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Wayang wong, also known as Wayang orang (literally 'human wayang)', is a type of classical Javanese dance theatrical performance with themes taken from episodes of the Ramayana or Mahabharata. Performances are stylised, reflecting Javanese court culture:

Wayang wong dance drama in the central Javanese Kraton (royal court) of Yogyakarta represents the epitome of Javanese aesthetic unity. It is total theatre involving dance, drama, music, visual arts, language, and literature. A highly cultured sense of formality permeates every aspect of its presentation.[1]

Despite being heavily associated with Javanese tradition, the variants of wayang wong dance drama are also can be found in neighboring ethnics traditions, including Balinese and in Sundanese traditions.



The bas relief panels on 9th century Prambanan temple shows the episodes of Ramayana epic. While the adaptation of Mahabharata episodes has been integrated within Javanese literature tradition, since Kahuripan and Kediri era, with notable example such as Arjunawiwaha, composed by Mpu Kanwa in 11th century. The Penataran temple in East Java describe both Ramayana and Mahabharata theme in its bas reliefs. The Javanese dance drama associated with wayang epic themes of Ramayana and Mahabharata would have been existed by then.

Wayang in Kawi (Old Javanese) means "shadow" and wong means "human". Wayang wang was a performance in the style of wayang kulit, the shadow theatre of Central Java wherein actors and actresses took the puppets' roles. The first written reference to the form is on the stone inscription Wimalarama from East Java dated 930 CE.[2] The genre is currently done in masked and unmasked variations in Central Java, Bali, and Cirebon, as well as in Sunda (West Java).[3]

Wayang wong is heavily associated with Javanese culture. Originally, it was performed only as an aristocratic entertainment in four palaces of Yogyakarta, Pakualaman, Surakarta and Mangkunegaran. In the course of time, it spread to become a popular and folk form as well. Javanese wayang wong performances are regularly stages in Trimurti Ramayana open air stage in Prambanan temple compound as Ramayana Ballet, Purawisata cultural hall in Yogyakarta, Sriwedari park in Solo, and also Ngesti Pandawa in Semarang.


Other than Javanese dance tradition, the variants of wayang wong dance drama are also can be found in other traditions, including Balinese and in Sundanese traditions.

Wayang wong BaliEdit

Balinese wayang wong Ramayana, performed in Sarasvati Garden in Ubud.

Wayang wong Bali refer to Balinese version of wayang dance drama. Its contemporary presentation usually included within kecak dance; where fragments or episodes of Ramayana epic were performed amids the chanting kecak dancers. However, a Balinese wayang wong version that is not including kecak dancers is also existed, especially in Ubud. Wayang wong Bali usually associated with Buleleng District.[4]

Wayang wong CirebonEdit

Wayang wong Cirebon refer to the tradition of wayang dance drama in Cirebon city, West Java. Cirebon has two styles of wayang wong. The first is a commoners or village version in which the performers are masked. The second is a Cirebon palace variant where the performers dance unmasked. Cirebonese wayang wong developed in the beginning of the nineteenth century, and influenced the wayang wong Priangan by the end of that century.[3]

Wayang wong PrianganEdit

Wayang wong Priangan refer to Sundanese version of wayang dance drama, developed in Priangan region in the heartland of West Java. Wayang wong Priangan developed in the late nineteenth century, peaked in the regencies of Bandung, Sumedang, Garut and Sukabumi in the period before World War II, and receded by the late l960s as audiences waned.[3] In Sundanese tradition, the most prevalent wayang tradition is wayang golek wooden rod puppet performance. Nevertheless, the wayang-themed dance drama performance is also exist, usually performed in Sundanese sandiwara traditional drama form.

Wayang gedogEdit

Wayang gedog, masked wayang in Surabaya c. 1905

Wayang gedog (lit. "masked wayang"), another form of wayang wong performance, is usually considered to be a cross between wayang wong and the Topeng dance. These performances take themes from the Panji cycles stories about the kingdom of Janggala. Players wear masks known as wayang topeng or wayang gedog. The word "gedog" comes from "kedok", which, like "topeng" means "mask". The main theme is the story of Raden Panji and Candra Kirana. This is a love story about princess Candra Kirana of Kediri and Raden Panji Asmarabangun, the crown prince of Jenggala. Candra Kirana was the incarnation of Dewi Ratih (goddess of love) and Panji was an incarnation of Kamajaya (god of love). Candra Kirana's story was given the title "Smaradahana" ("The fire of love"). At the end of the complicated story they finally marry and produce a son. Panji Asmarabangun ruled Jenggala under the official names of "Sri Kameswara", "Prabu Suryowiseso", and "Hino Kertapati".

Dance styleEdit

Wayang wong has fixed patterns of movement and costume:

For male performers:

  • Alus: very slow, elegant and smooth movement. For example, the dance of Arjuna, Puntadewa and all other refined and slimly built Kshatriyas. There are two types of movement, lanyap and luruh.
  • Gagah: a more masculine and powerful dance movement, used commonly for the roles of strongly built kshatriyas, soldiers and generals.
    • Kambeng: a more powerful and athletic dance, used for the roles of Bima, Antareja, and Ghatotkacha.
    • Bapang: gagah and kasar for the warriors of antagonist roles such as Kaurawa.
    • Kalang kinantang: falls somewhere between alus and gagah, danced by tall, slim dancers in the roles of Kresno or Suteja.
  • Kasar: a coarse style, used in portraying evil characters such as Rakshasa, ogres and demons.
  • Gecul: a funny court jester and commoners, portraying ponokawan and cantrik

For female performers: Kshatriya noblemen. Costumes and props distinguish kings, kshatriyas, monks, princesses, The movements known as nggruda or ngenceng encot in the classical high style of dance consist of nine basic movements (joged pokok) and twelve other movements (joged gubahan and joged wirogo) and are used in portraying Bedoyo and Srimpi.

Today, the wayang wong, following the Gagrak style of Surakarta, is danced by women. They follow the alus movements associated with a Kshatriya, resembling Arjuna. Following the Gagkra style from Yogyakarta a male dancer uses these same Alus movements to depict princes and generals. There are about 45 distinct character types.


Pandava and Krishna in an act of the wayang wong performance.

Performances of wayang wong are regularly staged in Javanese cultural heartlands; the court cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta (Solo). The national capital Jakarta also staged wayang wong performance, although they are sometimes not well-publicised.


A series of well-known dramatic monthly evening performances of wayang wong from the Ramayana is performed all year round at the Prambanan temple near Yogyakarta. The most complete Ramayana wayang wong involving more than a hundred dancers, artists and gamelan musician is performed only during the dry season (usually May to October) on open air large stage against Prambanan Trimurti temples as the background. During monsoon rainy season however, the performance is moved into smaller indoor theatre nearby. In downtown Yogyakarta, on Eastern side of Keraton Yogyakarta, the Ramayana wayang wong is also performed every night, start at 08.00 P.M. at Purawisata theatre, Jalan Brigjen Katamso, Yogyakarta.


Episodes from the Mahabharata and Ramayana are often performed daily in the Wayang Orang Sriwedari theatre Sriwedari Cultural Park at Jalan Slamet Riyadi 275 Surakarta city in Central Java. This daily performance starts at 08.15 P.M. every night, except on Sunday.


In Jakarta the Wayang Orang Bharata group, one of the oldest Wayang orang groups existing in Jakarta, generally stages performances in the Bharata Theatre just north of Pasar Senen near the centre of the city each Saturday night.[5] The Bharata Theatre, which seats around 300 people, was renovated with funds from the Jakarta city government in the early 2000s.[6] The performances are often based around stories of conflict between clans drawn from the Mahabharata. Presentations involve traditional Javanese dancing, stylised fighting, and periods of dialogue, accompanied by music from a substantial gamelan orchestra.[7] Actors representing the well-known Punokawan clowns, including the much-loved Semar, usually involve themselves in the action, often poking considerable fun at the self-important lives that the princes and high-born warriors lead.[8] Ticket prices are relatively modest with even the best seats in the Bharata Theater generally costing (early 2013) less than $US 10 per person.

Other than weekly wayang wong performance of Bharata in Senen area, Jakarta sometimes annually staged special wayang orang performances that might took place in Gedung Kesenian Jakarta near Pasar Baru in Central Jakarta, Taman Ismail Marzuki, or in Gedung Pewayangan Kautaman, near Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. These are not routine performances, the schedule and ticket should be inquired priorly at those performing art theatres. There are several wayang wong troupes in Jakarta such as Swargaloka, Senawangi, Puspobudoyo and Sekar Budaya Nusantara.


Wayang wong performances sometimes are aired in television, such as in TVRI and World of Wayang of Kompas TV.


  1. ^ Garrett Kam (Spring 1987). "Wayang Wong in the Court of Yogyakarta: The Enduring Significance of Javanese Dance Drama'". Asian Theatre Journal, (4) 1: 29-51.
  2. ^ Soedarsono, l997: 4-6
  3. ^ a b c Yus Ruslaiana. "Wayang Wong Priangan: Dance Drama of West Java" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Dance Performances". Ultimate Bali.
  5. ^ Edna Tarigan, 'The surviving human puppet show', The Jakarta Post Travel, 24 March 2014. See also Maria Yuniar, 'My Jakarta: Widjarno, Wayang Orang Dancer', The Jakarta Globe, 13 October 2010.
  6. ^ Ani Suswantoro, 'Wayang Wong Bharata survives on love, devotion', The Jakarta Post, 9 March 2008.
  7. ^ Novia Stephani, 'Wyang Orang Star Enjoys Her Second Act', The Jakarta Post, 24 January 2012.
  8. ^ Ani Suswantoro, The story of "Gatutkaca Luweng"', The Jakarta Post, 9 March 2008.

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