The World Through Music and Culture

Tumpek Wayang, A Special Blessing Ceremony in Bali

(Photo by Maria Bakkalapulo)

Renowned for its elaborate puppets and complex musical styles, the ancient form of story telling called wayang kulit originated on the Indonesian island of Java. For ten centuries wayang flourished at the royal courts of Java and Bali as well as in rural areas. In the village setting, the puppets have long been a traditional means of entertainment and way to pass along moral issues, even touching on politics and sensitive social issues. Recently UNESCO named Indonesiaís shadow puppet theater a “world masterpieceî giving the ancient tradition world heritage status. On the island of Bali, the people regularly give thanks to these spiritual and mystical figures with special blessing ceremonies that take place all around the island. Maria Bakkalapulo takes us there. 

TRANSCRIPT (The below is a transcript of the audio story. Be sure to click on the above link to hear the voices, music and sounds from on-location.)

Maria: The island of Bali comes to life in a special day to celebrate the arts. In the village of Karobokan in southern Bali, hundreds of people file into the local temple over the course of the day to pray and give their thanks to the gods.

(at the temple) Wow, this is incredible. Outside the temple thereís a procession of women. Hundreds of women.. in sarongs, lace tops and sashes. Really colorfully dressed. With these towering offerings on their heads. I would say they are about an average of a meter high. And the colors are just spectacular. We have mangos, lemons, oranges and cakes. Today is a very special day in Bali. It is Tumpek Wayang, which is a celebration of the arts in Bali. Music, theater, and most importantly, wayang kulit, or shadow puppet theater

Maria:  The Indonesian theatrical performance called wayang kulit is one of the oldest forms of story telling in the world and continues to be a vibrant living tradition throughout the archipelago. Behind a white sheet lit from behind, the dalang, or puppeteer, casts shadows and manipulates the swiveling arms of the intricately carved figures in a battle between good and evil.

Maria: The dalang is believed to posses great spiritual power. 32-year-old Wayan learned the tradition from his father.

At his home, he makes the puppets spending his days chiseling lacework designs into buffalo-hide and painting them by hand. For this special ceremonial day, he places his own collection of 115 puppets on his personal home temple and blesses them with offerings of rice, flowers, incense and holy water:

Maria asks: Why are you asking the gods to bless the puppets? What are you asking the gods for?

Wayan: Because they need to say grateful and thank you to the gods because they make living to the Wayang.

Maria:  Recently UNESCO named Indonesiaís shadow puppet theater a “world masterpiece” giving the ancient tradition world heritage status. With the end of patronage from wealthy rulers and the countryís ongoing economic crisis, the concern is that the ancient tradition will begin to fade or be adapted to suit more popular tastes. The plan is to encourage international research, while also offering support for specialized schools to teach and help puppeteers earn a living at their craft.

Wayan believes that the effort to keep the tradition alive is essential to the local community:

Wayan: He is very proud about it that it is getting international attention. Because it is very important. Because wayang kulit is the local teacher. It is giving the influence and education to a lot of people. Especially those people who cannot read or write. So it is easy to interpret to those who have little education.

Maria: After Wayan finishes blessing the puppets with holy water, he joins the rest of the locals at the village temple. Into the night, the Balinese pray to their gods as the musicians begin to play. It is a day for the dalangs to give thanks for their ability to bring these shadow puppets to life.

Follow Maria Bakkalapulo on Twitter @mbakkalapulo

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