Monday, June 02, 2008

Wayang Kulit or how to bring an ancient epic into the 21st century

It would take more than a year of nightly wayang performances to complete the telling of the Mahabharata.

Below are some photos and films of a wonderful evening at Dharmawangsa, Jakarta. The Wayang were superbly performed by Dalang Ki Purbo Asmoro. The story ‘Sesaji Raja Suya’ or ‘the Grand Offering’ deals with a topic as old as mankind, usurpation and tyranny or how best to rule a territory.

Video above: The 'shadow' side of the play.

Video above: The front side, i.e. the dalang with singers and gamelan orchestra.

Photo above: Dalang Ki Purbo Asmoro.

esides playing the puppets, telling the story, singing, and setting the rhythm for the orchestra, the Dalang also makes references to current affairs. Up to his audience to interpret them as they like.

Photo above: The singers.

The story:

‘A vengeful and bitter king, King Jarasandha, is amassing territories at a frightening rate and has managed to imprison 97 respected and benevolent kings in his fortress. He is looking for three more to add to his den, as this will fulfill the “heads of 100 great kings” requirement in a black magic ceremony he is planning. It becomes evident that the three remaining kings will be found in the kingdoms of the Pandhawa and their mentor Kresna.

In the meantime, the Pandhawa are planning their own ceremony—a blessing of their newly founded kingdom of Amarta. Their ceremony, by contrast, requires the support and friendship of 100 neighboring kings, as well as evidence of their working toward good in the world.

Although the story may appear to be a simple battle between good and evil, black magic and white, in the end it appears much more complicated. We come to understand the difficulties in King Jarasandha’s life that led him to be so bitter, as well as, by contrast, the weaknesses in the Pandhawa and Kresna’s character that lead them to not always make the correct choices in their lives.

This is a story that examines human nature—its potential for both weakness and strength.

The story, which was simultanously translated into English ended as follows: 'We hope for nothing but the health and tranquility of the kingdom. And for the justness and rightness of each citizen so that all can work towards a prosperious and a strong country that is just.'

So true, also in 2008, it seems.

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