Shadow Master

The wayan kulit (shadow play) in Bali, like so many things in Bali, is not simply a form of entertainment, but goes much deeper. The struggles of the gods, depicted in the shadow plays, represent the inner struggles within us all, between good and evil, wrong and right. The shadow screen which separates the everyday existence of the Balinese from the eternal existence of the gods, is of great spiritual significance, and through the power of trance, the Balinese can temporarily pass to the other side of the shadow screen and glimpse the world beyond. The dalang who sits just beyond the shadow screen and manifests the metaphysical goings on into a physical form - even a form of light and shadow - wields great spiritual power, and is in many ways more akin to a channeler or medium than an entertainer.

Here is the great, but quiet and unassuming Pak Nyoman Rajeg, working on a new shadow puppet. His recent creations, and his designs for new puppets, hang in the window above him. You can click on the images for a larger view.

The puppets are made of buffalo hide, and are decorated with intricate patterns of perforations, which Pak Rajeg is making with a hammer and chisel. Apparently the best kind of leather to use for puppets is from a buffalo that has been pregnant - this stops the leather from curling up, I guess because it's been pre-stretched!

It's slow and painstaking work.

You can see in this photo how the house is completely open on one side. Our minivan is parked at the side of the house, with one of the ubiquitous Balinese mopeds.

It was a tremendous honor to have met Pak Rajeg. Sadly he passed away a few years later, and will be sorely missed by his family, friends, and audiences alike.

As we were watching Pak Rajeg work, Sumandhi told us that that evening was the temple ceremony when they would bring out the newly-restored Barong, Rangda, and Durga figures to check them out to make sure they hadn't become infested with beetles, and to give them their offerings. Would we like to come?

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Photos: Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall
All content copyright (c) 2002, Astrid, Martin and Julia Randall