A good night to explore Yogyakarta’s rich Javanese culture is the second weekend of each month, when you can find a live performance of wayang kulit, or shadow puppets. And what better setting in which to see such a show than the sultan’s own hall?
Built in 1956 to commemorate 200 years of the sultanate of Yogyakarta, Sasono Hinggil Dwi Abad dominates the north side of the southern palace alun-alun, or plaza. The all-night performance I am attending is the second part of the Javanese version of the Ramayana — an ancient Indian epic. I arrive at 10 p.m. and pay Rp 8,000, less than 70 cents, for a B class ticket. C class costs Rp 6,000 and class A is reserved for those with invitations.
The ticket seller on the night, Parjiono, works for the state radio station, RRI. Wearing a shirt with the station’s logo under a jacket, he looks tired but is happy to talk about the show. He explains that the performance has been made possible through the cooperation of RRI, state television station TVRI, Yogyakarta paper KR, and Pepadi, the association of dalang, or puppeteers.
A wayang kulit show lasts all night, and it is neither rude nor improper to doze during the performance. Wayang enthusiasts usually have a favorite part of each show, which all follow a rigid traditional form. All have an introductory act, a flower fight and a goro-goro act, where god-clowns offer the hero advice. After the goro-goro, the hero’s fate usually changes for the better, but tonight, because the story is part of the beginning of the Ramayana, the show will end with the abduction of Sinta by Rahwana, and it will be many more episodes before Rama’s fate turns for the better.
The Ramayana is a tale of the love between Rama and his wife Sinta. Their relationship goes through trials and tribulations because Rama’s stepmother wants his throne for her son. Rama is banished to the Dhandhaka Forest where the evil Rahwana, the demon king of Alengka, learns of Sinta’s beauty and resolves to make her his queen. Rahwana kidnaps Sinta and Rama spends many years searching for her with his loyal brother Lesmana. After securing the loyalty of a country of apes and monkeys led by mixed-raced monkeys who were sired by gods, Rama makes a bridge to Alengka and sacks Rahwana’s city. Rahwana, who cannot die, is buried under a mountain and Sinta is saved.
Full article by Godeliva D. Sari
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