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Ceremonial Objects > Puppets

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Shadow puppets, Arjuna and Bima

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Because of the age of the Museum's collection some objects in the Museum's collection have not yet been digitised. Some images are not available for Copyright reasons. Some images are not available for cultural or privacy reasons.

Object statement
Wayang kulit shadow puppets (2), 'Arjuna' and 'Bima', heroes of the Mahabharata epic, unpainted pierced buffalo parchment, maker unknown, Java, Indonesia, 1970-1975
Wayang kulit (shadow puppets) are a favourite medium in Java and other parts of Southeast Asia for the dramatic performance of the two great Indian epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These ancient morality tales were brought to Southeast Asia by Indian traders and travellers around the 8th century CE. Together with other elements of Indian culture, including art, literature, religion and social systems, these tales captured the imagination of many Southeast Asian peoples who incorporated them into their existing regional cultural forms. In Java, where these puppets come from, wayang performances have been held since the 1st century CE, and have become the basis of Javanese versions of the stories. Over time, characters such as the Pandawa brothers Arjuna and Bima from the Mahabarata, and Rama, Sita and Hanuman from the Ramayana, were blended with local ancestor figures and became firm favourites.

The puppets in this collection are known as 'wayang kulit' and are made from pierced buffalo-parchment. 'Kulit' means leather, 'wayang' means play, and wayang kulit is the most popular form of wayang. Two of the puppets in this collection are unfinished but one is complete - mounted on horn handles and painted. In Java, other puppet styles include three-dimensional 'wayang golek', and wooden 'wayang klitik' carved in shallow relief. Wayang topeng is performed by people wearing masks (topeng).

Wayang kulit enjoys a primary place in Javanese social life and is more than just entertainment. The stories have a universal appeal and a cohesive function socially, often including instructions on aesthetics and morality. Performances often last from dusk to dawn as a renowned dalang (puppet master) can keep his audience rapt throughout. The Arjuna character from the Mahabharata is of particular importance in this regard as, although not flawless, Arjuna is considered 'alus' - a combination of polite, humble and refined. The opposite to 'alus' is 'kasar' - a mode of behaviour that is crude and to be abhorred - and is displayed by the villains, who are of course always vanquished in the end.
The puppets have been formed according to traditional Javanese designs, and are in typical wayang style. The physical appearance, dress and ornament of individual characters change very little as they must be immediately recognisable to the audience in silhouette. These puppets represent two heroes and from the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata.

Cut from buffalo parchment and pierced to form the lace like design so effective when projected on a screen. According to the donor, these puppets were made in Java, Indonesia - probably by small boys about ten years old with sharp young eyes.

The accompanying receipt shows the puppets were bought on 18 September 1973.
Bought in Jakarta by the donor on 18 September 1973 to use in audio-visuals for Educational Media Australia.

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Description
Wayang kulit shadow puppets (2), 'Arjuna' and 'Bima', heroes of the Mahabharata epic, unpainted pierced buffalo parchment, maker unknown, Java, Indonesia, 1970-1975.

Two flat shadow puppets cut from buffalo parchment, with long arms jointed with bone pins at the shoulders and elbows. The puppets both have long-nosed faces and looping hair styles, and are intricately pierced giving a lace-like appearance. Differences in facial features and dress indicate however that they represent two different characters, Arjuna and Bima, from India's epic poem the Mahabharata. Arjuna is strikingly handsome and aristocratic in appearance and wears a patterned sarong; Bima's features are more homely, and he wears ornaments on his upper and lower arms. The puppets are both unfinished as they are unpainted and lack the horn handle necessary for manipulation.

Designed: Java, Indonesia

Made: Java, Indonesia; 1972 - 1973


Owned: Jakarta, Indonesia
2002/55/1

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Gift of Gwendoline John, 2002
Subjects
+ Puppetry
+ Mythology
+ Poetry
+ Indonesian culture
+ Arjuna
Short persistent URL
Concise link back to this object: http://from.ph/11456
Cite this object in Wikipedia
Copy and paste this wiki-markup:

{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/11456 |title=Shadow puppets, Arjuna and Bima |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=19 December 2014 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}


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