Rethinking Indian Influence in Javanese Shadow Theater Traditions


Laurie J. Sears


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The actress' singing, like the beautiful movements of the magical

antelope, or the art of poetry, makes the audience "forget" the everyday

world (laukika) and enter the fantastic (alaukika) realm

of imagination that is latent within them. The entire play is a reenactment of

this idea. The mind of the poet, the hero, and the audience is

symbolized here by the director, who holds together the various strands

of the theatre so that the rasa of the play can be realized and savored.1

Each Javanese shadow play is part of an oral tradition which has been transmitted from dhalang (puppeteer) to dhalang for centuries. The dhalang draw a portion of their repertoire from the episodes and characters of the pan-Indian epics, the Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata,2 and, although some of the plays follow Indian versions of the stories, many more are original Javanese creations. The Javanese term wayang purwa (ancient shadows) refers to what some scholars have called the Hindu-Javanese epic repertoire. The notion of a Hindu-Javanese epoch in Javanese history was introduced by British scholars such as Stamford Raffles in the early nineteenth century to refer to that period of Java's past that had seen the adoption and adaption of a variety of Indian religious, cultural, legal, and textual traditions. The shadow theater tradition was among the many literary, artistic, and archaeological artifacts that were given Indian origins by first the British and then the Dutch scholars.

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