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Learn how to Use Shadows to your Advantage by Learning about Indonesia’s Wayang Kulit

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Ever wanted to be a marionette master? Not only will you be in control of the puppet, you’ll actually play God and create one. In Indonesia, and Java in particular, show puppeteer is a big thing, so much so that UNESCO has awarded the art its Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity recognition on November 7th 2003. Along with the local puppet masters, you can also help preserve this ancient form of entertainment.

Shadow puppetry, otherwise known as wayang kulit in the Indonesian language, have been around for centuries and usually tell the Indian epic stories of The Mahabarata and the Ramayana. In Java and Bali, these epics, mainly Hindu in nature also incorporates Islam and Buddhist ideals, respectively.

The dalang (puppet master) is a truly skilled individual. Not only does he/she bring the puppets to life, the dalang must also remember and recite hundreds of stories, be in charge of the music and of course create the puppets. Some even craft the puppets themselves.

The puppet master plays behind a cotton screen, which is illuminated by an oil or halogen lamp. The marionettes, usually made of leather or buffalo hide are delicately chiseled to resemble their final form. They are then supported with carefully shaped buffalo horn handles and bamboo control rods to make their movement as humanlike as possible. Gamelan music usually accompanies a show.

It is only fitting that your wayang kulit experience starts in Jogjakarta, considered to be Indonesia’s art and cultural capital. After browsing through the various displays of art galleries and displays in town, head over to the outskirts and to the old city of Kotagede. Most of the houses here are built between 1700 and 1930, so you’ll get a sense of traditionalism once you step foot here.

With the guidance of a skilled wayang kulit maker, you will create your own puppet. These guys will also show you how to use the puppets and put on a short performance, for you to watch and for you to actually perform. The course takes around three hours and gives great insight into the history, cultural significance and crafting of this Javanese tradition.

So, there you have it, one day in this Jogja Shadow Puppet Course and you get to take with you a centuries-old Southeast Asian art form and tradition. What else can you do in a country filled with over 17,000 islands? Check our Indonesia tours page to find out.

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