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Bali and the Shadow Puppets

Many Western countries treat puppetry as a means of entertainment by telling stories with humorous or hilarious nature. But in other countries, especially those belonging in the Asian continent, puppetry, as well as its earlier form, shadow puppetry, are used to present a nation's culture and history.

It is done with meticulous preparation and often serious in tone.

In Java for example, a puppet's shadow, as reflected on the screen, is treated with respect.

It is considered a spirit, which is visible only at night and quickly vanishes when the morning sunlight reclaims its place.

Similarly, in another region of Indonesia, Bali, shadow puppets are used to relate a story, which the audience, especially the native Indonesians, already knows by heart. The story is often about a popular gossip or event happening in a local village. The puppets are accompanied by several improvised sets that are usually hilarious for the enjoyment of the audience.

Shadow plays in Bali are more popularly known as "wayang kulit." They are extremely popular not only in Bali but all throughout Indonesia. Performances of these plays are often made during sacred temple rites and in private family ceremonies. On the other hand, performances in local villages are often done for fun. The play involves a lot of slapstick comedy, which is typical of the way Balisians treat life, and the audience, which includes little children who sit on the ground while watching.

Despite the fact that it is mainly for entertainment, the wayang kulit is taken seriously by most Indonesians. It is for the reason that every aspect of the play contains symbolic and mystical messages as well as esoteric undertones. More importantly, it is a valuable tool used to preserve Indonesia's culture, as well as imparting messages on morality and local myths. Some Indonesians even consider the wayang kulit as a religious experience.

The main purpose of the shadow puppet play is to educate by presenting good and evil that are in an endless struggle wherein the good ones are always victorious in the end. Yet, evil is never totally vanquished. This is in keeping with the Hindu principle that good and evil are essential parts of the whole and must therefore exist in equilibrium.

As for the puppets themselves, Balisians, and for that matter, Indonesians, hold that the puppets have great spiritual powers and can be brought to life through special rites that will be performed by the puppet master and story teller, referred to as the "dalang."

The dalang, on the other hand, must be able to handle a number of abilities to be considered an efficient puppet master.

Specifically, he must have a wide repertoire of stories, able to play the appropriate music, have a flair for showmanship, perform the required sacred rituals, and have the talent to make intricate flat leather puppets.

The shadow puppets of Bali are more than mere puppets. They are considered a highlight of Indonesia's culture as it is able to successfully preserve and pass on the country's rich heritage from one generation to another.


Please enjoy these free hand shadow puppets and learn interesting facts on shadow puppets. Learn to make hand shadow puppets and the history of making shadow puppets and hand puppets.Shadow puppets have a long history and lots of interesting shadow puppet and hand puppet facts exist. These free hand puppet examples are for you to try your hand at creating shadow puppets and hand puppets, and hopefully put on your very own shadow puppet show!

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Images and portions of the text by Henry Bursill and were originally published by Griffith and Farran in 1859.