Yogyakarta is one of the most cultural and historic cities in Southeast Asia and definitely the best cultural destination in Indonesia. Indonesia today is the largest Muslim nation in the world but in the past, Hinduism and Buddhism thrived in this exotic archipelago of more than 10,000 islands. Two of the leading attractions here are the Borobudur Temple and Prambanan Temple: these two UNESCO World Heritage Sites are simply a must-see. A unique kind of attraction, in addition to these architectural wonders, is Wayang Kulit in Yogyakarta.
“Wayang” is Javanese for “shadow” literally, but is more often used to refer to theater, specifically puppet theater. The best known Indonesian wayang is Wayang Kulit, a shadow puppet theater that is so distinguished and popular that UNESCO included it in the list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With such a prestigious international citation, UNESCO requires Indonesians to preserve this unique form of art that exists only in this part of the world. Wayang Kulit is most popular in Java.
The city of Yogyakarta, one of the oldest cities in Indonesia, is located in Central Java. It is one of the most important regions in Java since it is home to a number of important heritage landmarks such as the Prambanan Temple, Borobudur Temple, Taman Sari Water Castle and a host of other ancient ruins.
Although “wayang” refers to the theater, it is now more often used to refer to the puppets. The exotic-looking leather puppets that are unmistakably Javanese are made with buffalo skin mounted on buffalo horns and bamboo sticks. “Kulit” is Javanese for “skin”. The puppet theater employs light and shadow as the puppets are help up behind a piece of white cloth with a light bulb behind them so that they cast their shadows on the white cloth screen. The wayang is always accompanied by traditional Gamelan music. Although the technology is very simple, Wayang Kulit has entertained and educated millions of Javanese through the centuries. Its most common presentations are those on the Mahabharata and Ramayana epics. The length of the presentation and of what story is decided upon by the Tok Dalang or conductor. Often the wayang kulit also tackles current issues and day-to-day stories.
A most notable and significant accomplishment of the puppet theater is that it was used time and again to educate the people about religion and matters of faith. The Hindus, Muslims and Christians have all used it to advance their faiths. Experts, doctors, and teachers observe that learning is more effective when done through wayang.
Although this cultural asset is truly the pride of all Indonesians, the leather puppets slightly differ in style depending on location. In Bali, the puppets are more compact and natural-looking, while those in Lombok look more like real people. Lombok wayang also makes use of real-world objects such as cars, bicycles, airplanes and boats to add comedic effect. Wayang Kulit in Yogyakarta is the most exotic and popular kind. It was the one recognized by UNESCO.