Theatre Two shows from Indonesia have wooden puppets recreating tales from the Ramayana. P. ANIMA reports

T wo pivotal episodes from the Ramayana — a besotted Sita urging her husband Ram to get her the golden deer which finally ends in her abduction, and later Sita in Ashoka Vatika, waiting for Ram to overpower Ravana and set her free — will be enacted, keeping abreast the drama, by wooden puppets. The titles of the two productions from Indonesia, “Penculikan Dewi Sinta – Sita Haran” and “Gugurnya Rahwana — Death of Ravana”, may sound incongruous until one lingers at the syllables, but vouch to tell a familiar tale when they will be staged at the Ishara International Puppet Festival unveiling on Friday.

Performed by Ki Dalang Wawan Gunawan and his troupe, the two performances peopled by wooden and rod puppets aim to be visual splendour, replete with puppets dressed in traditional Indonesian attire and swaying to traditional music. In an e-mail interaction, Wawan Gunawan says stories from the myths are still popular in Indonesia and puppetry still a thriving art.

The story of Sita's abduction and Ravana's death continues to be told often, says Wawan Gunawan.

“These stories are very popular among puppet lovers especially in Java island, which includes west, central and east Java, and also the island of Bali. The plays are often performed by the puppet masters,” he adds.

The performance form, Wayang Golek Ajen, evolved from the more traditional Indonesian theatre — Wayang Golek (wooden puppets) Sunda, he informs. The contemporary form sticks to a structured plot with each performance rolling out as a “unique presentation of dramatic art” and the audience given the freedom to decode the symbols and emotions. A lot of colour marks a Wayang Golek Ajen show.

“Wayang Ajen was born from an awareness among the younger generation regarding the traditional Wayang Golek Sunda and is an attempt at reading traditions in a modern way to produce something different. The structure of a Wayang Golek Sunda performance was recreated along the lines of modern theatre using a dramaturgical conceptual approach,” says Wawan Gunawan, who is said to have developed the new form with Arthur S. Nalan.

“Wayang Ajen aims to provide an alternative style of performance, especially for the appreciation of the younger generation, wherein we can see our own reflections,” he says.

Scripts are composed based on the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and are artistically packaged to form capsules with moral messages that are more actual and contextual, rather than historical.

Puppetry, says Wawan Gunawan, is still perceived as a tool to spread the philosophy of life and values. The art, he adds, brings together a range of artisans, from the wood carvers, designers and painters to costume and accessory makers. While a typical Wayang Ajen show unravels to the accompaniment of Gamelan music played by around 30 musicians with instruments like saron, peking and rebab, it is only a team of three — one puppeteer and two musicians — who will make it to the Ishara show. “What can we do? Some of the things are very heavy, but this is art,” says Wawan Gunawan.



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