Sacred Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule
Sacred Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule

Our friends share their memories of Tari Topeng (Mask Dance) Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule. With Ketut Dana and Kadek Sudiasa.
Article by D.D. Reich. Photography by ManButur Suantara and D.D. Reich

The term wayang is the Javanese word for ‘shadow‘ or ‘imagination’. The word’s equivalent in Indonesian is bayang.

For many, the term ‘Wayang’ may not be familiar. It refers to the incredibly rich wayang puppet theatre tradition of Java and Bali that dates back over a thousand years. Most commonly in the form of Wayang Kulit, Wayang Klithik and Wayang Golek ( three different types of puppets used in traditional storytelling). Wayang traditions depict stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as adaptations of Javanese and Balinese folklore.

Wayang traditions cover a very wide scope, including singing, acting, literature, painting and sculpture and carvings. These traditions have also served as a vehicle for education, philosophical teachings, information as well as entertainment.

The significance of Wayang in our human heritage is recognised and further reinforced. UNESCO designated wayang theatre, as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve the tradition.


Wayang Wong

When we refer to ‘Wayang Wong’, it is a variation of Wayang performances where human actors play the roles in place of the puppets in the story. There are both masked (Tari Topeng) and unmasked variations of Wayang Wong’s performances. When we translate ‘Wayang Wong’ quite literally this means ‘Human Shadow’ or ‘Human Imagination’. Which in itself is ruefully perfect. In the Wayang Kulit performance, the shadows of the puppets are projected onto a translucent screen. In the dance where dancers come together to tell our ancient stories, is it not perfect that ‘human imagination’ is captured in its name?

Dancing Memories of Wayang Wong Sawidji
Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule, by ManButur Suantara.

Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule

Pura Taman Pule is a Temple in the village of Mas, Ubud in Bali. This mask dance is unique and is only performed here in this Temple. It is not performed outside of its grounds. A set of masks of the characters from the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics are kept in the Temple.No one can say for certain where these masks originated. There are no certain records of the mask carver or how they came to be in the safekeeping of the Temple. That information perhaps has been lost as a result of conflict or war in history.

Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule. Sawidji Articles

The Sacred Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule is closely related to ceremonial rituals at the Temple. It is also considered ‘Pemuput Karya’. The dance indicates that the ceremony undertaken at the Temple is complete. Another such Dance is the Tari Topeng Sidakarya.

A Standing Tradition

No modifications are made to the masks, they are in their original condition. This includes the masks’ coating of paint. Only the accessories of the mask are to be changed when wear and tear requires. They only clean and maintain the main mask but make no changes. From conversations, we gather that in the majority, the answer is the same. As far back as they remember, and as far back as their fathers and grandfathers remember, the Sacred Wayang Wong of Pura Taman Pule has always been.

The masks come out for their performance on one specific day in the Balinese Calendar, Penampahan Kuningan. The dancers are the ‘Pengempon,’ caretakers of the temple. They are not required to be dancers but instead have also inherited their roles from their parents before them.

Living Memories of the Dance

It is not surprising for something so ancient to have unclear accounts of its beginnings. We can learn about wayang cultural traditions through our textbooks and our studies of history, but the precious thing here is the conversations where memories are shared. Living memories of this ritual that has connected hundreds of years and so many generations, that for me is precious.

Tari Topeng Wayang Wong, Bali
‘Gajah’ Mask of Wayang Wong Pura Taman Pule. By ManButur Suantara

Sitting with Ketut Dana and Kadek Sudiasa, who both grew up and live in Mas Village, we talk about the Wayang Wong through their memories. For most of us, it is likely to be something we learn from the outside in, not something that we grew up with in childhood with the same familiarity as perhaps a Christmas concert.

I asked my father about the Wayang Wong and he does not know when it started,.. it was already like that from when he was a child.

Ketut Dana
Tari topeng Wayang Wong, Mask Dance Ubud Bali

.. I remember seeing Hanuman and I liked it a lot. When you’re small.. you watch these things.. and you like it, it’s exciting. At that time many of the dancers were from my family so there was no reason to be afraid of the masks. 

When you look at the masks, they are quite similar and no one knows who made them. I saw it for the first time in the 80s. In my childhood, I remember the dance was performed both in the morning and afternoon..maybe because it was not so crowded at the temple in those days. But today, it is still performed in the afternoon. The Wayang Wong is performed always the day before Kuningan day (Penampahan Kuningan) ~ K. Dana.

The Faces of Wayang Wong before the performance.

The dancers who perform this dance now are from three generations. This dance is sacred and even when the pandemic came they still performed the Wayang Wong. It is always performed at the time it is meant to. 

Ketut Dana

From a Dancers’ Perspective

Our conversation with Kadek Sudiasa gives insight into the Wayang Wong Pura Taman pule from a different perspective. There are things that he points out that he has a sensitivity to. For example, he talks about the differences between how the dance was performed in the past and the costume and dance styles of the characters that have noticeably changed.

From generation to generation the costumes have changed, it was minimalist in the past, a simple sarong, no body covering costumes. The style of the movements is also different .. In the past when I watched Wayang Wong.. each character has a clear style of movement of their own.. Monkeys have different personalities and the dance movements reflected the characteristics of the animals more.

The movements are almost the same now. The capturing of the character of each character is not as strong as it was in the past. According to the elders.. the dancers in the past used to go to the teacher’s house to learn, out of their initiative.. but now there is perhaps not the same focus…. 

Kadek Sudiasa

Recently, just this year… elders teaching this again, they are beginning to document and record these teachings so this is a good thing. You can already see an improvement in this year’s dance compared to the one before.

Kadek Sudiasa

There is a revival in recent years, a renewed sense of dedication to the Tari Topeng of Wayang Wong. The elders are now teaching what they know of the dance and there is more interest in the community to practice. The community is feeling a revival. A revival in the feeling of pride in the technical execution of the dance. Also, a growing consciousness of keeping this knowledge alive so it does not get lost.

A Mysterious Purpose

During our conversations, more questions were unanswered. Perhaps the origin story will always be something that may never be confirmed and be believed as something akin to legend. However, this dance is here. And the fact remains that through many generations, it has the power to command the admiration and devotion of the community. To protect it, to follow the rules that have been past down by the Ancestors along with the inherited masks that are central to this Wayang Wong.

Perhaps there is a key to understanding why this Wayang Wong is here, on the day that it is performed. Kuningan Holy Day is a day when the Ancestral Spirits return to heaven. During Galungan and Kuningan celebrations they bestow their blessing on their descendants. I look through the photographs that ManButur and I took on this day and remember how absorbed we were. Immersed in the expressions and the atmosphere of the day. I thought it was all beautiful and that beauty was not simply in the performance.

Remembering the faces of the dancers as they sat together before the performance. All expressions are bare, from all different walks of life. From all parts of the community, they came together and despite all the individual distractions, they were united in this. This coming together.

In this dance, not caring for status, occupation wealth or beauty, the Masks of the Wayang Wong united everyone through this dance and its story. Perhaps that is the reason behind this Ancestral gift. Perhaps through all its mysteries that charm and entice us, the ANcestral spirits bestowed through this dance a profoundly simple wisdom of unity.

Wayang..a little reference

Wayang is a rich part of Indonesian history and culture. Wayang refers to a traditional form of puppet theatre that began in Java. It is a form of storytelling with complex musical arrangements.Wayang (from the Javanese word ‘Wajang’ means shadow. This refers to the form of the first known form of Wayang as the ‘Shadow Puppets. Made from perforated and painted leather. There are also other forms of Wayang that are well known. Foe example, besides Wayang Kulit (Leather Puppets) there are Wayang Golek (three-dimensional wooden puppets) and Wayang Klithik (similar to Wayang Kulit but constructed out of wood).

 Performances of wayang puppet theatre are accompanied by a gamelan orchestra in Java, and by gender wayang in Bali. The dramatic stories depict mythologies, such as episodes from the Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and local adaptations of cultural legends.

Traditionally, a wayang is played out in a ritualized midnight-to-dawn show by a dalang, an artist and spiritual elder. Wayang performances are still very popular in Indonesia.In particular on the islands of Java and Bali. Wayang performances are held for certain rituals and events. Ceremonies such as thanksgivings, cleansings and other religious ceremonies. In relation to events (in Java or Bali) they accompany celebrations of Independence Day, the anniversaries of municipalities and companies, birthdays, weddings, and many more. Today with the growing development of tourism activities, wayang performances are used as cultural tourism attractions.

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